Roads of Strategic Importance

Roads of Strategic Importance Main Image

By Kristy McBain

29 November 2021

It's great to stand here today to talk about the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative, because the premise of this initiative is so important to regional communities right across Australia. This initiative is a vital way to ensure that regional communities are connected and to make sure that key freight and transport routes are maintained and improved, where needed. The safety of highways and important transport routes is something that's raised with me in my travels across Eden-Monaro. Everywhere I go I meet with people who are concerned about the state of our roads—and not just the roads in their neighbourhoods or their main towns; they're concerned about the state and safety of the key highways and transport routes that intersect our region.

Time and again I'm asked whether there's federal funding available to fix or improve Eden-Monaro highways. Every time I provide the same answer, 'Yes, there can be one-off funding available but ongoing funding is only available if the road is identified as a road of strategic importance.' This government has identified a number of roads across the country which they deem to be of great importance to our nation. They've attracted $4.9 billion for projects nationwide to deliver work such as road sealing; flood immunity; strengthening and widening; pavement rehabilitation; bridge and culvert upgrades; and road realignments. Following the bushfires, two bridges in the Bega Valley will be restored, thanks to the funding of this initiative: the Murrabrine Bridge in Cobargo and the Whipstick Bridge in Wyndham will both be upgraded. These existing timber bridges will be replaced with new two-lane concrete structures. The benefits of these projects are expected to include improved freight and load limits for the bridges; improved accessibility of freight to transport for local producers; and increased productivity. These are three really significant benefits from two comparatively minor projects.

Unfortunately, key transport routes for timber, livestock and produce, and the increasingly busy tourist drives on highways across Eden-Monaro, are not included in the list of Roads of Strategic Importance to receive regular federal funding. Only one road in the entire Eden-Monaro electorate, an electorate that is the size of Switzerland and covers more than 40,000 square kilometres, is considered a road of strategic importance. That means only one road in the entire region that completely surrounds Canberra, and which goes down to the coast and stretches to the Victorian border, receives that funding, and that is the Barton Highway.

When people ask me why Barton Highway is the only road to receive regular funding, and why the Monaro Highway, the Kings Highway, the Snowy Mountains Highway and the Princes Highway aren't on the list, I can't answer. There's no visibility as to why some roads are chosen and others haven't been, and this is a point of frustration for some communities. The Princes Highway stretches from Melbourne to Sydney, with dozens of towns along the way. It's the coastal highway between Australia's two largest cities, and yet the vast majority of it is not considered to be a road of strategic importance. The Kings Highway connects the nation's capital to the coast, and it's a road that's used more and more every year as the population in the Canberra region grows, but it's not a road of strategic importance.

During the Eden-Monaro by-election last year, the Prime Minister travelled to my electorate and stood with his high-vis and hard hat on to announce that Snowy Hydro 2.0 would go ahead. He was quoted as saying that the scheme would help Australia to grow its way out of the economic challenges of the pandemic. Over the life of the scheme, Snowy 2.0 is expected to create 4,000 direct jobs. It's a nation-building renewable energy project that will benefit many generations to come, and we never begrudge jobs or investment in these communities. It seems to me that the Snowy 2.0 project is a pretty significant project for the country and that, as such, the Snowy-Monaro and Snowy Valleys regions should have had roads of strategic importance declared. This scheme has resulted in more cars, more trucks and more heavy vehicles on Snowy roads.

The Monaro Highway and the Snowy Mountains Highway are just two of the highways which are seeing an increase in heavy-vehicle traffic. More traffic and more extreme weather events, including the recent floods in my region, mean that these roads are quite literally taking a beating. A project that's of national significance should attract federal funding to help with the infrastructure requirements around it. This means that some of the roads in Eden-Monaro, particularly in the Snowy region, should be eligible to receive funding under the roads initiative. When I meet with communities and they ask these questions I tell them I will follow them up. So today I'm putting questions to the government about the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative. How are the roads selected to receive this regular funding? When was the last time a review into this scheme took place? How can new roads be added to the list of roads that receive regular funding under this scheme? I look forward to getting the answers on behalf of the people of the mighty Eden-Monaro.