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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6397


Mr FITZGIBBON (HunterChief Government Whip) (12:04): I preface my question by congratulating the minister and thanking the minister for his energetic commitment to his portfolio responsibilities.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr FITZGIBBON: I see members opposite agreeing with that proposition, and I am sure that will be appreciated by the minister.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Order! The member for Hunter will not encourage interjections.

Mr FITZGIBBON: This Labor government gets many things right, but two things stand out: first, the commitment to really engage in the regions and to formalise that commitment through the appointment of a dedicated minister; and, second, the appointment of Minister Crean to the position. He has had a longstanding interest in and commitment to the region and understands the regions—something he demonstrates to me each time he visits the Hunter region, on the last occasion to look at some of the land use conflicts in the upper Hunter where we have a mining boom, a very strong horse industry and agricultural pursuits, including viticulture. There are some very big issues there that are difficult to resolve and it is good to see the minister showing such an interest in them.

We are an economically diverse region these days, but the best news of all is that our unemployment rate in the Hunter electorate is 3.5 per cent and in the Hunter region 3.9 per cent.

Government members interjecting

Mr FITZGIBBON: You heard me correctly. And it was 13½ per cent when I became the member 16 years ago. I am not taking all the credit for it, by any means. Certainly this government's policies are helping to sustain that economic growth, the growth that is driving that low unemployment rate, and, just as importantly, to expand our capacity to deal with that growth with projects like the $1.7 billion Hunter Expressway; the third rail track, which will allow our coal to go to port more quickly and more efficiently by avoiding conflicts with passenger transport; and the NBN. All these things are expanding our economic capacity, which allows our region to continue to grow economically and therefore allows us to keep the unemployment rate at historic lows.

Having said that, the capacity constraints continue to appear. Most of our roads throughout the region are like car parks at peak hour each morning and afternoon. People have trouble securing things like child care. Everywhere you look, people are struggling one way or the other because the economic growth has been so strong and so quick, mainly driven by the mining boom. There is much more to do to alleviate those traffic jams and to expand child care, and to address all the constraints that people face. For example, in Scone you have to stop on the main road for up to eight minutes now as the coal train goes across the level crossing. We need to fix that. We need to do something about Muswellbrook and Singleton and the traffic jams there. This is why I have such a strong interest in the MRRT. The government has made it clear that some of the MRRT money will go to the mining regions to alleviate some of these capacity constraints. I seek the minister's views and his reassurance, and ask him to talk about how this can best be done and, very importantly, what threats we might be facing with respect to returning some of the boom to the regions and to spread the wealth.