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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6184

Mr FITZGIBBON (4:31 PM) —In 1987 I was elected to Cessnock City Council, a great honour I should say. In Easter of 1988 what was then the latest section of the F3 freeway was open to Freemans Waterhole, which was in my electorate. From that day the residents in the Cessnock local government area were subject to national highway traffic spilling onto their local streets as motorists and heavy-transport drivers sought to make their way from the F3 freeway to the New England Highway and then further north, largely, in the case of heavy transport, to Brisbane. I joined with a number of local people to fight for a major highway link between the F3 freeway and the New England Highway just north of Branxton as a means of taking that pressure off local Cessnock roads, so alleviating the safety concerns of motorists and residents, alleviating the massive inconvenience that motorists were experiencing locally, addressing safety concerns and of course providing a much-needed bypass of Cessnock and Maitland—and a number of communities in between—which were suddenly suffering the consequences of this national highway traffic. Thankfully, the then Labor government agreed to build this road transport link. In fact, it put forward initially three or four options. I was very proud to be a person who put forward a submission advocating the adoption of the so-called option C, which later became known as the Kurri Corridor. In 1995 I was pleased to investigate the route of option C with the then transport minister, Laurie Brereton, who reaffirmed on that occasion the Labor government’s commitment to this very important transport link.

Alas, in 1996 the Howard government was elected and, sadly, the project came to a halt—a great disappointment for me and all those who live in the Hunter region. Surprisingly, the so-called Belford Bends Deviation, which will now form the northern extremity of the so-called Hunter Expressway, was also cancelled by the Howard government, notwithstanding the fact that contracts for the project had actually been let. A big campaign by the local community forced the Howard government into reinstating the funding for the Belford Bends Deviation but we did not have such success with what was then called the Kurri Corridor but is now called the Hunter Expressway.

So, Mr Deputy Speaker, you can appreciate my delight when, after a 10-year delay, the Rudd government announced this year that it would contribute some $1.65 billion towards the Hunter Expressway—great news for the Hunter community. We should have been driving on this road by now and we would be driving on this road now if the Howard government had maintained the former Keating government’s commitment to the Hunter Expressway.

Mr Truss interjecting

Mr FITZGIBBON —I cannot believe the Leader of the National Party has intervened, because he of course was transport minister for most of that period. In fact I recall that one day he went to Singleton to announce the Muswellbrook bypass, such is his knowledge of the local transport needs of the residents of the Hunter region. I am obviously delighted that it took a Labor government to plan the Hunter Expressway, and we had to wait for another Labor government to build the Hunter Expressway.

I have talked about local benefits. I would like to ask the minister if he could expand on the benefits of the Hunter Expressway to the efficient movement of people and freight along the eastern seaboard from Melbourne to Cairns.