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Thursday, 21 June 2012
Page: 7585

Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (11:56): The city of Maitland is the fastest growing inland centre in New South Wales and possibly in eastern Australia. Its population is currently around 70,000. But the council has a strategic vision and plan which will take it to 130,000 by 2030. Most people attribute the region's good economic fortunes to the coal mining industry—and rightly so. But the mining industry cannot grow if the region cannot grow, and Maitland has been critical to the region's expansion. It is largely Maitland which is housing those who win the valley's coal, and Maitland is one of the towns which is home to the roads which carry the tens of thousands of vehicles travelling to the mines each day.

The region's economic wealth is intimately tied to Maitland's capacity to grow. This is acknowledged by the New South Wales government's Lower Hunter Regional Strategy. So Maitland needs more housing, more and better roads, additional utilities, and a renewed and vibrant city centre. The council, to its credit, has a vision and a plan. But, like all councils, it lacks the money to implement them in full.

We as a federal government have been doing our bit with a $1.45 billion investment in the Hunter Expressway, new schools and recreational facilities, the roll-out of the NBN—which in Maitland is imminent—and dozens of new affordable social housing projects.

But more needs to be done: more to alleviate current capacity constraints and congestion in the city; more to allow Maitland to grow further; and more to revitalise the CBD, thereby allowing the region's economy to expand further. Those things will be achieved only with the three tiers of government working together in harmony. The New South Wales government has been a disappointment; it has not backed its rhetoric with new money and it is now threatening the area's share of the new mining tax by increasing coal royalties.

The Commonwealth needs to do more too. If I have my way we will do more—that is my commitment. But the New South Wales government must come with us if we are to meet with the success we strive for. These things are also true of towns such as Cessnock, Singleton, Muswellbrook and Scone. Great wealth is coming out of the Hunter, and more must come back in recognition not just of the wealth we produce but also of the link between our—that is, the towns around the coal mines—ability to grow and the coal industry's ability to grow. One cannot grow without the other.

I congratulate our councils for their efforts; they are doing their very best. But they need help—our help. I look forward to working with the New South Wales government to ensure that the increases in living standards we in the region have enjoyed over the last decade and that the 3.9 per cent unemployment rate we in the Hunter—and, indeed the 3.5 per cent unemployment rate, we in my electorate—enjoy are sustainable well and truly into the future.

We are most fortunate to be host to some of the country's richest black coal reserves. We must seize the opportunity to make the very best of them. With coal mining comes some negatives: urban air pollution; threats to our waterways; congestion on our roads; and price rises in housing and childcare and other things as the population grows and outgrows our capacity to provide these services. We need some help to deal with these things. We should get it.

In the short time available to me, I say that this job is tough: it denies you the right to be with your family at important times. This morning my family were saying farewell to my wife's first cousin, Grant Maughan, sadly only 46 years of age. Last Saturday he died of that insidious disease, cancer. I pay tribute to Grant Maughan—a wonderful bloke. There was a big funeral today because he was so popular. We affectionately knew him as a truckie. He loved his trucking, his family and his life. It is a great tragedy. Farewell to Grant. I wish I was at the Caledonia Hotel with them all now saying farewell.

Feder ation Chamber adjourned at 13:01