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Monday, 15 September 2008
Page: 7384

Mr BALDWIN (5:13 PM) —It gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. This is good news, particularly for regional and rural Australia. It is good news that the Rudd Labor government is continuing a program that was established under the Howard coalition government. The expansion of Roads to Recovery from $300 million a year to $350 million a year is very well received. The fact that it will be carried out to 2014 is again good news.

My electorate has received $20,152,614 from the Roads to Recovery program since its inception. In fact, Maitland City Council—which I share with the member for Hunter and now the member for Newcastle—has received $4,181,570, Port Stephens Council has received $4,134,408, Dungog Shire Council has received $3,216,187, Gloucester Shire Council has received $3,186,116 and Great Lakes Council has received $5,434,333. Each and every one of those councils has major road problems—has had problems in funding roads, has had cost shifting on roads from state governments to local government and has had an inability to fund those roads. That is why this funding program was critically important when it was conceived by the coalition government.

I am glad that the program is being extended, because road safety is critical. You improve safety on roads by improving the condition of roads. That being said, it is important that people do drive to the conditions of the roads upon which they are travelling. Many projects have been achieved under the program. Money has been spent on the Lakes Way by the Great Lakes Council; money has been spent on Bucketts Way by the Gloucester council; and, in Port Stephens, money has been spent on Seahams Road and others and infrastructure, such as roundabouts, have been established.

It should be noted—and this should not be forgotten—that it was the coalition that re-established the black spot road funding program that was abolished by the former Labor government. I was able to achieve some $10,768,569 from that program, which led to the upgrading of a lot of terrible, terrible intersections in my electorate—intersections where there had been deaths—and areas of roads where there had been severe accidents. It is amazing that simple things like improving road shoulders reduce the number of accidents and the number of lives that are lost as people drive off the roads into other areas.

There are some concerns that my community has expressed to me. Those concerns go to the fact that, in this House, on the last day of the last sitting, the minister tried to vilify me for putting forward a request on behalf of my community—the community which I am elected to represent—for $20 million worth of road funding, which would have had a major impact in my community. The minister stood up and thought that he would try to belittle me. I said at the time—and I have said subsequently to my community—that I am quite happy for the minister to attack me as long as, while he is attacking me, he is writing the cheque for the road funding in my electorate.

That is what I am elected to do. I am elected to make sure that I put the interests of my community first and foremost. I am their representative in this place, and one of the major issues that has been put forward to me on a consistent basis is road funding. That is why, when I was re-elected in 2001, I put forward a program to the coalition government for $20 million for the Bucketts Way upgrade. The state governments had wound back funding and the councils that share that road did not have sufficient resources to be able to do the work. That $20 million over a period of four years made a substantial difference to the people who travel that route, including those people who travel on it to go earn an income, who need to travel safely because they travel that route on a daily basis.

At the last election, in listening to my community, I put forward a program for passing lanes. The road has been upgraded and, naturally, people are now travelling faster on that road, so I put forward a funding proposal for passing lanes—but, obviously, the coalition did not win. But what the minister has failed to understand is that that is not a Bob Baldwin wish; that is actually what my community wants. I take what my community wants and bring it this House. So when I hear the minister talk about ‘infrastructure spend’ and the need for investment and the improved safety that comes with it, I ask him to listen to the voices of those communities along Bucketts Way, who are sick of losing loved ones in accidents, and install passing lanes. He can do this in conjunction with the state government, who have, by and large, reduced any funding commitment since we made the $20 million available—and I ask them to consider that.

Another important road in my electorate is Lakes Way. Lakes Way joins from Bulahdelah and comes around through the lakes through to Forster and it is a significant tourism road, and it provides an important economic benefit to that area and that region in my electorate. We have invested a large amount of money in that road, including through black spot funding, Roads to Recovery funding, and the $2 million that was committed and spent as part of the 2004 election campaign. There has been over $12 million spent on that road. That was one of the key drivers of the now-retired mayor, John Chadban, and he worked with me to make sure that we did what we could.

