LETTER: Time for a third sealed national route


Sir,- The Outback Highway Development Council Inc (OHDC) in the last two months has updated the WA, Qld and the federal governments and the federal opposition about the Outback Way project, which returns $4.70 into the economy for every dollar spent.
The meetings have been advantageous, with welcome support  from all levels of government. However the appropriate funding avenue needs further work, by us, the states and the Commonwealth.
With the current IA state priority listing as a critical component, the Outback Way struggles to compete with the larger projects – yet delivers on every other assessment guidelines
The OHDC Inc. will be working with IA in the coming months, in addition working with the states and the Territory to pursue a stand-alone project from the three relevant jurisdictions, and efforts are continuing to include a strategic component in IA funding mechanism so cross border projects can be recognised on their merits – ie: being good for the whole of Northern Australia, without the need for State priority listing.
We are shovel ready, if given the funding – we have the first five years of road works prioritised by sections effecting connectivity the most, the decisions are about the whole route and don’t get caught on parochial state and territory borders.
As Glen Stevens from the RBA suggested we need enabling infrastructure to keep Australia going – the Outback Way saves two days travel from Perth to  North Queensland for freight, $16,000/mining movement one way from Qld to WA, $1million / shift for emergency equipment transfers, makes it easier for WA and Qld to use the Darwin port, it changes the way we do business both domestically and as an exporting nation.
Patrick Hill
Chairman OHDC Inc.


  1. What this means is the sealing of the 800km Plenty Highway from Boulia, Qld, through to the Stuart Highway in the NT. The reasons given are to save “two days” and allow “mining” quicker export access to “keep Australia going.”
    There is no talk here of leaving some bush free from the super highway traffic. It’s as if the wild bush has no value except as a transit zone. The Plenty already carries traffic ranging from beef cattle trucks, miners, locals, tourists and caravans.
    I’ve been a regular user of the Plenty for 30 years. It’s graded from both ends annually, sometimes more. Increasing speed of recreational four wheel drives, with off-road campers is a hazard as people make their transit with windows up, oblivious to the wildlife and values of the bush, just getting from one end to the other as quick as they can.
    I say, leave it alone. Go the Barkly if you want bitumen. It’s only another 500 kms around and it leaves some of Australia for those who don’t want the increasing madness of mining take-over of land and narrow-focussed productivity goals.

  2. Hear Hear! Thank you Russell Guy for standing up for the NT environment on behalf of those of us who cannot be there in person – yet.
    Henry Chewings.

  3. Has there ever been a proper cost-benefit analysis on this? Without some sound economic reason for endorsing this claim on scarce resources, I’m with Russell

  4. Sorry everyone, I’m in favor of the Outback Highway. This is a major national development which should have been completed many years ago. This project along with several strategic rail corridors are urgently required.
    The sealing of the highway will be a beacon for the tourism industry. It will provide us with a much needed major new coach route and easy access to our region for domestic travelers. In the NT and WA especially the sealed highway will pass many Aboriginal communities presenting them with the best opportunity they will ever have to finally leap into the 21st Century. The benefits for these communities will be wide ranging.
    Most importantly many new travelers will pass these communities giving them the opportunity to open new businesses. Much better option than receiving benefits.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love the bush, I grew up in the country, I still live in the country and The Australian Bush must be protected and preserved at all cost. You are right to point out though, Russell, that the wild bush does have value and yes it should be more than just a “transit zone” and this project delivers more than that, in spades!
    Ian, many, many people have been working on this project for many years in order to see it come to fruition. They have consulted many people across the three states (I’ve just upgraded us to a state), I’m sure a very detailed cost-benefit analysis has been undertaken and I’m equally as sure that many remote Aboriginal communities will be amongst the biggest beneficiaries of this marvelous project.

  5. Rex @ September 6, 12:37AM. The mind-numbing collection of cliches you’ve dredged up to support this “marvelous project” is, quite frankly, a fantasia, e.g., “major national development”, “strategic rail corridors” (at what price, short of smelting Pilbara ore locally and linking into the Ghan?)
    Study the history of Australian rail proposals over the past century and you’ll have your eyes opened to strategic rail corridors, “a beacon for the tourist industry” and all “urgently required,” but what, exactly, do you mean by a “much needed new coach route”? Greyhound are just keeping their head above water as it is.
    I don’t mean to sensationalise or be negative, but your wild exposition of Aboriginal communities taking a leap into the 21st century is a paper yabber.
    If you’re so sure that a cost-benefit analysis for this project has been done over the decades it’s been flying, why hasn’t it surfaced and more especially, from Patrick Hill whose letter to the AS News floated it again so recently?

