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Monday, 24 March 2014
Page: 2783

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (12:52): I am pleased to speak on the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014. Infrastructure is being prioritised by the coalition, as it should be. For too many years we have had infrastructure backlogs that have not been processed. In fact previous state governments were given money and never seemed to spend it on road and other development projects. One of the saddest things about the waste of the last six years was how the money spent was not invested in things that were to do with production and would give the taxpayer a return for their money. We are paying for that, and we have paid for that to a large degree.

I note this bill will pave the way for over $35 billion over the next six years to deliver an intricate infrastructure program—and road and rail infrastructure is what matters. The first job of road and rail is to promote trade and production, and, personally, I think the carriage of people after that is a bonus. The main issue must be allowing your country to develop, to create jobs, and to get stuff to port, because we are a trading nation—two-thirds of our agriculture a heck of a lot of our mining production goes overseas. I believe that in road and rail infrastructure people are a bonus rather than being what we should think about first.

The states and the territories obviously have to work with you—and we nearly have a totally cooperative state system, but not quite, as of yesterday. We still have one recalcitrant state down there in the south, but of course it is not your state, Deputy Speaker.

There are a number of big ticket items in this bill, but I want to focus on the things that are particularly important to Calare, in New South Wales. This includes inland rail, Roads to Recovery, the Black Spot Program, and the Bridges Renewal Program, which is actually very important in our part of the world. There are another couple of issues I will bring up that are enormously important. It is about having the guts to look to the future. It is about having the leadership to make things happen. One thing happening is the Bells Line of Road upgrade, which will open up the whole of western New South Wales and central-western New South Wales, if we get a freeway through the mountain from Sydney. The other is a new dam, which is desperately needed by two-thirds of my electorate, and that must happen.

But firstly, in regard to inland rail, we are seeing progress on this, after a hiatus. It is an ambitious and vital project that will connect Brisbane to Melbourne, and do so very quickly. The provision of $300 million will allow plans, engineering and the environmental assessment to be finalised and allow the various authorities to get on with it. It will also encourage the private investment that will be a huge part of it.

Over the next 50 years the north to south movement is going to be enormous, as will the east to west movement. That is why this needs to be tied with a freeway through the mountains and a better rail system from Sydney heading west, which links up with Perth and Adelaide, and all the rest, on the transcontinental line.

I have heard people make the mistake of saying that this will take a million semitrailer loads off the road over time. It will not do that. What it will prevent is another million going on them. Nothing is going to stop what is currently being carried on the roads. The issue is how we prevent the roads getting more overloaded, and that is what rail can do. It will not lower the number currently on the road. Under our plans the standard gauge line, which runs from Melbourne to Illabo, near Cootamundra, will finish its nearly 2,000 kilometre journey at the Port of Brisbane.

In my electorate the town of Parkes has a population of over 10,000 people and it will be a key part of the inland rail. It is already a key part of the transfer and transport system that affects not just eastern Australia but the whole of it. Inland rail will make Parkes the crossroad of eastern Australia, linking Adelaide to Brisbane—it already links Perth and Adelaide with Sydney. It will become an obvious link, particularly for Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney, but even for Melbourne. It is an enormous opportunity, not just for Parkes but for the surrounding region, including the central-west of New South Wales. It gives the production from that region the opportunity to go straight to the three ports of Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney, not to mention the other grain ports down around Wollongong. It opens Melbourne and Brisbane up. Whether it is mining or agriculture or forestry it will make the opportunities much better. There is nothing surer for a country that allows the transport systems to its ports, particularly a country like Australia, which is so export oriented in its primary industry.

There was a time when Brazil nearly came to a grand stop because of their transport system. It is a similar country to us, productivity wise, but it is just bigger, with a heck of a lot more people. When Brazil ignored its transport system it nearly brought their whole economy to a stop, and if we are not careful it will happen to us. People like Parkes mayor Ken Keith and his predecessor, and the previous general manager Allan McCormack and the current general manager in Parkes have all worked very hard to keep this alive, and I know we helped make it possible for $300 million to go towards that.

The bridges renewal program is very important in my part of the world. East of the Brumbeys—not so much west of the Brumbeys out around Parkes, Forbes and further west—around Cabonne, Blayney and the eastern side of the electorate there are any number of wooden bridges. They are very expensive to repair in this day and age. They talk about 30,000 across Australia. There are a heck of a lot of them in my part of the world and a heck of lot of them that do need renewing. Cabonne, for example, do have one heck of a lot of work to do over the next few years and have worked out how to fund most of theirs. It is a big issue. Timber bridges have to be in good condition to be used. There are a heck of a lot in the electorate of Calare that need to be upgraded or replaced.

I remember when the Roads to Recovery program was established—I think it was around 1998 when John Anderson was the Deputy Prime Minister and roads minister. It is a fantastic program. The last Labor government were not game enough to rename it and it still has the name it started off with. That program is worth $8 million to the various councils in the electorate of Calare. The injection of $1.75 billion over the next five years will ensure that it will continue to upgrade those roads for which councils do not get direct funding. Allowing councils to decide entirely themselves how to spend the funding has been a huge part of the program's success and the fact that we fund it directly and do not allow state governments in—not that I would accuse them of doing anything they should not do, but they are a little prone to getting their heads in the till when we give them money to pass on.

The Black Spot Program is another area where we are able to help councils. I must admit I am not entirely happy with the way it works in New South Wales. I think it is used for too many state roads rather than being used for council roads, which I think should be the main beneficiary. That is something that we need to look at. I am pleased to chair the panel in New South Wales. This program helps councils deal with roads where there has been a history of injury and death.

This bill is there to get on with infrastructure, road and rail, but infrastructure goes beyond road and rail. One of the main issues I have already mentioned is not just putting in an inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane through the western part of my electorate, Parkes and other electorates but also providing access to Sydney and the country that Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson found 200 years ago on 31 May 1813, when they crossed the mountains and discovered Calare—the best place to discover first. The area really does need a freeway. Governments are trying to ignore it and simply spend money on the Great Western Highway. There are 17 schools between Hartley and Penrith on the Great Western Highway. Would you seriously want to turn that into a freeway? No, you would not. Who would dream of having a freeway going past 17 schools. Basically that is what is happening at the moment. Yes, a lot of money is being spent on the Great Western Highway but they are not turning it into a freeway. Speed limits mean it is terribly slow. It is a terribly expensive project. While some overtaking lanes are being put on the old Bells Line of Road, a freeway is what we need and something that the state must do. They have to have the guts to get up and reserve the corridor to allow that express to happen. We all know where it should be. All they need to do is reserve the land and at least people will then know where it is going to go so it is ready to go.

More immediate than most of those things is that the western two-thirds of my electorate—in fact, beyond my electorate, including places like Grenfell, Cowra and further west down the Lachlan—need water storage. State Water have identified the Needles dam as a magnificent sight, but it needs $3 million spent on it. It is not the first time I have mentioned this in this place and it certainly will not be the last until it happens. This project is absolutely necessary. It must happen and we must have the guts, the fortitude, the foresight and the leadership within the coalition to make it happen and make it happen in a couple of months time.

Calare is one of the engine rooms of Australia, certainly of New South Wales. The industries include energy, forestry, agriculture and very good coal. It exports all of those things. But you cannot go beyond a certain point without water. I am not talking about more irrigation. I am certainly talking about something that will give irrigation more security and I am certainly talking about the needs of industry, mining, development and urban development. It all has to happen and it needs to happen soon.