ROAD, RAIL AND SEA FREIGHT TRANSPORT
Mr DONALD PAGE
(Ballina) [5.07 p.m.]: I refer to future transport options in light of the large increases in freight forecast to occur over the next 20 years along Australia's eastern corridor. I will refer to road, rail and sea transport options. Firstly, there is a need to fast track the upgrade of the Pacific Highway given the enormous number of semitrailers and B-doubles that currently transport freight between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane through the Ballina electorate on an inadequate highway. The AusLink report entitled "Building our National Transport Future: Sydney-Brisbane Corridor Strategy", released in April 2007, stated:
Freight on the Sydney to Brisbane corridor will almost triple over the period to 2029, rising from approximately 7 million tonnes to approximately 17 million tonnes This compares to an expected doubling of freight on most other AusLink corridors.
This prediction has serious implications for the Ballina electorate and every community on the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane, with the forecast of large population increases in the same area over the same period. We also have a projected large increase in tourism numbers visiting destinations along that corridor. At this time only 40 per cent of the Pacific Highway between Newcastle and the Queensland border is dual carriageway. The forecast trebling of the freight load on the Sydney-Brisbane corridor begs the question: how much of that forecast freight increase can be carried by rail or by sea?
As far as rail is concerned, the former Federal Coalition Government created the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which took over responsibility for interstate rail freight about five years ago. New South Wales received about $800 million to upgrade the State's track. This was a very good initiative, which will double the amount of freight carried by rail over the next decade or so. At the moment around 17 per cent of Australia's total freight load is carried by rail. The Federal Government's investment in interstate rail will lift this to around 34 per cent according to the forecasts. While this is very commendable it still leaves an awful lot of freight to be carried by road unless another alternative can be found.
I believe the sea freight option should be more fully explored. The Pacific Ocean is a major freight corridor between Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane yet it is not really used for domestic freight movements within Australia. Why? I believe there is a good case for non-time sensitive freight to travel on ships. The State and Federal governments should look at this option and remove any current impediments that prevent this from happening. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all have good deep sea ports, so why is shipping along the Australian east coast not used more as a serious freight corridor for domestic freight movements that are not time sensitive? After all, the major infrastructure—the ocean and port facilities—is in place.
Shipping provides opportunities for economies of scale. A container ship, while taking twice as long as a train, can carry 30 times the amount of freight. However, it may not be economically viable to use container ships of this size for domestic coastal shipping. Even halving the scale to 15 times the capacity of rail freight would make a significant impact in reducing the amount of freight carried on the Pacific Highway. One ship could take approximately 900 semitrailers off the Pacific Highway. There would be a requirement to improve access in and out of ports, but the long-term benefit of this type of investment would reap major dividends. Other benefits of shipping include savings in storage costs, especially for non-time sensitive heavy items, cost savings in transport due to shipping freight being charged at a flat rate and not by weight, and the ships themselves acting as warehouses on water and thus freeing warehouse space for the companies being supplied. There would also be large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Further benefits of increased coastal shipping would be a decrease in use of the Pacific Highway by heavy transport vehicles. This would lead to much safer roads and a reduction in the cost of maintenance of the Pacific Highway. In the year to June 2007, 228 people died in Australia in motor vehicle accidents involving heavy rigid or articulated trucks. I have long believed that mixing heavy freight traffic with local and tourist traffic on a road that is a non-dual carriageway—single lane each way—is a recipe for disaster. With only 40 per cent of the Pacific Highway being dual carriageway it is clear that it is going to be many years before the entire length achieves this status. In the meantime, people will die and communities will suffer.
I am not opposed to heavy vehicle freight but I believe it should be much safer, which in my view requires dual carriageway at the very minimum. We must complete the upgrade of the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway as quickly as possible. However, I believe we must also explore the open corridor that exists at our doorstep in the form of the Pacific Ocean. I urge both State and Federal governments to look seriously at coastal shipping as a freight option especially for non-time sensitive freight up and down the Australian eastern corridor. This would save lives and money, and reduce greenhouse gases. We should get on with it.