  6. Sorry Rex Neindorf (Posted September 6, 2012 at 12:37 am), hold your horses, comrade, you have got this all mixed up. Patrick Hill and his Outback Highway Development Council aren’t lobbying for the billion or so dollars that would be needed to complete sealing of these roads between Laverton and Boulia: they are simply trying to obtain the mere $150 million required to bring gravel sections of the route up to unsealed all-weather status.
    However, even this modest cut-rate version of your dream risks being another one of those you beaut big ideas, beloved of officials conflicted by addiction to one-eyed parochial boosterism, wanting to be seen to be “doing something” for local entrepreneurs, but extremely expensive and with negligible return likely on the investment for the nation, and done at the expense of other needs. We have learnt that lesson already, I would have thought, after hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been written off in the course of the Darwin railway connection fiasco.
    There has been no “detailed cost-benefit analysis” undertaken, just some calculations based on some very questionable assumptions, and it is unlikely that there will ever be one, as it would cost Qld, WA and the NT many millions of dollars they don’t have just to bring the thing up to unsealed all-weather status, all for the sake of a few extra coaches, trucks and cars using the route. The cost of paying the interest on the borrowings, along with the cost of maintenance, would in no way be commensurate with the benefits, and it would in turn help undermine the case for maintenance and expansion of the more economically valid rail networks in the states and Territory.
    On the list of serious needs in Central Australia (e.g. half a dozen significant arterial routes and many inter-community roads urgently needing major investment just to bring them closer to unsealed all-weather status, many airstrips requiring major upgrades, hundreds of millions needed for housing and associated services, secondary school and VET facilities required in several communities, expanded police and court buildings, early childhood services and centres, youth centres, sports and recreation facilities) the Docker-Uluru and Atitjere-Boulia connections do register, but are not clear priorities. On the other hand, failure to make some of these other investments will cost Australia enormously.
    As for your wishful fantasy that having a little-used highway (either sealed or unsealed) that will “pass many Aboriginal communities presenting them with the best opportunity they will ever have to finally leap into the 21st Century” this is delusional. There are only three Aboriginal communities on the unsealed sections of the NT portion of this route, none in Qld, and two in WA. The benefits for these communities will not be “wide ranging”. In fact it could well be the opposite – witness what has happened in tourist highway truckstops such as Ti Tree and Mt Ebenezer over the past forty years – endless problems with alcohol, and very few benefits to the communities. If there was any significant growth in traffic, the “opportunity to open new businesses” would inevitably flow to the regional centres such as Alice, and the reality would turn out not to be a “much better option than receiving benefits”.

  7. Perhaps, Bob and Russell, instead of me trying to explain how hugely important this road will be to our region go and have a chat with Mayor Damien Ryan. He might offer a better explanation as to why this road is so crucial for us all.

  8. Well said Bob and Russell. Sorry Rex, but opportunity cost is at the heart of this (they don’t call economics the “dismal science” for nothing). Scarcity of resources is real even for governments. You are “sure” a cost-benefit analysis has been done, I would like to see it, just as a starting point for further discussion.

  9. Hi Ian, yes a full cost-benefit analysis is being done right now. Details are on the Outback Highway website. I’m hoping that Bob, Russell and perhaps even yourself have had a chance to chat with the Mayor over this issue as I am sure he will convince you all of the importance of this project.
    [Hi All … we’ve invited the Mayor to participate in the discussion here. – ED]

  10. Rex (Posted September 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm), there is a link to an old and not very detailed document on the website, which is what I originally read, but Helen from the Outback Highway committee in Laverton has emailed me a copy of a much larger and more comprehensive effort from April this year after I contacted Patrick and her. I will try to read it tonight and see if it changes any of my opinions.

  11. Erwin,
    Thanks for inviting the Mayor to give us the benefit of his trip to Boulia and any insight he may have regarding this blacktop adventure. I have not changed my thinking (as posted several times here) and continue to be concerned that Australians can allow alcohol abuse through liberal supply to the tune of $36b p.a. while crying out for more Federal funds to help them live the lifestyle of their choice. Ready when you are, Mr Mayor.

  12. Hi All,
    Mayor Damien Ryan has declined our invitation to join the debate here but he gave me information – see below – saying that he had no opportunity to access this site.
    This surprised me as Damien is one of the most prolific tweeters – 22 of them on September 7, for example, including some footy score updates – but it’s a free country!
    Damien says he went to Canberra three weeks ago for discussions about the east-west highway and received a good hearing from both parties.
    Barnaby Joyce is especially keen on the idea.
    Damien says he recently briefed the council on the issues.
    The Territory alone is spending $20m a year fixing the present dirt sections of the route.
    It is not yet a project of the highest priority for Infrastructure Australia nor for Regional Development Australia, and the proponents are looking for $540 over 10 years across the two states and the NT.
    The cost is $250,000 per kilometer.
    In Queensland and WA local government builds roads.
    Damien says it took years of lobbying to get the south road sealed between Alice and Port Augusta, with the local ASPRO group pushing hard.

  13. I’ll try and spell it out for you, Rex. Sealing the Plenty, plus building at least two bridges on the NT side will cost X# of million dollars, but you’ve not been able to grasp the expense of liberal alcohol supply policy on the Australian community, which has already increased with the NT CL government, e.g, burning the $2.5m that taxpayers contributed to the dismantled Banned Drinkers Register (WA now wants it). That’s not including the uncosted proposed rehab prison farms or the cost of factoring in the ongoing recidivist stats … blah, blah, blah … you sound more like Steve Brown every day.
    We’ve tried everything in the past forty years except turning down the tap. How long and how many more millions of dollars will be wasted on alcohol abuse – or do you think Treasury is a bottomless pit to be propped up by the mining industry, while being siphoned off by the alcohol industry? This is not a rhetorical question.

  14. On Twitter from Senator Trish Crossin ‏@trishcrossin
    @alice_news happy to talk about the Outback Highway anytime … this is a great corridor linking this nation and should be sealed.
    Retweeted by EliMelkyAliceSprings

  15. Increasing the public capital assets through roads and bridges will (IMO) do nothing but good for all concerned. Thanks for the good news and way to go, Folks!


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