Roads to Ruin

CEO National Farmers Federation Tony Mahar, Graingrowers Chair and Victorian grower Brett Hosking, and Burramine farmer Peter Lawless on Monday.

$1.5 billion needed for poor roads

Burramine took centre stage on Monday for various agricultural leaders who are pleading for $1.5 billion over three years - $500 million a year –from the Federal Government to improve country roads and infrastructure throughout Australia.

Locals, Yarrawonga’s Leo Kelly and Geoff Mills from Youarang were very interested to hear answers to farming related issues.

The impact of poor road quality on the agriculture industry and the community was the subject of the special event held on-farm at fifth-generation grower Peter Lawless’ property in Burramine.

The event was hosted by Graingrowers as the Federal election is due later this month, on May 21. Political candidates, agricultural membership bodies including National Farmers Federation and Victorian Farmers Federation, and Victorian growers met at the property of, for an informative, on-the-ground discussion. It was the only such discussion in Victoria in the lead-up to the federal election.

“We chose this location because it is a contested seat, it just seemed a good fit,” Graingrowers Chair and Victorian grower Brett Hosking told the Yarrawonga Chronicle.

“We are wanting to see $1.5 billion spent on fixing up country roads and infrastructure throughout Australia over the next term of the Federal Government.”

The chairperson from Quambatook mentioned the obvious funding shortfall emanating from the three levels of government.

“There is a gap between Local government with its funding availability and what’s required to provide much improved, good quality roads and safety issues,” Mr Hosking said.

The significance of Australia’s 22,500 growers produce over 60 million tonnes of grains including wheat, barley and oats, oilseeds like canola and pulses such as chickpeas, lentils and beans producing over $20 billion to the nation’s economy - beginning in rural communities.

Especially during the past two years with the Covid-19 pandemic, the agriculture industry has been so important for the economy, highlighted on Monday by a comment from the Chief Executive Officer of the National Farmers Federation from Canberra, Tony Mahar when he emphasised that today: “Agriculture is the powerhouse of Australian industry.”

The lack of quality roads for trucks carrying farm produce is widespread throughout Australia. As just one example, Mr Lawless said when an intersection is constructed, the five kilometres leading up to that intersection has no edges.

Mr Lawless and his family grow wheat and canola and run livestock at Burramine. A stalwart of his community, he is Deputy Mayor of Moira Shire Council as well as a representative for growers on various industry committees and boards.

He has seen first-hand the effect a lack of federal and state funding has on the quality of the roads.

“Some have deteriorated to the point where they are no longer suitable for modern farming machinery and transport requirements,” he said.

The impact of substandard road quality - directly attributed to lack of proper and adequate funding - is not only measured through loss of agricultural efficiency and time, but also translates to significant safety concerns for families and communities.

From potholes to eroded shoulders, Mr Peter Lawless has witnessed maintenance efforts shift from extensive repairs on stretches of road to ‘band-aid’ solutions where a single pothole is repaired because that is all the funding will allow.

“Currently, growers either need to reduce their speed or do multiple trips in smaller combinations to minimise the risk of an avoidable road incident,” he said.

“These are short-term solutions and do not address the ongoing issue of deteriorating road quality.”

Mr Lawless primarily wants to see a commitment to increased and continued funding from all levels of government for roadworks, not only for his family and his community’s safety but to improve efficiencies in farming practices by getting produce to market in a timely fashion.

Four political parties were represented at Burramine on Monday. Representing the Liberal Party was Steve Brooks, Sam Birrell for the National Party, Rikki-Lee Tyrrell from One Nation Party and Dr Rob Peterson flew the Australia United Party.

Dr Peterson has 46 years in the medical field while candidates Brooks, Birrell and Tyrrell have strong agricultural backgrounds. All expressed their strong intentions to support the agriculture industry.

Local grower Leo Kelly also expressed his concern about the 30-day availability only in Australia of diesel. The necessity to continue with coal and gas until such time as technologies are in place for replacements was also highlighted by all.

Victoria’s road network will continue to crumble into dangerous disrepair without a substantial boost to funds for maintenance according to Victorian Shadow Minister for Roads Steph Ryan.

Victorian Shadow Minister for Roads Steph Ryan, Minyip farmer Ryan Milgate and Shadow Minister for Mental Health Emma Kealy inspect a poorly maintained road.

“Victorians are fed up with crumbling road shoulders, yawning potholes, and dangerous roads. Instead of fixing these roads, Labor is putting out speed reduction signs,” Ms Ryan said.

Ms Ryan said the government was wilfully ignoring warnings from the Victorian Auditor-General about the hazardous and declining condition of Victoria’s roads.

“Poor roads increase travel times, damage vehicles and risk the lives of drivers and their passengers every single day.”