As a member of the Standing Committee on Regional Development, Infrastructure and Transport, I also rise to speak on this important report. Everywhere I travel across my electorate of Indi, people talk to me about the state of our local roads, and with good reason. Local roads in regional and rural Victoria are in desperate need of repair. Rural and regional people deserve to drive on safe, well-maintained roads—roads that are built to withstand severe weather events and natural disasters.
Flooding events over the past summer and in October 2022 have left Indi’s roads potholed and washed away. In some places, temporary bridges and closed lanes have been in place for almost a year following such damage. Significant damage following floods and other disasters is not just restricted to my electorate of Indi. This is a problem that regional Australians all over the country understand. They drive on these roads every day to get to school, to work, to look after their mum and dad, and to take their kids to sport on the weekends.
More than 75 per cent of Australia’s road network is owned or maintained by local governments, but with small ratepayer bases, inflation increasing the cost of repairs and materials, scarcity of the necessary workforce and minimal funding opportunities for state and Commonwealth government support, regional councils are struggling to fund the ongoing roadworks needed to keep our communities safe and connected. When I meet with the nine local governments in Indi, they consistently tell me that current funding arrangements for roads, including Commonwealth funding arrangements, are inadequate. Too frequently they only just cover damage caused by natural disasters, with no capacity to build back better.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Regional Development, Infrastructure and Transport, I welcomed this inquiry. I knew then, and I know now, that this work is absolutely vital for improving the day-to-day lives of people in my electorate—improving roads that will have an impact every time people get in their cars. I thank my committee colleagues—particularly the committee chair, the member for Solomon; and the deputy chair, the member for Barker—for their engagement, interest and understanding of the issues facing regional communities like mine, and for their hard work in putting together this comprehensive report. Thank you also to the secretariat for their guidance, hard work and logistical support. The 12-month inquiry saw the committee travel across the country to hear from local governments, engineers, emergency management organisations, climate scientists and weather experts. Thank you to everyone that gave evidence and made written submissions.
I brought the committee to Indi, holding a hearing in Wodonga on 17 July last year, to ensure the voices and perspectives of my constituents were heard directly. It’s important that local people have a say in the planning of how we build resilience and recover from natural disasters. Indi local councils, including the City of Wodonga, the Rural City of Wangaratta, Murrindindi Shire Council, Strathbogie Shire Council, Mansfield Shire Council, Towong Shire Council, Indigo Shire Council and Benalla Rural City made submissions to the inquiry and gave evidence at the hearing, which the committee found incredibly compelling. I thank them for their contributions.
All members of this committee have worked so hard to ensure that the key issues raised by witnesses were given due consideration. As a regional Independent MP, I’m proud to have been a member of this committee and to have helped produce such a comprehensive report on a big and critical issue for regional Australia. The report made 26 recommendations, including recommendations that the Commonwealth: establish consultation with local governments to consider road infrastructure priorities at the local level; review the financial assistance grants for roads funding and funding for road maintenance works under the Infrastructure Investment Program; and provide greater flexibility for betterment funding for resilient infrastructure builds through disaster recovery funding arrangements following natural disasters. I back these recommendations, and I call on the government now to implement them in full. Severe weather events in regional areas, floods, fires and storms, aren’t going away. One-in-100-year events are certainly not one in 100 years anymore. This is such a critical report to build resilience in these changing times, and we must not let this report sit on the shelf and gather dust. This must result in action that addresses the problems that we are driving over every single day.
I will continue to work collaboratively with the minister and the department to see this report acted upon for the benefit of my communities and for all regional Australians, who rely so heavily on the safety and accessibility of country roads.