Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (17:46): I rise today in support of the Transport Legislation Amendment (Better Roads Victoria and Other Amendments) Bill 2018 and its allocation of funding to regional and outer suburban communities. I do not think anyone in this place would have had more experience on our rural, regional and metropolitan roads than I. Over the last 25 years I have averaged around 100 000 kilometres per year. Regional road users have cried foul for many years over the reported fate of their road and the endless and often pointless efforts to repair roads. I would hope that a commitment to deliver a third share of road investment will see some significant and swift improvements.
Our regional friends had a victory of sorts when Regional Roads Victoria was split from VicRoads, bringing an on-the-ground focus to problems on our country roads. How effective they have been is up for debate. They are certainly chasing their tails. A country roads inquiry instigated in the previous Parliament found the issues with VicRoads management of our regional roads were too complex and referred recommendations from that inquiry to this Parliament. A report tabled by the Law Reform, Road and Community Safety Committee last year showed that remote and regional roads received less external commonwealth funding than urban roads on a per-kilometre basis. In fact urban arterial roads received approximately 14 times more external funding, excluding own-source revenue, than rural arterial roads, and urban local roads received approximately five times more external funding than rural local roads.
So, state, territory and local government are left to cover the shortfalls of this funding. The report said that of the 25 000 kilometres of roads and roadsides managed by VicRoads, 19 000 kilometres are in the rural and regional areas. Over 75 per cent of VicRoads’s road management responsibilities lie in regional Victoria, and these roads are in dreadful condition. A Victorian Auditor-General’s Office report from June 2017 on road maintenance showed reduced funding in real terms and that deficiencies in developing the maintenance program had led to maintenance practices that are not adequate to sustain the functional condition of VicRoads’s network at an acceptable standard. In other words, our regional roads are falling apart faster than VicRoads know.
Now Regional Roads Victoria cannot fix them, and the current repair and replacement program is not keeping up. We need to be smarter about how we manage regional road repairs and upgrades, and look for methods to use. A big complaint from the regional road users is that repairs are just bandaid fixes and are not solving the underlying problems.
I would hope the bill and the guaranteed one-third of all future funding investment go some way to addressing this situation. There is much work here to be done.
During the last sitting week we had the privilege to meet representatives of the interface councils, who form Melbourne’s outer ring of rapidly growing suburbs. Road networks in and between the interface council regions have not kept up with the rapid population growth they are experiencing. In the last four years these suburbs have grown by over 200 000 people. They are now home to some 1.6 million of Melbourne’s citizens, and they continue to grow. New roads are needed to link these suburbs. Upgrades are needed to improve traffic flows on roads leading into the city. Getting people to rail links is a huge priority for these councils. Their residents drive extremely long distances to and from work each day. These councils estimate that more than 80 per cent of people depend on their cars in these areas. I would hope this bill and the guarantee of one-third of all future funding investment go some way to helping the situation.
This leaves one-third for our metropolitan projects. No-one here would argue with the fact that congestion on our city streets grows worse by the day. This will be an eternal ongoing problem for a growing modern city like Melbourne.
It pleases me that those who abuse our road rules and place road users in danger will be part of funding our future road projects. Guaranteed funding for regional interface and metro road projects will be supported by traffic camera and on-the-spot speeding fine revenue into the Better Roads Victoria Trust Account. This will set a minimum level of funding but I believe much more will be needed, and I look forward to the future announcement on major projects to improve our road networks.