I rise to make a contribution to this debate. Firstly I will address the iconic
nature of the area we are talking about and then move on to the reason for the
project. The issue of the Barwon Heads bridge has been around for a long, long
time, and it has been more specifically an issue from 2005 onwards. It is an issue that at times
has been full of emotion, and I understand that emotion. If members are familiar
with Barwon Heads, they too will understand.
Many hours over many years have been spent and enjoyed by many
families holidaying in the area. There are generational family memories for
visitors and permanent residents alike — memories of those early morning walks
along the river down to the beach; time spent building sandcastles with children
and grandchildren under the jetty; swimming from one side to the other or
walking across at low tide; taking the children down to the headland,
investigating the rock pools and having an enjoyable time; as well as packing
and unpacking food and equipment so the family could enjoy an entire day of
relaxing, reading and just coming together as a family.
A whole range of members of our community are involved in
activities in the area. It does not matter what socioeconomic background you
come from, there is plenty to do in that area. There are also the occasions when
families celebrate, and the At the Heads Wine Bar has become a fairly popular
place for families to do that. It is a place where they can enjoy the local
produce as well as soak up the absolutely magnificent view. This part of western
Victoria is truly exceptional. It is what dreams are made of, and a television
series has been made of it as well.
For me it is 25 minutes away. It is a slice of heaven, and the
summer memories buoy me in those cold winter months. I reflect on them and
remember that at the end of the year I get a holiday and good times will emerge.
In January I also catch up with friends at Barwon Heads, who either stay at the
caravan park or rent holiday accommodation during that time. Inevitably we end
up down around the bridge.
When we have family and friends stay with us we make sure that
Barwon Heads is on the itinerary to show off our local area. On every single
occasion we find that people are taken aback by the sheer beauty of what we have
in the area, and when we have repeat visits from family and friends we receive
repeat requests to go back to Barwon Heads. Apart from the wide, expansive
vista, there is a lot of activity in the area and a sense of community, as
everyone just goes about their business and undertakes their own activity with a
minimum of fuss and a great degree of goodwill.
In many ways the whole area represents everything that I
believe is really good about Australians being able to enjoy family and friends
at that particular time of year. Those who are lucky enough to be permanent
residents get to do that for much longer than other people, who have the
opportunity to be there for three or four weeks over the holiday period.
Whilst holidaymakers may spend only a short time there in
January and February, many of them have done so for many, many years. As I said,
it has been generational. There is a sense of community ownership of the area,
and that joins forces with the strong sense of community ownership the permanent
residents at Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove have. The Barwon Heads bridge is very
much part of that ownership, as it is an integral part of the iconic visual
landscape that we have in the area.
Today a number of facts have been thrown around about the
bridge. The fact remains that it was built in 1927 and it is the longest timber
bridge in this state — it is 308 metres long. Since 1927 the bridge has had a
lot of repairs and restoration works done to it, with the inclusion of some
modern materials to ensure that it is safe and operational for all users.
Although repairs are constantly undertaken, as we have heard,
VicRoads had to introduce a 16-tonne load limit in January 2005 because of the
deteriorating condition of the bridge. Since that time VicRoads has carried out
major quarterly inspections of the bridge, and a total of $2.3 million has been
spent on repairs and renovations. The costs of repairs and renovations to that
bridge are second only to those associated with the maintenance and upgrade of
the West Gate Bridge.
No-one can say that nothing should be done to the bridge.
Rather, there are plenty of reasons why a lot needs to be done to the bridge.
Something must be done, and it needs to be done in a timely and appropriate way,
with consideration of a number of important areas — the environment, heritage
and social issues and appropriate cost — because at the end of the day it is
The state Labor government understands this and over the last
four years has worked with the community, Heritage Victoria, VicRoads and a
number of state government departments to try to ensure the most appropriate
outcome in terms of what is done with the area and in particular with the
current bridge. Given that this is a matter before the house today, I believe it
is necessary to go calmly and thoroughly through the steps that have been taken
to ensure that there is a process that is understood and to make clear what has
happened in terms of the consultation process.
In 2005, community consultation took place in March and again
in August and September. Five hundred and forty-eight submissions were received,
of which 62 per cent supported a new bridge being located in close proximity to
the existing bridge. In 2006, based on community feedback in 2005, VicRoads
proposed the construction of a heritage look-alike bridge
around the existing corridor. A permit application was submitted to Heritage
Victoria in early 2006, and it was publicly exhibited in April, May and June
2006. Following further community feedback, the government announced that the
existing bridge would be retained, and it established an advisory committee to
consider three options. The three options were to retain and upgrade the
existing bridge, to retain the old bridge and build a new bridge beside it, and
to retain the old bridge and build a new bridge further upstream in the Geelong
The advisory committee considered over 220 public submissions
and held public hearings between July and October 2006. That independent
committee came up with two key recommendations. The first was to repair and
upgrade the existing bridge, provided a range of operational, structural and
visual objectives could be met.
