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Wednesday, 2 June 1999
Page: 5800

Mr St CLAIR (1:48 PM) —This is the first budget that I have had the opportunity to comment on, and I must say that I have been looking forward to it. Before I speak on the content of this particular budget and the appropriation bills, I must pay tribute to the previous coalition government for making and taking the hard decisions of the past three years and delivering to the people of Australia a strong economy. It is because of those decisions that we can now see that the fiscal direction of this nation is in fact forward, not backward as it had been under Labor. Having spent my whole life in small business, the importance of good governance of the nation's books cannot be overstated.

Having listened to the comments on the other side, may I also say that `profit' is not a dirty word, nor is the concept of creating wealth in this nation. They are the two major ingredients of providing employment opportunities and of providing this country with a future. Let us be proud of the fact that we on this side of the House wish to implement policy that rewards effort, unlike the members of the opposition, who really want to continue with a policy to reward failure.

Today I would like to focus, if I could, on one major aspect of the budget, that is, that part of the budget that has shown that the coalition government has confirmed its commitment to regional and rural Australia. It is a commitment that the Labor Party in 13 years of government failed to make, and it continues to lack the understanding and, for that matter, the policies to assist the development of this country's interior.

The major aspect of the budget on which I wish to talk is transport and transport infrastructure. We all know that transport is vital to the economic and social development of regional Australia. The Howard-Fischer government continues to recognise this fact and maintains a strong commitment to all aspects of transport, in particular to ensure the road system is safe and efficient. It is important that, when we talk about transport, we are concerned about not just the transport of people but the transport of all goods and services to and from regional Australia. This includes the transport of some of our major exports such as coal, wool, beef, lamb, cotton, grains, dairy products, sugar, rice, minerals—and the list goes on and on.

My electorate of New England covers a fairly large area of northern New South Wales which runs from Tamworth in the south to the Queensland border just north of Tenterfield, and it is heavily reliant on the transport industry. The transport artery of my electorate is the New England Highway. In my electorate alone, this national highway covers some 400 kilometres. This transport corridor runs from Sydney to Brisbane and is a major part of that route. It is used by many transport companies to service the towns in my electorate and to transport goods interstate and provide those services between Sydney and Brisbane. Without this highway, many of the towns and regional cities in the New England would not be at the standard at which they are today.

Road transport is not the only type of transport used in the New England. We have in the small town of Bendemeer a company by the name of Southpac Ltd which exports granite blocks to Europe. This is done with great difficulty because tonnes of these granite blocks get shifted, and this is done by transporting that granite block by rail from Tamworth to Sydney and then shipping it out of Sydney. I was recently looking at the port facilities in Newcastle, knowing that that port will be of great advantage to the exporters of New England as it gets developed. Like all regional towns, the towns in New England rely heavily, as I said, on the transport industry. We need to transport the products we grow and manufacture to the marketplace, and we need to bring out to the country those inputs that help make us competitive and profitable.

The coalition government confirmed its commitment to both the transport industry and regional Australia in the 1999-2000 budget. The budget has honoured the federal coalition's 1998 election commitment on roads in a budget that provides a significant boost to road funding over and above existing forward estimates. This coalition government will spend $1.6 billion on Australian roads in the 1999-2000 year, of which 90 per cent is to be spent in regional and rural Australia. This money will be targeted at principal freight highways, accident black spots and, of course, bridges. This government understands the importance of safety on the roads and, because of that understanding, has committed a further $37.79 million to the highly effective Black Spots Program. This program is helping to reduce injuries, deaths and road crashes generally in those danger spots throughout Australia.

A new initiative has been provided for bridges in this year's budget. The federal government is providing $20 million for upgrading the bridges on the national highway—a significant amount of money. This is due to the proposed increase in mass limits for heavy vehicles to 45½ tonnes. The National Road Transport Commission estimates that the increase in mass limits will assist in providing up to $1.3 billion annually in our gross domestic product—a significant amount of money.

This type of efficiency in the transport industry and its resulting competitive savings will bring massive benefits to rural and regional Australia, which will continue to provide growth for our towns and regional cities. This 1999-2000 budget includes a $14 million payment towards honouring the Prime Minister's 1998 election commitment to provide $195 million of additional funding to the national highway and the Roads of National Importance Program.

This budget contained, I am pleased to say, some $10 million for upgrading the New England Highway in my electorate and a commitment for a further $20 million in the following two years. Two major and urgent construction jobs have been allocated funding in this budget: the Rose Valley deviation north of Tamworth and the Devils Pinch accident black spot, which is 25 kilometres north of Armidale.

One of the two major projects to receive the funding was, as I said, the New England Highway deviation through Rose Valley near Bendemeer. It is considered substandard due to the presence of three narrow bridges on the narrow and winding road alignment. The federal government will fund construction of new approach roads to bridges over Rose Valley Creek, Poison Swamp Creek and Dunduckety Creek. The plan also allows for the addition, very importantly, of both northbound and southbound overtaking lanes and truck parking areas.

The other major project included for funding in this budget in my electorate of New England was the Devils Pinch accident black spot area, which has been a notoriously bad section of this highway for many years. The funding program handed down by the minister in this budget means that $2 million is provided in this 1999-2000 period to advance planning on that program, that $6 million is provided in the 2000-01 period for the start of construction and that a further $8½ million is provided for the completion of this most vital and important project.

This funding is tremendous news for not only those who use the New England Highway in their everyday work but those who are looking to travel via the New England region to Queensland, thereby attracting visitors to my electorate on a safe national highway. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson, for these vital projects to be included in this particular budget. I have fought long and hard for this commitment, long before I came into this place.

The Howard-Fischer government has continued its commitment to reform the Australian rail industry. This has been done by removing the barriers to the rail network to new operators by injecting private sector expertise and creating an environment in which rail can flourish. This is being achieved through a reform program being implemented in conjunction with the states to improve safety and regulatory and operational standards across the whole national rail network. Let us now look at the Labor Party record. In the 13 years the Labor Party was in power, they continually increased costs for the transport sector while cutting support.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! It being 2.00 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.