‘Blood on hands’

Liberal MPs Brad Battin and Edward O'Donohue at the notorious Kooweerup Road. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS 229349_03

By Mitchell Clarke

Liberal Gembrook MP Brad Battin has launched a scathing attack on the State Government, labelling them responsible for a recent spate of tragic deaths in the Cardinia Shire.

Mr Battin took to Parliament on Thursday 18 February to call out alleged “negligence” from the government, which he says failed to deliver vital road upgrades and keep the community safe.

The fiery speech follows two separate fatal crashes on Kooweerup Road in Pakenham South which killed young mother Tess Clark and grandfather Don.

Police have not publicly stated to the Gazette that road conditions led to either crash, however Mr Battin argues works to upgrade the road should already be underway.

“The Labor Government was boasting in June 2019 to the Pakenham Gazette that the tender for the Kooweerup Road upgrade had been released with work to start as early as 2020. Now we have tragically seen lives lost as a result of the Labor Government’s delay,” he said.

“This is a stretch of road that this government has been aware of the issues for many years. If that road was fixed, if those potholes hadn’t just been filled with crappy tar, that wouldn’t come out continuously, Tess and her unborn child would be alive today. Don would not be having his family plan a funeral … and it lies on your shoulders.”

Mr Battin said road safety was essential and vowed to continue calling out failures.

“We’ve got members here representing Casey and Cardinia … where is your voice on this? Where is your voice on that fact that people are dying on the roads in your communities,” he added.

“You’ve got a history in our area of absolute and utter neglect. Twenty years where roads have failed to be addressed and what have we seen? We see more and more deaths on those roads. The blood from these accidents down in my electorate lies squarely with this government.”

But Labor Bass MP Jordan Crugnale revealed to the Gazette that Kooweerup Road wasn’t a primary factor in either crash.

“We have learnt in recent days the road itself was not the cause of the very tragic fatalities but an unfortunate medical episode and a later alleged hit and run whilst overtaking,” she explained.

“Both (incidents) have sent shockwaves and an outpouring of grief through our community and the families and friends need support right now.”

Ms Crugnale said Mr Battin should instead join her pleas for motorists to slow down on the road.

“The Member for Gembrook knows full well we are duplicating this road, that planning is well underway, and it was always expected to finish in 2025,” she said.

“He should instead be joining in with our Highway Patrol units and myself in calling for people to drive to local conditions, drive slower, not overtake, keep a safe distance from other vehicles and be present whilst driving.”

A day before Mr Battin took to Parliament the State Government announced a $245 million road improvement blitz on more than 1000 road safety projects.

“If this government wants to come into this place and brag about how good they are and pat themselves on the back, I implore each and every one of you to come out to the electorates in the growth corridors and see what is happening on our road network,” he said.

“You shouldn’t be proud of what is happening.”

Healesville-Kooweerup Road will be duplicated from two to four lanes between the Princes Freeway and Manks Road, but the upgrade isn’t due to be completed until 2025. Works will begin in early 2022.

Ms Crugnale said planning, land acquisition, environmental studies were already underway.

It’s anticipated a contractor will be appointed in mid to late 2021 to work through a detailed planning phase of the first stage of the upgrade.

“Of course if we can bring the project forward, we will,” she said.

“A project of this scale does not happen overnight. Even if it takes two years or four years we all have a responsibility to drive to the local conditions, to be present and focused today.”

With more than 21,000 vehicles using the road daily, Ms Crugnale also asked Roads Minister Ben Carroll to look at implementing immediate safety treatments.

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