This past week I drove 2200 kilometres through Central Queensland. I visited five coal mines, farms and a few pubs for a drink and a meal.
Two things strike you when you drive through Central Queensland. First, so much wealth is generated in our region. Second, the state of our roads do not match the level of prosperity that we generate.
Central Queensland produces $40 billion of wealth for Australia every year, from a population base of just over 400,000. That’s an income per person of more than $100,000, double that of Tasmania. Our higher productivity is largely thanks to the coal, cattle, cane and cotton that we produce in the region.
Yet the roads that connect our wealth producing mines and farms are sub-standard. I spoke to people at the Moranbah Workers Club last week about some sections of the Peak Downs Highway where major accidents have recently occurred. The Fitzroy Development Road makes you go up and down more than a trampoline and the May Downs Road is a corrugated, unsafe goat track. A local Facebook group - May Downs Rd, Enough is Enough - has reported six major accidents over the past year on this road.
Some of these roads do need major investments.
Over the past few years, the federal government has provided 80 per cent of the funds for major upgrades to state roads. Previously the federal government only contributed 50 per cent of the funds. There has been a new version of the ‘Beef Roads’ program that is seeing the sealing of the Clermont to Alpha Road, Springsure to Tambo and parts of May Downs Road. The Walkerston Bypass upgrade is about to begin as well. All together the federal government is spending over $500 million upgrading rural roads in Central Queensland and another $800 million towards the construction of the Rockhampton Ring Road.
The state LNP has also announced further upgrades to the Peak Downs Highway if it gets in and plans to upgrade the Bruce Highway to four lanes.
Perhaps the most important change, however, could be to spend more on road maintenance. The roads in Central Queensland get a hammering.
Some loads are not just wide they are heavy and make short work of roads already built on rich black soils made for growing crops not building roads on. But that shouldn’t be an excuse. Those wide loads make money for our state and more of the revenue from these investments should come back into keep the roads up to scratch.
In an answer to a question on notice in the parliament last year, the Queensland government admitted that there is a $5.4 billion ‘maintenance backlog’ in road upgrades, including a $940 million backlog in Central
This is not surprising when the Brisbane based government spends money on bonuses for public servants but fails to get the basics right.
The economic fallout from coronavirus should encourage us to get back to basics. To back our local wealth-producing industries that have held up the country at this difficult time. Governments should focus again on the basic things that are in their control like maintaining safe and productive roads so that we can create even more wealth from our region.