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Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester says the extended Princes Highway closure should never happen again and the State Government must continue to clear trees and shrubs from roadside verges.

Mr Chester said the closure of the main transport link in the region for more than three weeks had cost millions of dollars and enormous social impacts on communities that were isolated.

“Imagine if the Monash Freeway was closed for more than three weeks?” Mr Chester said.

“I can completely understand the anger and frustration for many locals with the prolonged closure of the highway. It has taken longer than is acceptable and we should be doing everything in our power as a community to make sure it never happens again.

“Transport operators, small business owners, residents and visitors have suffered massive economic and social costs because of the failure to maintain the road corridor to be more resilient to these types of natural disasters.

“As locals, we have argued for years to maintain a wider corridor with less large trees on the roadside verges, for the safety of road users and to make it easier to clear after storms and fires.

“The Princes Highway is the social and economic artery of life in Gippsland and its extended closure has severely hampered relief and recovery efforts.

“This is not a criticism of the teams working to clear the highway – the timber industry contractors, state government employees and ADF members who are working so hard to clear the road deserve our gratitude.

“I’m not blaming the work crews – just pointing out there shouldn’t have been so much to clean up in the first place.”

Mr Chester said he would be advocating for more locally-based work crews to be employed to maintain the highway and bushland.

“We need less people in suits and more workers in boots employed in local towns and helping to keep our major transport corridor and our bushland safe for everyone,” Mr Chester said.

“As part of the bushfire recovery effort, I will be arguing for more staff to get out of Melbourne and Canberra and be based in regional areas like Gippsland.”

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