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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7007


Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (15:59): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the very important issue of the Pacific Highway. It seems incredible that, effectively, we are debating in this House the bickering between the state and federal governments, because the people of the North Coast are sick of bickering. They just want the state government and the federal government to shut up and get on and start building the road. There was a commitment in the federal budget of some $3.5 billion for the road and a commitment from the state government of $1.5 billion over the forward estimates for the road, so there is $5 billion in the pot. Stop talking about it, stop arguing and just get on and build it. That is what the people of New South Wales and the people of Australia who travel from Sydney to Brisbane want. We need an effective Pacific Highway to handle the huge transport task safely.

Regrettably, the Pacific Highway is one of the most notorious roads in the country. A number of areas in my electorate are particularly notorious—most notably the accident black spot from Warrell Creek to Urunga. Sadly, today there has been yet another accident south of Macksville. The Macksville bridge is decades past its use-by date and simply not up to the huge transport task of supporting the massive B-doubles which are crossing it in their thousands each week. The upgrade to the Pacific Highway is a huge task and is going to take a huge amount of work to complete.

It seems incredible that members of this House and other politicians are out there are still talking about a completion date of 2016. That is nothing but an elaborate deception. The opportunity to complete the highway by 2016 slipped by long ago. It has taken 16 years to so far complete 52 per cent of the highway, but the government and the member for Lyne would have us believe that, while it took 16 years to do the first half of the project, the second half can be miraculously done in four years. That is a fairy story. As members of this House we have an obligation to deal truthfully with our electorates; we have an obligation to deal with the facts. The simple fact is that if you going to complete the highway in four years you are going to have to complete it at a rate of 80 kilometres a year. They have not come close to that rate in any year so far, and they are not going to do it now.

If we have a look at the stats, we see that they are quite informative. The total length of the section of highway in question is 664 kilometres; 346 kilometres are completed; 318 kilometres are still to go; 60 kilometres are under construction; 121 kilometres are planned; and 137 kilometres are not even in receipt of planning approval. If we look at the time it takes to build some of these very extensive civil works projects—I see the member for Page up there, and there was a massive task completed on the Ballina bypass—we realise that it takes years to do these things. There are huge engineering challenges. There is subsidence in the soil because of the very unstable nature of many of the alluvial flats that have to be crossed on some of the remaining sections. It is a huge task, and 137 kilometres have not even had planning approval yet. With a three-year-plus construction timetable, a lot of planning has to happen between now and the end of the year for there to be any hope of the project being completed by the end of 2016.

The reality is that there is no hope—the program for the completion of the road by 2016 which is talked about by the minister and by the member for Lyne is nothing more than an elaborate deception. It is pretty easy to write a schedule on a piece of paper; it is a lot harder to build and fund the road. I think that the people of the North Coast are entitled to expect honesty from their elected representatives. This road will not be finished by 2016, but we are still duty-bound to use our best endeavours to complete the road just as quickly as possible, to stop arguing the toss, arguing about the split of percentages. Both levels of government should commit the maximum amount of funds possible to the road and get it done just as quickly as they can.

I have two priorities as the member for Cowper, as one who represents a large stretch of the highway. We need to bypass black spots as quickly as possible. Eliminate the worst accident spots first. That clearly has to be a priority. We have to as a matter of urgency extend the proposal to do the work from Nambucca to Urunga. We need to extend that to Warrell Creek so that we take out that entire accident black spot—not just half of it, which is the current proposal. We have a proposal, and I welcome it, to start work on the section of road from Nambucca to Urunga. We had that tragic accident at Urunga earlier in the year. We need to go further. We need to increase the scope of that project right up to Warrell Creek. That would include the area where we had the accident today, a most worthy area of our construction attention.

The other important thing we must do is get the heavy vehicles out of the main streets of our towns. That is vitally important. It is vitally important that we bypass Macksville, as I said. The bridge cannot cope with the loads on it at the moment. We need to bypass Coffs Harbour. We have some 13 sets of traffic lights going through Coffs Harbour. Bypassing Coffs Harbour would result in a huge improvement in traffic efficiency on the Pacific Highway. It is vital that the Coffs Harbour bypass be an integral part of the Pacific Highway project and not left until the end. It certainly must be completed just as quickly as possible. Ulmarra still needs to be bypassed. That is a vitally important project. These are very important projects. We saw in Urunga, tragically, what happens when heavy vehicles crash in a built-up area. It is a disastrous situation.

I have been fighting since I have been the member for Cowper to ensure that the highway is upgraded as quickly as possible. I welcome all financial commitments, both state and federal, towards the construction of the road, but I am concerned that there is an attempt at deception to make people believe there is any prospect of a 2016 completion date, which there is not.

If you look at the funding as detailed in the federal budget you will see that there is no additional funding scheduled for the financial year 2012-13. Of the $3.5 billion that has been committed to the road by the government, there is no additional funding for 2012-13, which is somewhat disappointing. There is only $231 million for the year 2013-14. It is not until we get to 2014-15 that the new expenditure essentially ramps right up. We have just over $1 billion in 2014 and $1.4 billion in 2015. But if you were to look for a clue as to what the real completion date for the Pacific Highway is you would need to look no further than the budget, because there is a remaining $1 billion still to be spent in 2016-17, which is outside the forward estimates period. So the budget papers themselves tell the story that not even the government believes this fairy story that this project will be completed within the period up to 2016. You cannot complete almost half of the Pacific Highway link in just four years. It is an engineering impossibility. It is a fairy story perpetuated by the member for Lyne and the minister that you are able to do that. We need honesty with our constituents.

We need both the state and the federal governments to commit the maximum amount of funding to the road. We need to get the big trucks out of the main streets. We need to bypass the worst accident black spots first. Saving lives has to be a priority. Improving amenity in small communities has to be our priority. Improving travel efficiency around Coffs Harbour has to be our priority. We have massive numbers of trucks and cars which use the main street of Coffs Harbour every day. It is a deadly and toxic mix to have heavy vehicles mixing with local transport. It may have been acceptable in an era when the levels of traffic on the highway were only a small fraction of what they are today. Traffic volumes have grown to such a huge extent that that is not tenable in the 21st century.

I call on all members of this House to work constructively towards the completion of the Pacific Highway just as quickly as possible, to be honest with the Australian people and to work towards realistic time frames to complete this very important project so that lives are saved, the road is made more safe and transport can move more efficiently up and down the east coast.