THE Northern Territory government says carmakers will still be able to do high-speed runs above 130km/h on public roads – but only because it fears it will miss out on potentially millions of dollars of economic benefit.
In a letter sent to car companies shortly after last month’s NT elections that returned Labor to power, NT chief minister Michael Gunner insisted that his government was offering “continuing support” for vehicle testing in central Australia.
However, while the government’s Department of Transport has been asked to develop a “simple permit and exemption system” that will allow high-speed vehicle testing over short stretches of road after a 130km/h cap was recently reintroduced, all other road users will be forced to stick to a 130km/h speed limit.
“Central Australia offers a unique testing environment due to its climatic variations, availability of sealed and unsealed roads, and proximity to amenities in Alice Springs,” Gunner said.
“The vehicle testing sector plays an important role in supporting the central Australian economy, one which I am keen to strengthen and grow.”
That appears to be because carmakers – including Porsche and Bentley – have been willing to inject millions of dollars into the NT to produce promotional videos celebrating speed and promoting the territory to the world – and help to plump the local economy.
“However, road safety remains a key priority for my government,” Gunner said. “Our commitment to reinstate the 130kph speed limit on the previously unrestricted sections of the Stuart Highway was put before voters at the recent Northern Territory election.
“Our policy was designed with the safety of all road users in mind and received overwhelming support right across the Territory.”
Gunner said he believed that most vehicle testing undertaken in central Australia “is not speed related” and would therefore not be impacted by the government's decision to dump the trial.
“I want to ensure the reinstatement of the 130kph speed limit will not be a barrier to high-speed vehicle testing on Territory roads,” he said.
Last month’s NT elections marked the end to a five-year trial of open speed limits over a 300km section of the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs. The Country Liberal party, which lost the election, had planned to roll the trial out to more sections of NT roads in other parts of the territory where it was deemed safe to do so.
The move to abandon the high-speed trial has come under attack from Porsche, which questioned its ongoing support for the Northern Territory.
“We've done a pretty good job of killing off the local car industry, the manufacturing of local cars in Australia, and now it seems the Northern Territory government's doing its best to deter international car companies from coming to Australia to spend money and invest in the local economy," Porsche Cars Australia public relations director Paul Ellis told the ABC.
An online petition asking the Gunner government to reverse its decision on the open speed limit trial has already attracted more than 1600 signatures.
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