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Thursday, 16 February 2012
Page: 1705

Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (11:32): I am very interested to hear the member for Dobell using all these figures about GDP. But, frankly, they are shonky because this government does not include the NBN spend. For the first time in Australia's history we have a government that is going to spend $47 billion or $50 billion and not put it on their bank balance. That is shonky. They are massaging the figures. There is no truer saying than 'there are lies, damned lies, and statistics', and that is what is coming from this government.

I am very happy to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2011-12 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2011-12. We know that this government is wasteful and does not care about regional Australia. Let us have a look at Labor's track record on road funding. In the 2008 budget the government announced an end to en route air service subsidies, threatening the viability of country air services, and earlier in 2008 Labor increased truck registration fees by 69 per cent and fuel charges by 1.37c per litre. I also remember the huge cut they made to the world-renowned CSIRO. They actually had to close a whole CSIRO research division. It was an absolute shame for research and development in this country for CSIRO's funding to be cut like that. The 2009 budget saw Labor cut funding for the AusLink program from the $31 billion promised by the former coalition government to just $26 billion, a $5 billion cut to the absolutely necessary infrastructure that we need to manage our lives. Appallingly, in 2009 Labor changed the criteria for the Strategic Regional Roads Program so they could transfer funding from regional roads and streets, with 82 per cent of funding to be spent in Labor electorates. The same year, Labor changed the criteria for the Black Spot Program to enable funding to be transferred from local roads and streets to national highway projects, which should be able to live on their own funding. The coalition was determined to never see that happen.

In Labor's 2010 budget there was not one new dollar for roads. That was a real shame. It was a similar story last year—no new money for roads from this government. There was an announcement of planning, but that was using $1.1 billion deferred from other projects. Late last year the government announced plans to bring forward that $1.1 billion of road funding to the 2011-12 financial year and the money will simply be transferred to the states early, with no new roads actually being constructed. What a mess. It is only there to falsely manufacture a so-called budget surplus in the next year. That is easy—take this year's deficit up, double it, and that way we might get a surplus next year. That is yet to be seen. Labor's track record on road funding is a disaster and I see no change until there is a change of government.

I want to tell the parliament about an important road in my electorate that I am fighting to have upgraded. The Dukes Highway is a major gateway from Melbourne to Adelaide. It is the busiest road in South Australia. It is a 189-kilometre stretch that starts in Tailem Bend and extends south-east to Bordertown before continuing into Victoria. The Dukes Highway also meets the Riddoch Highway, linking motorists from Adelaide to the south-east—an important freight route also. There are many important industries based in the south-east that transport goods not only to Victoria but also to the upper south and on to Adelaide via the Dukes Highway. In fact, goods from this area are transported to all places around Australia. The timber industry is a major road user, although if the state Labor government have anything to do with it the south-east timber industry will be starved while the state government's coffers flourish. There are many transport companies based in the south-east, some nationally recognised—Scott's, K&S Freighters, Dohnt's and Whitehead's, just to name a few.

Like most Australian highways, the Dukes is unfortunately no stranger to accidents. It is the most dangerous road in South Australia. Most accidents on the Dukes are because it is a highway on which vehicles travel at high speed. There are often head-on collisions or cars run off the road, caused by driver fatigue, as a result of fatigue, but of course if the road was better there would be fewer accidents. There is no doubt about that. The Dukes Highway accounts for 27 per cent of the state's national highway deaths—over a quarter—and 11 per cent of casualty crashes.

It is important to note that the Keith hospital is situated on the Dukes Highway, and it is a little known fact that the Keith hospital is the furthest place from Adelaide a helicopter can fly without refuelling. The helicopter is often used at Keith hospital to pick up those involving crashes on the Dukes Highway. Even if they are closer to Bordertown than Keith, they will be taken to Keith because of the helicopter. I point this out as the state Labor government has cruelly taken funding away from the Keith hospital. Despite the fact that I moved a motion in the House and my colleagues in the Senate did the same, and both motions passed without dissent, the federal government has not done a thing to help the Keith hospital—not a thing. It is defying the parliament.

So we have a situation where it is important to upgrade the Dukes Highway but also I and the Keith community want the government to restore funding for the hospital. It is too dangerous to have this notorious stretch of road without the support of a hospital. Keith is ideally situated, close to the highway. It is 100 kilometres away from Naracoorte, where the nearest hospital would be if Keith were shut down. I will not rest until the state and federal Labor governments fix the Keith hospital. For as long as it takes, I will keep bringing up this issue because I am committed to getting a better deal for the community and all the people who rely on the hospital, whether it be the employees, the families of employees or of course the patients.

