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It’s with great pleasure that I join today’s debate, and I acknowledge the member for Gilmore as representing the second most beautiful electorate in Australia—just behind Gippsland! It’s great to have you here.

It’s no surprise to see that the speakers on this particular motion are predominantly from regional communities, because regional MPs understand better than most the critical importance of good road networks. Roads are the arterial life of our regional communities, the critical component making sure we can stay connected, whether it’s for freight or to stay connected with our families.

The member who just spoke reflected briefly on the impact of the Black Summer bushfires and what they exposed as the frailty of our road network when it comes to natural disasters. In Gippsland, the Princes Highway and several major roads linking coastal communities were badly exposed for being poorly maintained, in terms of vegetation. We spent several weeks in which communities were cut off or relying on the Australian Defence Force to deliver the most basic supplies. We have to change our approach to maintaining the resilience of the road network to ensure that our communities can stay connected even in the face of natural disasters. What we saw post bushfires on the Princes Highway was a major tree-clearing exercise, which locals reflected on quite dryly as, ‘It’s about time.’ They had been calling for it for decades.

I do appreciate the opportunity to speak in relation to the Road Safety Program. As the member for Riverina, who initiated this program, often reflected, too many people are killed and injured on our rural and regional roads. In fact, a disproportionate number of people continue to be killed and injured on rural and regional roads. From memory, in my time as the minister for transport, I think it was something in excess of 50 per cent of road trauma that occurred on rural and regional roads. Given the higher speeds often involved, the chances of someone being killed or injured are much higher in a crash on those rural and regional roads in comparison to the city.

As the former minister and now a humble backbencher—or not so humble, as the member for Hunter is probably reflecting—I don’t accept that we have to have any road trauma on our roads. We as a government have signed up to the safe system approach: safer drivers, safer vehicles and safer speeds on safer roads. The safe system approach is designed to ensure that no crashes need to occur in the future, as we move towards zero road trauma. I fear, though, that governments at the state and federal levels are often guilty of focusing on the driver component of the safe system. It’s far easier to blame the drivers than to accept responsibility for the lack of investment in infrastructure in the road network.

The challenge for us is to work constructively, in partnership with local and state governments, to deliver the types of roads that our rural and regional communities expect. That’s why the Road Safety Program, brought forward by the member for Riverina when he was the minister and continued by the member for New England in that role, is so important. It’s important because it has a ‘use it or lose it’ component. The ‘use it or lose it’ component is of great importance for this particular program because it forces the state governments to develop a sense of urgency about getting the job done.

What I’ve seen in my electorate of Gippsland—over the past three years, in particular—is a recalcitrant state government unwilling to work in a constructive way to deliver the projects that have been funded by the federal government. The federal government doesn’t actually build the roads; the federal government goes into partnership with the state government to deliver projects. What I’ve seen in Gippsland is tens of millions of dollars allocated in the 2019 election still being held by Treasury, not ending up with black stuff on the roads in Gippsland. It’s to the eternal shame of the Victorian state government that they haven’t been able to reach an agreement to secure projects that would deliver road safety improvements in my electorate.

The contrast has been the Road Safety Program. The moment there was a ‘use it or lose it’ component to it, the Victorian state government suddenly found the capacity to improve road shoulders, to improve sight lines, to install roadside safety barriers, where appropriate, and to roll that program out in an expeditious way to improve road safety in the Gippsland electorate.

I’m calling on the Victorian government to be a better partner when it comes to delivering road infrastructure safety improvements in Gippsland. I’m calling on the Victorian state government to develop a greater sense of urgency and reach agreement with the Commonwealth on money that is already there. The federal government often pays up to 80 per cent of the funding for road projects in Victoria—up to 80 per cent. The state government only has to find 20 per cent to get these much-needed projects rolling out across my community. Perhaps it will take a ‘use it or lose it’ approach from the current federal transport minister to try and force this state government to get onboard and deliver the road safety improvements that we deserve in our regional communities. Too many people are being killed and injured on roads that could be fixed. The money is available to fix them. We just need the state government to demonstrate the capacity to get on with the job.

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