The second was to repair and upgrade the existing bridge as the
road bridge and to construct a new contemporary pedestrian bridge nearby if the
heritage objectives of the first option could not be satisfied — and that is
the crux of the matter. We have had the issue of two bridges on the table for
some time, but VicRoads and Heritage Victoria have been at loggerheads in terms
of not being able to make sure there is the possibility of having one bridge
that satisfies all the other imperatives — cultural, heritage and
environmental. They have not been able to come to an agreement on those things.
In consultation with Heritage Victoria, VicRoads developed a
proposal for a single bridge that substantially met operational needs and
involved significant repair and adaptation using a combination of timber and
modern materials. But again Heritage Victoria could not accommodate a number of
positions that were put by VicRoads. In 2007 over 200 public submissions were
received in relation to the single-bridge proposal, with only 2 per cent
Without these modifications, I am told a thicker deck and
deeper beams would have been required, which would change the form, appearance
and setting of the bridge in the estuary and impact upon the capacity of the
waterways. It was concluded that no modifications could be undertaken to the
original single-bridge proposal that sufficiently balanced the operational and
heritage objectives required to conform with the advisory committee’s preferred
option. The alternative option proposed by the advisory committee involving the
two bridges has since been pursued by VicRoads. It aims to provide a safe
crossing near the existing location for all road users whilst preserving the
heritage values of the existing bridge in line with community expectations.
All that brings us to last year — 2008. In June 2008 VicRoads
withdrew its single-bridge application and submitted a revised proposal with
Heritage Victoria that met the alternative recommendation of the advisory
The two-bridge option was advertised extensively in the print
media, and plans were exhibited in line with the requirements of the Heritage
Act. In addition to the normal advertising requirements for heritage
applications in public notices, large advertisements were placed in the Geelong
Advertiser on 14 and 21 June 2008, the Geelong Independent on 20 June 2008 and
the Echo on 19 June 2008. Twenty submissions were received in relation to this
proposal, and on 28 November 2008, the Minister for Roads and Ports, Tim Pallas,
announced that the project had received all the necessary planning and
environmental approvals. The coastal consent, the heritage permit and the
planning scheme amendment contain strict conditions which VicRoads must adhere
to to preserve the cultural heritage and environmental aspects of the existing
The project that has been advertised for tender has been spoken
about by my colleague Jaala Pulford, who is also a member for Western Victoria
Region, but it is worth reiterating a couple of points.
Firstly, VicRoads will retain the heritage values of the
existing bridge in a manner that will enable it to maintain the long-term future
of the bridge. Secondly, the construction of a pedestrian cycling bridge will
complement the timber bridge. Thirdly, the provision of improved pedestrian
areas on both sides of the pedestrian cycling bridge will improve amenity and
safety. It also means that children walking across the pedestrian bridge in its
proposed location instead of on the other side of the bridge will not have to
cross the road to get to the beach. That is an important point to make. Anglers
will also benefit from being able to fish from the entire length of the
I also raise a couple of other points that have been raised
with me. One concern is that the project has the two bridges too far apart. The
fact of the matter is that it has been designed that way to ensure that people
do not jump from bridge to bridge. I am advised that the width of the pedestrian
bridge is around 4.3 or 4.5 metres.
I have looked at the plans, and I can assure the house that the
rails on both sides come inwards, and that design is based on safety principles
to ensure that there is no potential for people to jump off the bridge.
The environmental protection and amenity, including
identification of offset car parking areas on the Barwon Heads side, are crucial
elements of the project, and VicRoads has been working to ensure that proper
conditions are put in place for parking to be expanded and relocated to another area. The heritage
imperatives of the Barwon Heads bridge dictate that there simply cannot be a
single-bridge crossing from Barwon Heads to Ocean Grove that satisfies the key
environmental, pedestrian and cyclist safety and sporting issues.
In terms of the consequences of this motion being passed, we
all know that doing nothing in this situation will mean that the bridge will no
longer be able to be used and as deterioration continues it will restrict the
speed limit and a number of activities. It will also mean that people will
require more time to travel to the area. We have heard today that in 2005 the
bridge was deemed to have between five and six years of life left in it. The
VicRoads project is expected to take 18 months. If it is started in the next six
weeks or so, that would take the lifespan of the bridge to its absolute maximum.