At the last election, I committed to the Dukes Highway upgrade and will go to the next election committed to the Dukes Highway. It is not a project that can be completed overnight and if this current government had remained committed to roads, the Dukes Highway could well have been underway already. If a coalition government had been elected in 2007 or 2010, all the final planning and engineering studies would have been done and then of course the funding could have been part of AusLink 3—which would then mean 2014 to 2020.

In 2004, we created AusLink. It was Australia's first ever national transport plan. It was actually three times the size in terms of infrastructure in real dollars of the Snowy Hydro scheme. I think AusLink was a fantastic coalition initiative. In the electorate of Barker, the Sturt Highway received $205 million of AusLink funding for the accelerated upgrades in 2006 and the Dukes Highway received $15 million in funding for shoulder sealing to the Victorian border. That is just a snapshot; much more funding has been allocated for Barker under AusLink, which is a great program—and of course the commitments came under a coalition government.

Back at the 2007 election, Labor made a commitment to do a focus study of the Dukes Highway. Focus studies do not actually build roads. They do not achieve anything. That is a long way from the sort of upgrade that I am committed to. This government's word is not good enough for the Australian public anymore, because they are so good at breaking promises. I want to see more action on road funding.

Recently in Mt Gambier in my electorate, I hosted the Leader of the Nationals and shadow minister for infrastructure and transport, the Hon. Warren Truss. Together we visited some spokespeople and council representatives. During this visit, I reconfirmed the coalition's commitment to the Roads to Recovery program, a highly successful program under the Howard government. We brought in the Roads to Recovery program in 2000. After the visit to Mt Gambier, and I say it again now, we remain committed past the 2014 deadline. There is a point of difference with the Labor government, as they are not committed to the Roads to Recovery program. It would seem that the Labor government do not see the importance of maintaining our local roads.

Roads to Recovery has been a program through which the federal government can assist local governments to maintain over 650,000 kilometres of local roads, and it is hugely popular especially amongst councils. I can advise this House that I would travel that distance in about eight years driving around my electorate. Over the past decade, Roads to Recovery has funded around 34,000 projects across Australia. Under this program, I have seen many regional roads upgraded so people can drive down them every day, which was not the case in the past. Some had problems getting school buses and milk trucks down roads, but now they can regularly use them which is obviously very important.

When I speak with councillors in my electorate, they say Roads to Recovery is a great program and they would be really lost without it. In fact, in 2006 roads were estimated to cost local government $3.8 billion a year. So Roads to Recovery helped shoulder the cost and enable local roads to be maintained. I think it is a very interesting point that when we were in government this huge Roads to Recovery program was administered by only two public servants. It would be interesting to see how many there are now to do the same job.

Some great examples of Roads to Recovery projects in Barker are the Southend Access Road in the south-east, $358,000 in 2007; in 2002 in Robe, $298,000 was allocated; in 2006, Qualco Road in Loxton was allocated $150,000; in 2005, $12,300 for Kulda Road in Meningie; and in 2006, $16,762 was allocated for Trenerry road in Loxton. They were all coalition grants—none from Labor. There were many more roads in Barker that benefited from the Roads to Recovery program. That is why so many councils loved the program and told me that they would not be able to maintain the roads to the same level without it.

The coalition is committed to another fantastic program called the Black Spot Program which is, as the name suggests, a program designed to focus on specific areas of concern on local roads. The coalition reintroduced the Black Spot Program in 1996, after it had previously been abolished by Labor. Labor abolished it because they do not believe in keeping rural Australia connected. They would rather spend all their money in the capital cities. The Black Spot Program was another hugely successful coalition program because we know what regional Australia needs to keep growing. Many areas in Barker were successful in acquiring Black Spot Program funding—the Millicent to Tantanoola road was allocated $290,000 in 2006; in the Murray lands, the Palmer to Murray Bridge road received $270,000 in 2007; Light Pass Road between Vine Vale and Tanunda received $120,000 in 2004; and the Loxton to Berri road, one I drive on quite a bit, had $130,000 allocated in 2007. I look forward to many more areas in Barker benefiting from this program when the coalition government is returned to office, because we know that the Labor government does not spend money on coalition seats.

I want to come back to the really important motion to do with the Keith hospital that I passed in parliament last year. The government is defying the will of the parliament by not acting on my motion. I call on the Minister for Health, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek, to do what her predecessor refused to do. I call on the minister to do the right thing and help the Keith hospital. We did it when we were in government. The coalition funded the Mersey hospital. This government can fund the Keith hospital. (Time expired)