Neil Thomson MLC
fitzroy crossing bridge 

Saffiotti's Gamble

Minister Saffioti rolled the dice on that it would not rain during the Kimberley "dry season."  Locals say it is a timely reminder that the wet season is just around the corner and we need to be prepared for Highway 1 to be cut off with trucks once again needing to be re-routed through SA and NT - but what does wet season resilience mean since the bridge collapse?

Minister Saffioti took the gamble that 2023 would be a dry year.  But the records show rainfall in the dry season is not that unusual.  In May 2016, 115.6mm fell in Fitzroy Crossing and in June 2005, 55.2mm fell.  In June 2023, 25.6mm fell in Fitzroy Crossing with a further 4mm falling in early July. 

Instead of managing risk, Minister Saffioti is gambling away East Kimberley business livelihoods.  She has gambled away those that catch the bus across the north for connection to major family events, including funerals.  And shortages for basics in stores across the East Kimberley are another example of the ongoing gamble.

The Minister’s most recent fail has come off the back of several others.   It took 89 days for a single low-level crossing to be opened in April this year.  Sadly, the low-level crossing was only open for a few hours before it closed as the water rose again. 

At day 105, the crossing opened for light vehicles, heavy vehicle access followed.  Finally, it seemed like the grind of months of additional transport costs which smashed many East Kimberley businesses was over.  While freight subsidies had been initiated, time is money when you are waiting for critical machinery parts.  Locals know the pain of cross border access to fresh fruit and vegetables when the road was closed.

Now we see the third fail with both low-level crossings closed in the peak northern tourist season.  I hope that the Minister for Emergency Services, the Hon Stephen Dawson is already on the phone to his Canberra counterparts to sort relief for affected tourism operators.

The key question is - how many times does the Minister Saffioti have to fail in the transport portfolio, before the Premier decides she should be replaced?

I have said it before, and I will say it again.  The construction of an alternative all-weather route from the West Kimberley to the East Kimberley should have been the Minister’s number one transport priority in January 2023.  

The Minister promised to build a temporary floating crossing suitable for heavy transport after returning from her European holiday but like someone at Vegas, Saffioti rolled the dice and said it would be ok.

I can assure you it is not.  While the closure might be relatively short, the recent events are a portent of what could happen in the future.

Unless an ironclad commitment can be made that traffic will cross the new bridge by October 2023, a military style temporary bridge across the Martuwarra-Fitzroy River remains a priority. 

What deeply concerns me is feedback from stakeholders indicated that Stage 2 and 3 of the Minister’s commitment – which would have seen a temporary all vehicle floating pontoon and cable system put in place – may have been abandoned due to budget constraints. 

Meanwhile the State’s budget review showed a $608 million increase in revenue from stamp duty from insurance policies due to “cost pressures in the insurance market (such as from adverse weather events) flowing through to premiums”.  So, the State has gained from the floods, but has been reluctant to spend on the necessary risk management.

Saffioti’s gamble has already failed no less than three times and I predict will continue to fail into the future given the setbacks likely on the timeframes main bridge structure once the rains start again in earnest in the 2023/24 Wet Season.

The Cook Government’s first days have been defined by chaos over the implementation of the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act.  

This latest Kimberley transport crisis provides an opportunity for Premier Cook to show that he has just a glimmer of leadership – strength – regardless of his reliance on Minister Saffioti for his leadership victory.  

This is a metro centric government that likes a regional photo opportunity before they fly home.  I stand, like so many others, for our regions and say there is no excuse for Minister Saffioti’s gamble.