The good thing about travelling through our great country is that you get to meet wonderful people.
The bad thing is that you have to travel on our inadequate regional roads.
This week I drove to Canberra from Rockhampton with a convoy that aimed to get the Rockhampton Ring Road project started as soon as possible. Until the budget two weeks ago, the project was set to start within months and employ 780 people.
The Rockhampton Ring Road would reduce the 2300 trucks that go through our city everyday. Those trucks currently pass four schools along the Bruce Highway creating an intolerable safety risk. The Ring Road would remove 19 traffic lights from the Bruce cutting travel time by 30 minutes or more at peak times. That would reduce cost for freight and help bring down grocery prices for all Australians.
The Ring Road had been in planning for years and the final design was settled a few years ago. The benefits were manifestly obvious so all sides of politics had signed up to deliver it from next year. That strong level of political support had encouraged many businesses to invest in preparing for what would be the biggest road project in regional Queensland.
Everything was going well until the budget was released two weeks ago and the CQ community was shocked to hear that funding for the project had been deferred to an "undetermined date".
The reaction since has demonstrated that regional people have had enough of being treated as cash cows. So much of the wealth (coal, gas, beef and wheat) that fills the coffers of the public service comes from regional areas but we get little return with substandard roads and other infrastructure.
As soon as the news broke my phone ran hot with calls from business, local government and the general community about the what the hell was going on in Canberra. By the time I got back home a week later a new group had been formed, calling themselves "Start Rockhampton Ring Road".
By the end of a week they hosted a rally in Rockhampton attended by 500 people. At the end of the protest a convoy of trucks left to drive all the way to Canberra. I was crazy brave enough to join them.
Our journey took us over 2000km over three days.
We visited the Cross River Rail project in Brisbane, where a $6 billion cost blowout has not stopped this massive project proceeding. Apparently, only cost increases in regional areas, the cost of the Rockhampton Ring Road has increased by $700 million, are reason to halt a project.
Next we caught up with the State Member for Toowoomba North, Trevor Watts, who showed us the amazing construction of the Toowoomba Second Range crossing. This project helped get trucks out of James St in Toowoomba and that has led to a massive urban revival of its city centre. Cost blowouts, of $600 million, hit the Range Crossing project too but the Liberal-National Government were in power then and we just got on with the job.
In Tamworth we caught up with Councillor Bede Burke who told us about the bumpy condition of the New England Highway. And, in Muswellbrook, we heard of the soon to be constructed Singleton bypass, again under a Liberal National Government.
It was not until we got to Sydney that the roads stepped up a level. From the Hunter to Canberra was a dream run with barely a traffic light in sight. The difference between infrastructure in our major cities and the regions is becoming too wide.
While in Canberra the Rockhampton Ring Road crew brought CQ to the forefront of the national debate. As Peter Dutton remarked, the Rockhampton Ring Road is now the most talked about road in the country thanks to the people of CQ.
I have never been prouder of the CQ community than in the past fortnight. We are a land of opportunity full of people that want to turn this potential into a better future for our children.
If we stay as united and committed as we have been over the past few weeks, we will win, we will get our road and we will get our city back.