The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (11:14): I appreciate the contribution of the Chair of the Public Works Committee and also of my electorate neighbour, the member for Giles. We work very collaboratively in the Upper Spencer Gulf. We try to support each other on issues of importance to all of us, so I appreciate his comments as well.
It is an enormous pleasure for me to stand to speak on this report from the Public Works Committee. I have raised this matter here in this chamber, I would say, at least a dozen times in my 9½ years as an MP representing the electorate of Stuart, with Port Augusta as its major population centre. This project, as has been mentioned, is incredibly important for Port Augusta. People go back and forth all the time between the east and west sides of town.
It is very important as an intrastate piece of infrastructure, particularly for the north of the state, as minerals and cattle transport, sheep transport, wool transport and so on grow and travel from the north of the state through Port Augusta to the south of the state. But it is not an exaggeration to say that it is a national piece of infrastructure as well. The bridge that we have at Port Augusta carries the majority of road freight that travels between Perth and Sydney and the majority of road freight that travels between Adelaide and Darwin. It is not called the crossroads of the nation for nothing at Port Augusta. It is a very important piece of infrastructure.
I was very grateful when my then shadow cabinet colleagues and Liberal Party MP colleagues chose to support this project as an election commitment. I am more than happy to confirm what the member for Giles said, which was that both Liberal and Labor went to the last election with this commitment. We both secured support from the federal government to enable this to go ahead and, as has been the case in Port Augusta on a few important occasions now, both the government and the opposition have gone to a state election, matching each other’s commitments in Port Augusta.
That is incredibly important from my perspective because then, regardless of the outcome of the election, the local community will receive the benefits of the commitment. Some people have a view that, if your team promises something the others do not, that puts you in better shape. Certainly it does if you win the election but it does not if you do not win the election, and we have been on both sides of that now. It is good to know when you go into an election that a project is going to go ahead regardless of the outcome.
Of course, it is the great pleasure of the Marshall Liberal government to be the one that delivers this project in cooperation with the federal government. It is also important, though, to point out that, while any significant infrastructure project is planned or built or operated/used, there are some people who miss out. It would be inappropriate of me not to acknowledge that there are a very small number of families whose properties have been acquired to make this project work. It was completely unavoidable. It is not DPTI’s or the government’s fault that it was necessary to do this.
I accept the feedback I have had from my constituents that DPTI or the government could have gone about that acquisition in a better way. There is a range of views. Some people are satisfied with how it worked out and some people are dissatisfied. One couple in particular are leaving their family home of just over 30 years, a place that is very important to them, and I suppose none of us can fully understand the impact of having to do something like that unless we have been through it ourselves. I certainly have not.
I do not think for a second that DPTI or the government have deliberately done anything to make it more difficult than it needs to be, but I acknowledge the fact that this is difficult for some people. As difficult as it is for those people, the overwhelming majority of my constituents, statewide and interstate transport operators, local businesses and industry will all benefit enormously from this $200 million project. An important local issue connected to this project is that in Port Augusta our historic wooden marine infrastructure is failing and, in some cases, has failed.
We have had four key pieces of infrastructure. What was affectionately called the T Jetty or the Mill Jetty on the east side, just south of the bridge that has now been removed because it became unsafe, is not there at all anymore. We have what is referred to as the Westside Jetty, on the west side obviously, near the boat ramp, which has now been deemed unsafe by council and closed off. Apparently, it is beyond repair. The main wharf on the east side (for those familiar with Port Augusta, at the back of the supermarkets) is incredibly important. It is under structural stress at the moment, with parts of it closed off and parts of it still accessible.
We also have the now completely failed first bridge across the gulf, the Great Western Bridge, a wooden bridge that for the last 20 or so years has been a pedestrian bridge providing access for people on bikes, for families with youngsters in prams and pushers and for people with gophers. When that bridge had to be closed, all that pedestrian traffic—old people on gophers, younger people in prams with their parents or other family members and pedestrians—then had to use the existing Joy Baluch Bridge, and that has been a completely unsatisfactory situation. It has meant that people have not been nearly as safe on the footpath as they should be.
It has also meant that the speed limit on the bridge had to be reduced. Initially, in an effort to be as safe as possible, it was reduced to 25 km/h by the previous government. I thank them for increasing it back up to 40 km/h at my request on behalf of the community, and it remains at 40 km/h. But a bridge where the nation’s heavy transport freight plus local people can travel at a less than optimal speed, and still have pedestrians and others using the footpath not as safe as they should be, is not an ideal outcome. Sometimes out of situations that are less than ideal, you can speed up a positive outcome, and that is probably what has happened here. The state and federal governments have recognised that it needed to be done, so I am grateful for that probably accidental circumstance if that makes sense.
As well as the situation I have described for current users, the bridge has had to be closed on multiple occasions because of a spill, a truck running out of fuel, accidents, a breakdown and a range of other things. It would probably surprise members of this parliament to know how quickly the traffic backs up for kilometres in both directions when the bridge cannot be used. We do have a dirt road as a backup, Yorkeys Crossing, but it is approximately 20 kilometres longer, it is dirt, and it is not a terrific dirt road, so when we have more than six millimetres of rain that dirt road is closed. There has been only occasion in the last nine years I am aware of when the bridge was closed and Yorkeys Crossing was closed because of rain, but certainly that has happened and that is a circumstance we cannot accept on National Highway 1, let alone for the people of Port Augusta.
I am extremely pleased that this project is happening. We will now have two lanes of traffic all the way through Port Augusta from east to west except now for one point: the road overpass over the railway—near the old Hungry Jack’s, near Clift Freight Service—will now become the most prominent bottleneck for traffic through Port Augusta. We can live with that for a while, but I put very clearly on the record that that will now be the next improvement we need to make so that we have a clear two lanes of traffic all the way through Port Augusta. I am very glad that the member for Giles and his constituents will be able to continue to drive through the wonderful regional city of Port Augusta rather than have to cross the gulf and miss out on that pleasure.