Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester has challenged the state and federal Ministers responsible for roads to drive through his electorate and understand the dangerous conditions endured by locals and visitors.
Mr Chester said both Ministers were hiding behind the bureaucracy and failing to take seriously his repeated efforts to secure funding for road safety on the Princes Highway.
“One stretch of highway between Swan Reach and Lakes Entrance has been the scene of multiple crashes, including fatalities, and the State Minister for Roads Melissa Horne has written to me saying her Department has ‘found no defects’, despite dozens of potholes,” Mr Chester said.
“It’s a farcical situation. We held a community meeting prior to Christmas and asked the Minister to send a representative but no-one turned up and now we are being told the Princes Highway is in good condition and the crashes are all the drivers’ faults.
“But at least Minister Horne bothers to respond to letters… the Federal Minister Catherine King has constantly ignored requests to fund Princes Highway safety upgrades and hasn’t replied to a letter sent to her in November last year.”
Mr Chester said he would continue to campaign for funding and had written again to Minister Horne to clarify her claims.
“Apart from the roadside safety barriers which remain in a state of disrepair eight weeks after a series of crashes, there are significant potholes and surface failures between Lakes Entrance and Swan Reach which remain a safety hazard,” Mr Chester wrote.
“Your Department has incomplete data on the number of crashes along this section of road because the majority are not reported to Victoria Police. The information I have received from tow truck drivers, the CFA and SES would indicate a much higher incident rate than you are aware of and I can only reiterate my concern that the road surface is at least a contributing factor in some crashes.
“The suggestion that the road surface and drainage is functioning as expected and the road is in an acceptable condition is an insult to my intelligence and shows no respect for the local emergency service crews who are traumatised by repeatedly attending serious crashes, including fatalities, along this section of the Princes Highway.”
Mr Chester said both Ministers should stop relying on advice from bureaucrats and actually drive from Sale to the New South Wales border and experience the conditions first hand.
“The State Government has cut road maintenance funding and the Federal Government has not provided any new money for capital works so the Princes Highway is falling into disrepair,” Mr Chester said.
“At a time when road deaths and trauma are increasing across Victoria, it is staggering that we are not seeing a focus on improving the condition of the road network work to save lives and reduce serious injuries.”