As mentioned earlier, this process has been carried out over a
number of years with a range of opportunities for consultation to take place. A
number of checks, including checks of environmental and heritage issues, traffic
management, air quality, landscape and visual effects, to name just a few, have
been carried out and passed, which is a very time-consuming process.
It is not proper for Mr Guy to state in a media release as
recently as yesterday that there should be a new bridge. He has also given the
community the expectation that if today’s motion gets up, work on the new bridge
can commence as soon as possible. We all know that is simply not the case. All
the permits would need to be looked at, analysed and issued again. Engineers
would need to look at the project all over again, and one would expect that the
community would need to be consulted about whether it wants the heritage bridge
to be demolished and replaced with a new bridge.
I do not think the membership of One Voice, One Bridge would
give unanimous support to the proposition of getting rid of the current Barwon
Heads bridge and having it replaced with some modern engineering feat.
There are issues here that cause us concern. What is being
mooted, particularly by the Liberal Party, is obstructionist, and I am concerned
because that creates greater uncertainty in the local community. As I said, if
this project does not go ahead, travel and user restrictions will increase and
there is potential for greater disruption, particularly during the tourist
season. The ongoing costs of maintaining the bridge in its current state will
blow out as well. The notion of having one bridge is appealing to me, but once
you factor in safety, an increased environmental footprint and the undermining
of heritage imperatives — because naturally enough the bridge would need to be
widened — it simply is not possible to continue to support that notion when all
those key issues are undermined and jeopardised.
I am conscious that there is a very vocal group in opposition
to the current proposal for two bridges. I have listened to the points that have
been raised by people in that group who have contacted me, and I have had the
opportunity in that short period to check on a number of points they have raised
with me. I am satisfied that in many cases I have answers that sit comfortably
I take this opportunity to thank Cr Jan Farrell, who kept me
abreast of a number of things that were happening in other arenas, and Judith
Brooks, who raised a number of issues. She came into my office last Tuesday, and
we ended up having a good conversation on the telephone on Thursday. I would
also like to take the opportunity to thank the gentleman who came into my office
on Friday and dropped off a fairly lengthy petition. I thank these people for
raising these issues with me, because it has made me have a look at a whole
range of issues that had not been brought to my attention before.
What I know with real certainty from this whole exercise is
that there is a lot of confusion and misinformation, and I suppose today’s
debate characterises that to a certain degree. I have raised this matter a lot
in recent times with a number of community leaders in and around the area and in
Geelong, whether they be councillors or members of different community
organisations, and I have tried to get to the heart of where all of this is
going. I have particularly asked people who have signed the petition. I have
particularly asked people about which way they are going to vote, including the
vote that was conducted in Geelong last night. I would have to be honest and say
that people, privately, regardless of whether they have signed the petition or
which way they voted last night, have indicated to me that we just need to get
on with it. There are a lot of people who are over this issue and just want a
resolution and want to move forward.
When people say, ‘Get on with it, Gayle’, I am pretty sure that
the majority would say that that does not mean ‘Build a new bridge’, as proposed
by Mr Guy in his media release yesterday and reinforced by Cr Katos in his
comments to the Geelong Advertiser as reported today. I am sure that a majority
of members of the community, if they were aware that this new bridge proposal
was now being treated as their view, would not be particularly happy with it. I
believe they would think this issue had been hijacked and that people were
trying to muscle in on their community space.
This is an important issue. It is important
for a whole range of issues. I do not particularly want to raise party-political
issues, but I have to say in the last week or so the Liberal Party has played it
as a straight party-political issue. That is obvious when you see what the
Liberal Party is attempting to do now with that press release — and I would
argue it is a hijacking of the issue — and when you see that a councillor who
was elected to the City of Greater Geelong Council only 12 months ago is now the
councillor with the portfolio for planning. That person ran as an identifiable
Liberal Party candidate, he is not the local ward councillor for where the
Barwon Heads bridge is and in fact he has not picked up the phone to ask the
councillor who was elected to the Buckley ward at the end of November on his
opinion about a matter in his ward. Unfortunately Cr Katos is making a big deal
out of this issue because he is wanting to make a name for himself.
In fact there is a quote from Cr Katos in the Geelong
Advertiser yesterday in which he says he does not think it is necessarily such a
bad idea if he becomes a candidate for South Barwon at the next election. We are
all aware that Mr Guy is always trying to make a name for himself. In respect of
Mr Koch, since he has shifted from Hamilton to the back of Torquay he is
essentially searching for any sort of relevance in western Victoria.
As I said at the outset, this issue is an emotional issue, but
it is also an issue that has a history of process. It is an issue that also has
a history of consultation. I seriously think it deserves better than this
discontinuance motion that is before the house today. I would urge members to
vote against it.