Another road that was put forward for planning and funding was a bypass road to link Fingal to the bay. It would have taken so much traffic out of the Nelson Bay area and would have allowed the expansion of tourist numbers that comes with holiday time to access other areas and not congest that small part of town. But, again, in this House the minister decided that he would attack me for putting the interests of my constituency first.

One of the success stories is Dungog council. Over the years I have worked with the former mayor Steve Lowe and, more recently, Mayor Glenn Wall in making sure that their needs were not overlooked. I was able to secure for them $6 million in road funding under AusLink’s strategic regional program. That achieved a massive amount. Dungog is one of those unusual shires that does not actually have a regional state funded road in its entirety. It has a lot of roads that service the Barrington Tops wilderness area that go through national parks, but they receive no funding to support those roads. It has a very low rating base and a large land mass. A typical problem, as you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, in your role as the representative of the people of Maranoa, is that it is hard to sustain road funding when you have a large land mass, lots of roads and a very small rating base. So we put $6 million into Dungog council. That program has taken a little bit longer to roll out than expected because they did not have the professional expertise to get through the design, planning and tendering as quickly as they would have liked. But that funding is going well and it is actually saving lives on the road.

Safety is critically important. That is why, under Roads to Recovery, the establishment of truck parking bays or rest areas is critically important. A good friend of mine, Mike Almond, who owns Mountain Bulk Haulage, is the former President of the Australian Trucking Association. Over the years, he has been one of the key drivers in improving safety for truck drivers on the roads, particularly in the area of rest so that drivers are not pushed beyond what they are truly capable of or what is lawful for them to do in conducting their passage. It is good to see that the government will be spending $70 million on improving road rest areas. But when they give with one hand, they slap you twice with the other hand. It has become evident that the increase in fuel from 19.633c per litre to 21c a litre will raise around $80 million for the federal government, which is on top of the $89 million that will be raised through the 2007 heavy vehicle charges determination—another tax on the transport industry via the Rudd government. This will hit drivers twice and give back to them once. We are seeing from this government a great pattern of sticking it into people with taxes.

Today, during question time, the Leader of the Opposition produced a jar of strawberry jam and a tin of baked beans, which our pensioners quite often live on. The extra charges that the Rudd Labor government is inflicting on the trucking industry will carry through to these products. Our nation is carried on the back of our truck drivers. All the products in the supermarket shelves come via trucks—the trucks whose operators will pay this fee and the trucks whose operators will pay the increased fuel costs. If the wild fluctuations in the price of oil and diesel that occur downstream are not enough to drive up the cost of produce in the shops, then this additional tax by the Labor government will surely add to the bottom line.

When I think about road safety in the region, I am always reminded of my colleague the member for Hunter. One of the biggest road safety issues in our region has been the F3 link road. The F3 link road is so important to the member for Hunter that, from 1996 through to 2008, he has raised the F3 link road on 28 occasions in this House. He has raised it in speeches, he has raised it in questions and he has raised it in petitions. In fact, in this place, he tabled a petition from nearly 2,500 petitioners. I have the petition here, and it is important that I quote it. On 4 December 2006, on behalf of 2,148 citizens, the member for Hunter tabled a petition, which stated:

The petition of certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House the Howard Government’s failure to provide urgent funding for the construction of the F3 Link Road on the New England Highway between Seahampton and Branxton.

We the undersigned therefore request the House to call on the Howard Government to;

  • Fast-track the construction of the F3 Link Road on the New England Highway between Seahampton and Branxton.
  • Provide urgent funds to upgrade the New England Highway to a level appropriate given its ever increasing traffic volumes.

