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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1982


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (21:40): I rise to talk about the importance of the Pacific Highway in this year's federal and state budgets and of the four-year forward estimates to show the full funding for the completion of the dual carriageway works on it between Hexham and the Queensland border. This has been promised by both federal and state governments of different political persuasions. Both have committed to 2016 being possible as the completion date and therefore, with budgets working on four-year forward estimates, this is the year when the money has to start to show. This is a big challenge, I respect, for both governments. As shown in Senate estimates last week, to complete the Pacific Highway works by 2016, $7 billion is going to be needed from the combined efforts of both the state and federal governments.

There is currently a funding dispute going on between the two parties. The state government seems to be requesting an 80-20 split on that $7 billion, whereas the federal government is requesting a fifty-fifty split on that funding over the next four years. Either way, at my end and for most residents on the North Coast, we want the job done. We want the funding to be secured by whatever means possible so that the promises made are not what has been seen too many times previously from both the state and federal governments. Promises turn into broken promises pretty quickly.

To put it into context, this is a road that has had 809 deaths on it over the past two decades. It is a dangerous stretch of road. It has between 10,000 and 20,000 traffic movements a day, depending on what part of the highway you are actually monitoring. It is the main truck route between Sydney and Brisbane, and so the conflict between local traffic and interstate road transport is a pretty dangerous mix. To date, since the program began in the early nineties with two horrific bus crashes, around 50 per cent of the highway has been built. In nearly 15 years we have had about 50 per cent of the highway finished. It is therefore a huge challenge, which both the state and federal governments have committed to, to get the remaining 45 to 50 per cent done in just four years. But that is the promise made by both, and I will do what I can to keep both committed to that promise.

I note some of the politics of the moment around the funding dispute, which we certainly want to see resolved. I have some quotes from members of this chamber, such as the member for Cowper who, on 26 October 2009, when he was in opposition and not trying to defend a government, said the following:

The federal government has let the New South Wales government off the hook in only requiring a contribution of some $500 million up to 2014. This compares to a federal contribution of $3.1 billion. We should be demanding dollar-for-dollar funding from the New South Wales state government and increasing the federal contribution to the road project if it is to be completed within a realistic timeframe.

That was the member for Cowper's position only three years ago, which I understand as of today has changed. He seems to be now indicating, because there is a change in the New South Wales government, that he is an advocate for the 80-20 model where the federal government picks up 80 per cent of the tab and New South Wales picks up only 20 per cent. That is in complete contrast to what he said three years ago.

Likewise, a very strong public advocate for the Pacific Highway upgrade in a state seat just north of my electorate, Andrew Fraser, on 21 October 2009 said, when he was in opposition:

The Pacific Highway is a state road that effectively causes the loss of one life a week. The state government should pour the money in.

Again, three years later I would hope that is what Mr Fraser continues to think. However, unfortunately, I think the position has changed and again I think he is now an advocate for the 80-20 split rather than an acknowledgement that it is a state road that at the very least should be funded by the state government on a 50-50 basis.

This is important for the North Coast. This is the backbone of life on the North Coast of New South Wales and there is enormous frustration that this is a project that continues to linger on and on and on. It is rubbed in that various politicians of all political persuasions make bold promises. I think we are now through at least two dates that were promised and have now been broken. It would be incredibly disappointing for the North Coast communities if the 2016 deadline was not met. Last week, thankfully, a work schedule was released by the minister for transport for this road. Sadly, that was lost a bit in the machinations of this place over the last week, but it was an important release of a work schedule which did demonstrate that over the next four years in a construction sense the 2016 deadline can be met. The only issue, therefore, is for the Commonwealth and the state to reach a funding agreement and resolve this dispute as to whether it is an 80-20 funding model or a 50-50 funding model. Certainly the federal government will push for 50-50. If you look at the words of members in this place, even from the National Party, they were three years ago arguing for a 50-50 split. But in the end, from my perspective and on behalf of residents up and down the North Coast, I think this is something that is of little interest in regards to how the funding is achieved and more about just getting the job done.

There was a horrific truck accident over January, where a young boy went to bed in a house on the side of the highway at Urunga and died as a consequence of an accident with a ute with some drivers who were five times over the limit running into a truck and then the truck going off the road and killing the boy. These stories change communities and change families. There must be the funding in the state and federal budget and there must not be some grand broken promise by the two in an effort to protect budgets at the expense of getting the job done. We are about 52 per cent of the way into a dual carriageway now. By mid 2014, with the current work schedule, we would be about 70 per cent. With all I have I call on the minister for transport to resolve the dispute, to make sure that he can win the fight within the Expenditure Review Committee federally and to reach an agreement with the state National Party roads minister, Duncan Gay, to make sure that funding comes. I call on him to make sure that faith in politicians, in political parties and in public policy is restored on the North Coast and that we get this job done as committed to by all as they went into the election.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms AE Burke ): The time for grievances has concluded.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 21:51