Mr VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN ( Stuart) (15:08): I rise to speak about Yorkeys Crossing again, as I have done many times in this house. I have written many letters to a succession of transport ministers about this very important piece of infrastructure which goes around the outside of the regional centre of Port Augusta. It is a dirt road, and it is used as a bypass when the main road through town is unavailable for one reason or another. That happens very regularly. In fact, on 24 May, we had a three-car accident on the bridge over the gulf, the Joy Baluch AM Bridge, which put the entire National Highway 1 through the centre of Port Augusta out of action.
Mr Speaker, National Highway 1, as you would know, is our national road that services heavy transport for the entire nation. It goes across a bridge that has one lane in each direction over the gulf in Port Augusta. When that bridge is out of action, our national freight route is out of action, and we are left with, as a backup, Yorkeys Crossing, which is a serviceable road for passenger vehicles at low speeds but not nearly good enough as a backup for our national transport task. When you have six millimetres of rain or more in Port Augusta, it becomes unusable.
We have had the bridge in Port Augusta out of action many times—I would estimate 10 times in the six years that I have been a member of parliament—and we are, unfortunately, incredibly close to a very serious problem with regard to our nation’s freight efficiency. If we have an accident on the bridge in Port Augusta that knocks it out even just for 24 hours, can you imagine all of the freight travelling between Adelaide and Darwin, and between Sydney and Perth, unable to use Highway 1 and having to use Yorkeys Crossing, which goes around the outside of Port Augusta? Can you imagine further, if it happened to be raining at the time?
It would have an extraordinarily negative impact upon our nation’s efficiency, and the problem gets worse and worse. Traffic within Port Augusta grows every year. Traffic around Port Augusta—intrastate traffic—grows every year, and our nation’s freight task is estimated to double over the next 10 years, so we are unfortunately risking an extraordinarily perilous situation, economically at the moment, and potentially even worse because, Mr Speaker, you would know that, if an accident included, tragically, a death, then the road would be shut for a very long time while investigations took place.
You juxtapose that risk against the cost of sealing Yorkeys Crossing. I do not advocate for a complete bypass of the City of Port Augusta; that would be a mistake. The long-term solution we need is to have two lanes of traffic all the way through Port Augusta, and that would require upgrades to two bridges: the one over the gulf and the one over the railway line, further east within Port Augusta. The cost of upgrading Yorkeys Crossing so that it is an all weather, viable, alternative route around Port Augusta is in the low tens of millions of dollars. Every time I approach this government about this issue and ask them to pursue it, the answer I repeatedly get is that the government has done a cost-benefit analysis and just does not see it as worthwhile.
There are two parts to that. I believe very genuinely that the government overestimates the cost of sealing Yorkeys Crossing, and that is evidenced by the costing estimates that were given to me by the Institution of Engineers Australia, which I passed on to the government a few years ago, which are significantly lower than the government’s estimate of the upgrade of Yorkeys Crossing. Also, that cost-benefit analysis is flawed because it does not include in the cost side the risk to Port Augusta, to South Australia and to our nation if the bridge happens to be knocked out for a significant amount of time. If that bridge is knocked out for even just 30 minutes, we can have traffic backed up for over a kilometre in both directions on National Highway 1. Imagine if it was actually 24 hours.
This is also a health and safety issue for the people of Port Augusta because all of the emergency services are on one side of the bridge and large residential development areas are on the other. It is an incredibly important issue with regard to our nation’s transport task. It is a very important issue for Port Augusta, for our state and for our nation.