It gets even better, because the road is so important that people like Fred Brown, who is one of the more senior gentlemen in the Labor Party in the area, Toby Thomas and others formed the F3 Link or Sink Group. The F3 Link or Sink Group had campaigned long and hard for this roadwork to be done—but not quite as long as the member for Hunter. On 30 May 2006, in a speech to this House, he said:

The F3 link is a 16-kilometre stretch of road between the northern end of the F3 Freeway and the New England Highway just north of Branxton. It is critically needed in the Hunter. I have been fighting for the project for some 17 years. Maybe that makes me an ineffective first councillor and now member, but this is something critical to the region. It has the unanimous support of all the region’s mayors, and all the peak industry bodies nominate it as the No. 1 infrastructure project for the region …

The member for Hunter has raised the issue of the F3 link road 28 times—and that is despite money being spent with the state government. The funding mix was changed to a point where it finally came down to 80 per cent federal and 20 per cent state under the AusLink proposal. Money has been spent on planning, testing, the EIS and acquisitions. The cost of that program has blown out. As the member for Hunter said, he has been campaigning for 17 years, and now the cost has blown out.

Whenever the member for Hunter criticised me for not pushing for funding for the F3, I always maintained that I would prioritise the roads in my electorate. When the Pacific Highway upgrade through my electorate was committed to and underway, I would then push our government at the time for funding for a road outside my electorate. In 1996, we started work on the Pacific Highway with the Raymond Terrace bypass. There was also the roadworks between Bulahdelah and Coolongolook. Work between the areas of Raymond Terrace and Karuah were completed. The Karuah bypass was completed. Roads from Karuah to Tea Gardens and Coolongolook to Possum Brush were completed. The last piece—the area between Tea Gardens and Bulahdelah and the Bulahdelah bypass in my electorate—is now underway. I went to our government and said, ‘I think it is now time that I put my support behind the F3 link road.’ I convinced the then Howard government to commit $870 million in funding for the F3 link road, which was on top of the couple of hundred million dollars that had already been committed by the federal government.

And not a word was said by the member for Hunter. In weeks prior to that in the media he had been calling for funding. Why was there no mention of the funding for the F3 link road? Nothing was said to his constituents prior to the election. But the day after the election there was going to be no funding for the F3 link road—none at all; the costs had blown out and they were not going to fund it. In fact, the new minister has decided to really slap the people in the face by offering a million dollars to find an alternative route. So the hundreds of millions of dollars that have already been spent and committed will now be wasted as we delay further for an alternative route. This is the member who for 17 years campaigned for this road. But I do have to agree now, as he has turned his back on the people, with his quote of 30 May 2006: ‘Maybe that makes me an ineffective first councillor and now member.’ That has become true; he has become an ineffective member for the F3 link road.

The issue was so important for a long-time member of the Labor Party, Fred Brown, that, during the last election, the ‘link group’ put together their own radio ads advising people to vote Liberal if they wanted the F3 link road. I do not agree with Mr Brown’s party politics—that is painfully obvious. But, can I say, for a long-time member of the Labor Party to turn around and publicly endorse, through radio ads, people voting against the party that he has loved so much and worked for for so long shows that he has been let down by his local member. On every one of those 28 occasions that the member for Hunter has come into this place and raised the F3 link road, he has had no genuine commitment. When he has had the opportunity to step up to the treasury bench, the member for Hunter has walked away, has squibbed it, has dived for cover. I do not think the members of his electorate, or the people in the Hunter, are going to forget the fact that he made so much of a song and dance about the F3 link road and has now walked away from it.

We also hear very little from other members in the Hunter. I know that the member for Charlton is only new to the House but, if memory serves me correctly, part of this road runs through his electorate. But there has not been a word from him. Is he listening to his community?

Mr Byrne —He’s already spoken on it.

Mr BALDWIN —But he has not talked about the F3 link road. He might have spoken on it but he has not committed to the road funding. I would have thought that members opposite would be there supporting safety and moving the heavy traffic flow that goes up the New England Highway away from Maitland. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why at the council elections on the weekend—(Time expired)