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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10054

Mr CONROY (Charlton) (21:00): Now that the New South Wales Liberal government has, effectively, sold the Port of Newcastle, the proceeds should be used to fund key projects that benefit the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Hunter regions, primary among which is the Glendale transport interchange. A veritable chorus line of Liberal ministers and premiers have performed the same song-and-dance routine for the people of the Hunter over the past few years, promising us our 'fair share' when it comes to the proceeds of the port sale. However, since signing on the dotted line, the government has hit a sour note. It has been embroiled in a corruption scandal that has claimed the scalps of almost every single Liberal MP from the Hawkesbury to Port Stephens, as well as the Liberal-aligned Mayor of Newcastle. We have heard allegations that individuals—from business groups and from all political persuasions—attempted to distort the approval process for a coal terminal at the port, and that the way Port Botany and Port Kembla were privatised has rendered the prospect of a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle virtually impossible. It is entirely fair for the people of the Hunter to doubt these decisions, and to demand that their elected representatives work collaboratively, in the best interests of the region and its economy.

Based on this, I wish to highlight my own recent experience which has, unfortunately, caused me to question the New South Wales government's approach. I applaud the New South Wales Labor opposition for their recent commitment to return half of the proceeds of the port sale to the region. It is imperative that the allocation of this—or indeed of the government's expenditure—is done in a manner which considers the investment needs of the region more broadly, not just the needs of the inner city. The Glendale transport interchange has been identified by RDA Hunter as priority infrastructure necessary for the continued development and growth of the Hunter, as set out in our regional plan. The 11 combined Hunter councils have unanimously identified it as the most strategically significant infrastructure project in the region. So far, $37.5 million has been forthcoming, from all levels of government, and I understand Lake Macquarie City Council has allocated a significant proportion of this to the current capital works program. But the fact remains that further funding is required to complete the project, which includes building the Pennant Street Bridge in the first stage, and the construction of a railway station in the second stage.

In December last year, I wrote to the then Treasurer, Mike Baird, urging him to allocate funds from the Port of Newcastle sale to keep the momentum on this project going. I was disappointed with his reply, which ruled out further support for the interchange from that transaction. A few months later, upon her appointment as Minister for the Hunter, I wrote to Gladys Berejiklian, drawing her attention to the fact that the New South Wales government is responsible for rail bridges and stations, and that she was in a unique position to seek further funding from the port sale. I did not receive a response. Most recently, after a further $100 million was provided to the Hunter Infrastructure and Investment Fund from the port sale, I sought an urgent meeting with the Chairman, Peter Blackmore, after he had commented publicly that the Glendale interchange may not be considered through this new round. In a bipartisan spirit, I invited local state MPs, Sonia Hornery and Andrew Cornwell, to accompany me to this meeting. The member for Wallsend, who is a vocal advocate for the Glendale interchange, agreed to attend. Unfortunately, the then member for Charlestown refused to join the delegation. Mr Blackmore did not even acknowledge my request, instead referring my letter to ex-officio member, Bob Hawes, who is the General Manager of the Hunter Development Corporation, a New South Wales government organisation. Mr Hawes refused to meet with me.

As the federal member representing Western Lake Macquarie and Western Newcastle, it is incumbent upon me to pursue opportunities to progress the Glendale interchange, irrespective of the level of government or its political orientation. But when the opportunity arises to secure funds from the sale of a profitable public asset—a significant share of the revenue from which should be invested in the Hunter region—not only elected representatives but also appointed officials should work as hard as possible to secure the best outcome for our community. It is unfortunate that this is not occurring. I want to see the Glendale interchange built. It is a vital piece of infrastructure for our region—a region where it is projected, by Lake Macquarie City Council and by the state government in its regional planning, that 6,000 houses will go in over the next few decades. It is necessary that the Glendale interchange be built, and it requires the cooperation of all levels of government. However, if those tasked with the allocation of these funds are not working in an inclusive way, then they are not working in the best interests of the people of the Hunter.

I call on the New South Wales government to make a strong commitment to the Glendale interchange, and deliver further funding to complete stage one, at the very least, with the proceeds from the sale of our port. Madam Speaker, I would submit that a commitment to the Glendale transport interchange is a commitment to our region, and should be the litmus test for any candidates and any political parties in the upcoming state election.