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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1874

Mrs GASH (Gilmore) (22:11): The New South Wales government recently announced a combined funding grant of $300,000 to enable a study to be done on the route options for the continuation of the Main Road 92 project. Goulburn, Palerang, Shoalhaven, Upper Lachlan and Yass Valley councils have put $100,000 towards this study, while the New South Wales government will make up the rest. Stage 1 of the road was completed in 2008, but the upgrade terminates at Nerriga. Two options are on the table. Option A, which has always been the preferred option of the Shoalhaven City Council, has the road continuing on through Tarago and then on to the Federal Highway and out at Gunning. Option B has the road continuing along the existing Braidwood Road corridor, spilling out on the Kings Highway just west of Braidwood.

Shoalhaven council, a strong advocate for the road, recently applied for federal RDA funding to upgrade the bridge at the Oallan Ford. This crossing has to be upgraded to lend viability for the extension of roadworks along Main Road 92 that will enable it to carry heavy vehicles. Considerable effort was made to impress upon the minister how vital this road is for the economic wellbeing of the future of the Shoalhaven. Surely, if any case for a direct investment with real returns could be made, this was it. However, we were unsuccessful. Instead $1.67 million went to the adjoining Labor electorate for the Four Winds festival at Bermagui. No doubt the residents of Bermagui were rightly delighted, but I for one could not see how this investment represents a superior case to that put by the Shoalhaven.

It was the Howard government which recognised the value such a road link would deliver to energise the flagging economies of the South Coast, long neglected by successive Labor governments. Some of us here would well remember John Sharp, a former transport minister in the coalition government. We in the Shoalhaven will always be indebted to him for giving us the funding for this road. It was the Howard government that backed the call with hard cash and drove the project: $34 million from the government and $34 million finally from the state. The whole project would never have happened if the Shoalhaven City Council had not put $12 million on the table to start it. The fact of the matter is the Carr Labor government was a reluctant player and made no secret of the fact that it was more concerned with proliferating national parks. That it took 10 years to construct the road, even after funding was made available, with a cost overrun to the New South Wales government of some $15 million, stands as testimony to the charge that it dragged its feet.

Imagine my surprise when the road was finished and the official opening took place. Who arrived enthusiastically to grab the glory and the photo op when the road was finished? None other than the state Labor member for Kiama, whose seat was not even in the area where the road was built, and the current federal member for Eden-Monaro, who had only just been elected. The fact that I did not even get an invitation until this government was eventually embarrassed into extending me an invitation was not lost on the residents of Nerriga. They knew exactly how this road came about. So they took it upon themselves to have their own, unofficial opening at which I was the official dignitary together with the former Mayor of Shoalhaven, Councillor Greg Watson, a major player in Main Road 92. To say I was humbled by the experience would be an understatement.

I can confidently say that the final completion of Main Road 92 is one of our region's top priorities. This recent funding for a scoping study, generously provided, recognises the need to keep things moving. I am forever hopeful this federal government will put its money where its mouth is when it says it supports regional areas and join with the New South Wales government and stakeholder councils to see through to the end Main Road 92. If Labor is fair dinkum when it says it supports regional Australia then I call on every candidate who is putting up their hand for Labor preselection in Gilmore to promise unreservedly to make Main Road 92 their No. 1 priority if elected.

I also thank my state colleague Shelley Hancock, Speaker of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, for her efforts in obtaining the state funding of $200,000. To have the 54-kilometre road finally sealed will be of enormous benefit to all regional councils.