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Where have all the visionaries gone?

By Seath Holswich - posted Tuesday, 18 April 2017


During the 1950s Brisbane's streetscape was dotted with rows of outhouses and streets of dust and dirt. As the 1960s dawned, so did the start of the Lord Mayoralty of Clem Jones. Brisbane's lack of sewerage connection was corrected with an ambitious city-defining program of works that banished outhouses. Lord Mayor Jones announced an equally ambitious ten year program to transform Brisbane's 2175km of uncurbed and unsurfaced dirt roads into roads fitting of a capital city. Clem Jones served as Lord Mayor for 14 years and is widely acknowledged as one of the most productive and visionary Lord Mayors Brisbane has ever seen.

How many Queensland politicians – local, state or federal – have carried the 'visionary' tag since then? Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen could be credited with a number of transformative projects, and history will tell whether former Lord Mayor and Queensland Premier Campbell Newman will be seen in hindsight as visionary for his legacy of road tunnels across Brisbane. But I struggle to think of many leaders who have managed to truly undertake ambitious, visionary projects for the long term betterment of Queensland.

As we reflect on the destruction of Tropical Cyclone Debbie and its devastating impacts across a significant portion of Queensland, it's the right time to talk about two ambitious, visionary projects that could transform our state.

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Dual-laning and flood-proofing the Bruce Highway is something many political leaders have often talked about. There has even been a steady stream of projects over recent years to improve some of the worst blackspots. But we're hardly at a point where we will see our state's most important highway as dual carriageway and flood-proof all the way from Brisbane to Cairns, anytime in the next few decades.

The benefits this would provide to Queensland are significant, whether it's during times of flood and disaster or purely as a world class road transport corridor for residents, tourists and industry.

As an investment in our state's critical infrastructure, there can be few projects more important than improving the safety and reliability of the Bruce Highway.

We should applaud any political party who will set ambitious interim goals to see this happen. Let's start by increasing the number of overtaking lanes, increasing the budget for flood-proofing projects each year, being more aggressive about eliminating blackspots and funding even more major upgrades of stretches of the highway.

The second transformative project is one even more ambitious than a dual-lane and flood-proof Bruce Highway. With every cyclone that hits the Queensland coast we see the inevitable stories of electricity being cut, powerlines down and the potential weeks and months it will take to fully restore our electricity network.

It's time we started talking about undergrounding our electricity supply and its' poles and wires. In terms of ambition and duration, this would be a project that would be as long as the proverbial piece of string. Let's be honest, we will never get all of Queensland's poles and wires underground. But that should not be a reason to stop us from trying.

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Whilst undergrounding of power supply is now commonplace in most new housing developments, it would be a massive investment and undertaking to retrofit this solution to existing communities. But again, that should not be a reason to stop us from trying.

For a State Government to embark on a twenty or thirty year program of progressively undergrounding Queensland's poles and wires would be a transformative project. For cyclone prone communities, underground power supply could be the difference between being without power for days or months after a cyclone. Underground power supply could reduce the number of road fatalities involving poles and reduce the number of electrocutions due to contact with live power lines. Reducing maintenance costs should also ease the pressure on electricity price increases.

Let's make a step in this direction by commissioning a comprehensive study to look at the whole picture. Let's assess the costs of undertaking this project compared to the economic costs of doing nothing over the next thirty years. We need to determine the best way to undertake such a bold project, and then we need to take action.

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About the Author

Seath Holswich was the State Member for Pine Rivers from 2012-15 and Assistant Minister for Natural Resources and Mines from 2014-15. He is currently an Independent Candidate for the State Electorate of Pine Rivers (D'Aguilar under the proposed redistribution) for the next State Election.

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