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Infrastructure development: A small price to pay

When it comes to upgrading congested and ageing infrastructure, Damian Christie talks about the things most people take for granted - the importance of quarries and construction materials.

I recently had a very frustrating experience travelling to work.

Gusterly winds swept through Melbourne and a tree crashed onto my train line. As a result, hundreds of commuters had to relocate to buses and trams.

What should have been a brisk, pleasant 40-minute train ride into the Melbourne CBD became an excruciatingly tedious, restrictive journey as I squeezed onto a “sardined” tram that sluggishly trundled its way through Melbourne’s inner north-eastern suburbs. I arrived at work two hours late.

It’s a “no-win” scenario – the reason I don’t drive to work is to avoid the notorious “canyon” of Hoddle Street/ Punt Road. The drive is often longer than the train ride! It’s a familiar story in Australian capitals – a legacy of the indifference and inaction of successive bureaucracies that under-delivered on infrastructure for decades.

It’s only now that some governments have conceded that they must do infrastructure upgrades. These inevitably create delays for commuters but it’s a small price to pay for the long-term benefits of having world-class infrastructure.

Two days later, a friend who lives near St Kilda Road complained that trees along the boulevard, some of them more than a century old, were being torn out as major works proceeded on the Melbourne Metro project. My response was that all this infrastructure work is the “price of progress” – a sentiment I’m sure is appreciated in the quarrying industry.

"People simply do not ‘get’ that infrastructure and quarrying are meant to improve our lives."

There’s no doubt that most non-quarrying people take for granted the benefits of infrastructure – and quarries. They forget that construction materials provide for roads, streets, rail, schools, housing, businesses, parks and gardens – and even menial groceries from make-up and toothpaste through to cat litter. And where would anyone be without appliances, particularly smartphones, laptops and TVs?

The social anxiety that would occur without construction materials would outweigh the health and environmental outcries against quarries. Educating the broader public about the role of construction materials – especially when the country is entering a significant infrastructure boom – has never seemed more important.

We regularly see examples up and down the country, and across the Tasman, of feisty residents taking quarries to task. The NZ mine safety body MinEx, headed by Past IQA President Wayne Scott, has had to quell concerns that quarry dust poses no risk to residents fearing exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

Similarly, a New South Wales quarry was recently fined for importing fly ash materials to its operation two years ago – the local paper talked up the toxicity of the product, even though the quarry has not operated for more than a year and the product would have been responsibly used in cement production.

A quarry has even been mistaken for an earthquake by a seismic authority, despite working within blast parameters. Humans are a fickle lot, always quick to blame others.

The best the construction materials industry can do is continue to develop innovative ways of teaching the public about the importance of quarries and construction materials – people simply do not “get” that upgrades to infrastructure are necessary to improve our lives in the long-term.

The IQA, the CCAA and other bodies use different media (eg print, electronic, social media) to convey this understanding but it’s an uphill, seemingly never-ending battle. So long as the extractive industry persists, the message will gradually push through.

Such is the price of progress …

Damian Christie
Editor • Quarry Magazine

Damian Christie is the editor and a chief writer of Quarry magazine. To contact Damian, please click here.

Wednesday, 21 March, 2018 03:02am
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