Thursday 25 November 2004

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I believe that this House has to acknowledge that my constituents can really organise a very good protest meeting. I am referring to the public meeting over the West Tamar Highway, which was held at the Exeter showgrounds last Saturday. An estimated 300 people attended the meeting. It was reported in the paper as 200, but a head count was done and there were almost 300 people there. So it was badly reported. I am here to tell you, though, it was 300 people protesting about the condition of sections of the highway and the slow pace of improvement. That number, whether it was 200 or 300, really shows the concern in my community about the highway.

I was happy to note the attendance of the Minister for Infrastructure, Bryan Green, who announced the replacement of the Supply River bridge one year earlier than scheduled. He also acknowledged that the figures used in the draft West Tamar Corridor Study are outdated and they will be revised - both of these issues I have spoken about in the House before - and he also gave an undertaking to continue working with the Highway Safety Committee. Mr President, while I welcome the minister's announcements last Saturday, my constituents believe that they are not enough. There is a groundswell of discontent over the condition of the West Tamar Highway, and the State Government will ignore that at its peril. There was obvious anger at last Saturday's meeting.

One speaker on Saturday said that some of the sections of the West Tamar Highway have not been improved since 1947. I was not even born then. Another former West Tamar Mayor, Eldon Griffiths, who is now the Fire Chief, says he keeps getting called back to accidents at the same places. He also points to a lack - and this would probably occur in other areas too - of pull-off places on the highway for people who are answering their mobile phones and need to pull over. Well, they do on the West Tamar Highway, and obviously they increase the dangers. A cartage contractor talked about driving, every week he drives in three States of Australia, and he said that Tasmania, or the West Tamar Highway, has 50 kilometres of the worst highway that he travels on over three States. Another expressed concern that the locals realise how dangerous sections of the highway can be and they drive accordingly, but the tourists do not have a clue, and we have more tourists coming to the West Tamar, I am glad to say, but of course they are increasing the dangers for the locals.

There was much concern about the Supply River bridge, which I have talked about here previously, which was termed the most dangerous section of road in the State. That is because they have the armco railing on either side of the highway which makes it like a funnel for traffic to travel down. If you get a bus and a truck in that funnel, the drivers hold their breath as they lose the rear-vision mirrors on their vehicles. Those bridges are constantly being hit. They have concrete edges on the sides of the bridges. They are continuously being hit by vehicles. Keith Darke of Northern Ratepayers called for not only widening of the road from Beaconsfield to Beauty Point but the provision of footpaths and cycleways. Les Rochester tore up a copy of the draft corridor study in front of the minister and called for $50 million to be spent on the highway over the next 10 years. I must say I did feel sorry for the minister but he did thank me for being on standby with some Solvol in case he was tarred and feathered. However, we got through the process okay.

The meeting was told that work on the $8 million duplication of the highway between North Riverside and Legana would start this week, last Monday. The minister said the Government was committing 15 per cent of its roads budget to the West Tamar this year. That all seemed like good news for my constituents but why did it not satisfy them? There are a number of reasons. The main one is the almost widespread concern about safety. Many at Saturday's meeting had personally experienced a risky incident on the worst sections of the highway.

Mr President, let us remember that the debate over the safety of the West Tamar Highway has been going on since 1983 when promises were first made about the duplication from North Riverside to Legana. It is getting under way but that was when it was first mooted, in 1983. I remember clearly. It was after the death of Don Davey's wife and daughter on the highway in 1980 and that was really the straw that broke the camel's back. The promises started in 1983. So there have been more than 20 years of delay and frustration for West Tamar residents and I am afraid that is not easily appeased.

However, the State Government cannot cry poor with its financial bonanza over the GST. Let us face it, Tasmania's coffers have never looked better. Now is surely the time to address the safety problems on the West Tamar Highway once and for all.