The Perth Freight Link (PFL) is a proposed $1.9 billion project in Perth, which was announced in May 2014, with joint funding between the state and federal governments. The project includes a 5km extension to Roe Highway (Roe 8), as well as a tunnel from Stock Road to High Street in East Fremantle (Roe 9). The PFL is proposed to be Western Australia’s first Toll Road.
The Roe 8 extension will take the highway from its current terminus at Kwinana Freeway approximately 5km further west through the Beeliar Wetlands to Stock Road, near Forrest Road in Coolbellup. The proposed route is along or within the vicinity of an existing road reserve in the Perth Metropolitan Region Scheme. The route of the Roe 8 section takes it through the Beeliar Wetlands, a habitat for the endangered Carnaby’s black cockatoo. Even the Environmental Protection Authority’s (EPA) assessment found that the project was environmentally not feasible.
Despite this, construction of this Stage of the project started in December 2016, with only 3 months to go to the WA state elections. Labor have pledged to stop the project and divert funds to other infrastructure projects if elected. Since construction commenced, the project has been under scrutiny by the community and expert’s and evidence is mounting that environmental protection measures required to be performed before and during clearing of the bushland – including trading of fauna, replanting of flora and dust control – are not being observed.
The second stage of the PFL – the Roe 9 tunnel – will start near the junction of Stock Road and Winterfold Rd and run underneath Hilton and Palmyra and emerge on High Street, several hundred meters South of Stirling Bridge.
The state government has repeatedly stated that there are no plans within the next decade to upgrade the bridge or tunnel under the river to reach the Port. The PFL stops 1.8km short of Fremantle Port – delivering huge volumes of cars and trucks to East Fremantle, putting further strain on an already congested Stirling Bridge and North Fremantle.
Legal Challenges and Inquiries
Several legal challenges have been made in an effort to stop this project.
Despite their assessment recommending against the construction of the PFL, the EPA approved the Roe Highway extension in 2013 following a review that included over 3,000 public submissions. Environment Minister Albert Jacob confirmed his approval in July 2015. In September 2015, Save Beeliar Wetlands took legal action against the EPA, arguing that the authority did not follow its own policies. The Supreme Court found that the EPA is legally obliged to follow its published policies and that therefore the approval of Roe 8 and the subsequent approval given by Minister Jacob were invalid. This ruling was overturned on appeal by the government.
In 2016, a writ was lodged in the Supreme Court of Western Australia, alleging that Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Peter Collier and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs cultural committee had denied procedural fairness when it failed to consult with traditional custodians of the Beeliar Wetlands. The Supreme Court dismissed the case.
The Save Beeliar Wetlands group tried to challenge the highway in the High Court. This challenge was also dismissed.
Between August and November 2015 the Senate held an Inquiry into the decision to commit funding to the Perth Freight Link project, which recommended that:
- the Commonwealth withdraw its support for the Freight Link project, and re-commit the project’s total federal funding of $1.2 billion to the development and implementation of future Western Australian freight infrastructure projects.
- the Commonwealth work collaboratively with the state government to identify and develop future projects that will best meet the long-term infrastructure needs of Western Australia, and that these projects are supported by fully developed Business Cases that are submitted to Infrastructure Australia for assessment and published publically.
- that the Commonwealth release the full Business Case for the Freight Link, as assessed by Infrastructure Australia, to provide transparency on the project’s proposed economic and social benefits.
- that the Commonwealth work with Infrastructure Australia and the Western Australian government to identify rail and traffic management strategies to expedite freight movement around the current Fremantle Port facilities.
- that the Commonwealth Department of Infrastructure and Transport consider undertaking a full analysis of the costs and benefits of investing in a second port at Kwinana, as outlined by the City of Kwinana’s Indian Ocean Gateway proposal.
- that Infrastructure Australia assess the City of Kwinana’s Indian Ocean Gateway proposal for inclusion on its Infrastructure Priority List.
- that the Auditor-General undertake a formal investigation into the systemic failure of the Commonwealth’s planning and assessment of road and freight transport infrastructure, including the decision to fund the Perth Freight Link project.
None of these recommendations were implemented.