Livestock transporters wary of Roe 8 road toll

Dorothy HendersonCountryman
Livestock and Rural Transport Association of WA's new president Stephen Marley. Photo: Danella Bevis
Camera IconLivestock and Rural Transport Association of WA's new president Stephen Marley. Photo: Danella Bevis Credit: Danella Bevis

The Livestock and Rural Transport Association of Western Australia has confirmed its support for the controversial section of the Perth Freight Link known as Roe 8, but insists that road tolls should not be selectively enforced.

Association president Stephen Marley said it was also afraid that farmers who never used the road would be forced to install technology required to enable the toll to be implemented and charged to heavy transport users.

“It will cost between $3000 and $4000 to install the technology needed to charge you for using the road,” he said.

He expressed concern about the scope of the proposed toll, saying that it would be imposed not only on users of Roe 8 but on those using the existing roads which form the northern section of the Perth Freight Link to provide heavy transport vehicle with access to the port from Muchea.

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In 2014, Mr Marley stated that the industry absolutely rejected “any suggestion that heavy vehicles should carry the burden of a toll on the Perth Freight Link.”

After a tumultuous start to the work on the Roe 8 highway extension, Mr Marley reaffirmed the group’s support for Roe 8, saying the road was needed.

“This road will be good for freight and good for people who live in the area,” he said.

Mr Marley said the association did not mind which port the road led to, whether it was the Fremantle Port or the Outer Harbour option, but that the benefits offered by Roe 8 were long overdue.

But he said while the association supported the $1.9 billion project, it was bitterly opposed to the instigation of tolls which would be paid only by heavy vehicle users.

Mr Marley had previously claimed farmers could be singled out to pay for the cost of the PFL, and that “more and more costs together with increased administration and red tape” were being imposed on the industry.

He said these costs would inevitably be passed on to the association’s members and their clients in the form of higher freight charges to WA farmers, and argued that if the general public was not going to pay toll fees, then it should be prevented from using the corridor.

In December 2014, speaking on Perth radio station 6PR, WA Transport Minister Dean Nalder confirmed plans for a toll, though he insisted it was not a toll but a “freight user charge” that would operate with the use of GPS technology. He said only big trucks would have to pay the fee, which was yet to be finalised.

But Mr Marley says the fee would be applied to vehicles of four tonnes and over and that more people would be impacted by the move than many realised.

The State Opposition has slammed the plan to introduce a freight user charge to help with the funding of the Roe 8 freight link.

In the past, Labor transport spokesman Ken Travers has said there were other options available that would alleviate the congestion and remove big trucks from the roads.

He said there was a rail option available for immediate use that would cost only one-tenth of the $1.5 billion road project and that steps should be taken to increase transport efficiency including encouraging back loading of freight.

In response to Mr Marley’s concerns, Main Roads WA spokesman Dean Roberts said the State Government was committed to looking at a heavy vehicle charge from Muchea to Fremantle, where significant productivity benefits would be realised for heavy vehicles with the construction of projects including NorthLink WA, Gateway WA and the Perth Freight Link project.

Mr Roberts said the route would provide a dedicated east-west freight connection and improve access to Perth’s key strategic industrial areas to meet current and future growth in freight traffic.

“The heavy vehicle industry will be asked to contribute to these improvements through a heavy vehicle charge,” he said.

“With both cost and time savings from the improvements, there will be no incentive for heavy vehicle operators to seek alternate routes, as this would not make sense economically or operationally.”

Curtin University Professor of Sustainability Peter Newman, who is internationally recognised as a transport expert and is regarded as being influential in the revival of Perth’s passenger rail system, has spoken out vehemently against the Roe 8 works, stating the road was first identified in 1975 as being highly contentions environmentally and not solving the long-term truck problem.

“The Outer Harbour solution was well into its planning stage when Tony Abbot dropped the PFL on to us,” Professor Newman said.

“It has little function other than promising the City of Melville some relief from trucks and making it worse for the City of Fremantle. Is this worth $2 billion?”

He said the money would be better spent on going towards the long-term solution of building a new harbour.

Protesters recently gathered onsite in Coolbellup in an effort to prevent work from starting in the Beelair Wetlands, citing a lack of due process, “economic and environmental vandalism” and a lack of respect for the archaeological values of the area as some reasons for their opposition to the project.

The Beelair Wetlands Protectors Camp was established almost two weeks before the announcement of a High Court decision regarding an application submitted to the court arguing for full hearing and an appeal against a decision in May 2016 by the court to overturn the judgement made by Chief Justice Wayne Martin, who found in favour of the Save Beelair Wetlands when it successfully appealed the Environmental Protection Authority approval for the road in 2015.

At the time, Chief Justice Martin said that the EPA "took no account of its own published policies" when it gave the green light---something it had been legally obliged to.

The High Court turned down the group’s application on 16 December 2016 with a panel of judges finding there were insufficient grounds for an appeal. While waiting for the outcome to be known, police, protesters and contractors faced a stand-off at the site as fences were erected and machinery moved into position.

Work to clear the initial survey line started in early December, and as it continued the number of protesters at the site increased.

WA Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan has been reported as saying that the daily cost of the 100 strong police presence at the site is around $40,000 a day, with $120,000 spent on ensuring the during the first three days of operations at the site.

He said that if the same level of police continued to be required, it would become a cost pressure and an enormous drain on police resources.

Late last year the City of Cockburn Mayor Logan Howlett condemned the State Government for progressing work on Roe 8 while it remained the subject of unfinished legal proceedings.

He said the State Government was disrespecting voters by forcing the highway through just four months out from a State election and that the “controversial Roe 8 extension would force a major highway between environmentally sensitive wetlands between North Lake and Bibra Lake and adversely impact communities along its route to Stock Road.”

Meanwhile, WA Premier Colin Barnett stated that the project will go ahead and if protesters continue to interfere they will be arrested and charged.

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