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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15760

Mr ZAHRA (3:37 PM) —The Howard government and the Liberal Party have been involved in a shameful betrayal of the people of the Gippsland region and the Pakenham district. Today we had the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services finally paying attention to what is going on in Pakenham. He only pays attention to what is going on in Pakenham about every three years. Then he will say something in relation to the Pakenham bypass. He stands up today and says that they never really made a commitment to fund half of the Pakenham bypass. My question to him is: has everyone in Pakenham gone mad? Has everyone in Pakenham lost it? Do the people in Pakenham have no memory at all of the promises that you made us?

People in Pakenham remember very well what was said in the lead-up to the 2001 election. We understand it very clearly because Minister Anderson and Treasurer Costello came down with the member for La Trobe, put on a big stunt at the Princes Highway in Pakenham and said that they would fund half of the cost of the Pakenham bypass—50 per cent of the cost of building the Pakenham bypass. This is a case of where they say one thing before the election and then, when they are in government in a position to honour their commitments, they do something else altogether. The people in Pakenham have waited a long time for this project. It has taken a long time to get everyone lined up to fund this important road project. Imagine how incredibly disappointed the people in Pakenham and the Gippsland region are that the government are now reneging on the promise they made to them.

It is all right for the government to say that they did not make this commitment if they can prove that. But in November 1996, talking about Roads of National Importance, the minister for transport said:

It was agreed that approved Roads of National Importance projects would be funded on a dollar for dollar basis.

I would have thought that that was pretty clear. The minister for transport then said in October 2001 that the commitment they had made to the Pakenham bypass was `rock solid'. He went on to say, `We don't make paper promises.' In an interview with Jon Faine on 16 April this year the Treasurer said:

If they have a certain business case behind them they can be declared roads of national importance and in respect of that road, after it is assessed against competing roads, right around Australia, the Commonwealth if it designates it a road of national importance will offer 50 per cent funding.

I would have thought it was pretty clear. We are not talking about amounts here; we are talking about percentages. There it is, crystal clear: 50 per cent funding.

For good measure, and so I am not accused of quoting him in one instance when he said something else in another instance, he went on to say in a press conference later on the same day just after two o'clock:

The Commonwealth is responsible for the National Highway, and the States are responsible for State roads. We have a programme called Roads of National Importance—RONI—by which you can do an economic case, and if there is an economic benefit of a certain level in the construction of a particular road then it can be declared a Road of National Importance and be funded 50-50 by the Commonwealth and the States.

How much clearer can it be? This is crystal clear—it is a clear and obvious breach of an election commitment. The people of the Gippsland region and the Pakenham district are not going to cop it. We are not going to cop being treated with this sort of contempt.

It is not just me saying this; it is not just about the quotes I just read; and it is not just every single person in Pakenham and the Gippsland region. The Cardinia Shire Council is the local authority that covers the region that is most affected by the Pakenham bypass. It is so bitterly disappointed by this broken promise that it wrote a letter to the Prime Minister late in May in relation to this issue. Let me say for the record that the Cardinia Shire Council is not dominated by Labor Party people. It is not a Labor dominated council and it is not a Liberal dominated council; it is a council that is made up of ordinary representatives of their community, and they always approach things in a bipartisan way. Its letter to the Prime Minister, dated 26 May, read:

In the last election Council understood that the Federal Government had committed to the project as a Road of National Importance and the funding would be on a $:$ basis.

It is pretty open and shut. It is pretty clear and pretty obvious. The second paragraph of the letter says:

Your Government has acknowledged that this bypass will remedy problems in one of the most dangerous stretches of road in Australia, being the Princes Highway East at Pakenham. Further delays are unacceptable to the community on the basis that more injury and lives will be lost and the cost to the community will outweigh the figures debated by Governments.

Then the second last paragraph of the letter reads:

Council urges you to put aside the bickering with the State Government and commit on a $:$ basis for the present estimated cost of the Pakenham Bypass.

This was a debated motion that—and this is important for the record—following the debate, was carried unanimously by the Cardinia Shire Council.

If the Deputy Prime Minister thinks I have got it wrong in relation to the promise that they made to the people of Pakenham, then he is saying that the Cardinia Shire Council has got it wrong and he is saying that Treasurer Costello has got it wrong. If he stopped and thought about what he was saying, he would be saying that he got it wrong in relation to the Pakenham bypass.

This has caused a lot of consternation in Pakenham. There is a lot of anger in the community about the breaching of the Howard government's promise. I have a few headlines here. What has been going on in Pakenham? This is real life in Pakenham; this is what is going on; this is what people care about. Some headlines are: `Council urges PM to pay up', `Outrage over bypass shortfall' and `Funding row puts bypass in jeopardy'. Then in the Pakenham Leaderthere is the headline `Highway robbery'. Other headlines are: `Bunfight over bypass... again!' and `Betrayal on bypass: MP'. These are the things that people are feeling in the Pakenham district. This is an expression of what people think in the Pakenham district about this issue and about the breach of the explicit promise made by the Howard government and the Liberal Party in relation to this issue.

Let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, why this is so important to the people in my electorate—the people of the Pakenham district and the Gippsland region. In the five years to the end of 2002, there were four fatalities on this road—four people died on this road—66 people were seriously injured and 214 people incurred other injuries on this road. That is why people are so concerned about this. That is why people feel so angry about this broken promise. We are talking about people's lives.

Anyone who knows anything about Pakenham will know that the full force of the Princes Highway goes right through the guts of that town. We have schools on that road. We have child-care centres on that road. We have an aged care centre on that road. We have churches on that road. If you speak to any of the people who live in that town, they will tell you how hard it is to get from one side to the other safely, how much fear people experience when trying to cross safely from one side of the town to the other, and how they feel that they are taking their lives in their hands in relation to this issue.

I wrote to the people of Pakenham and I asked them to write back to me and tell John Howard direct what they thought about his broken promise with regard to the bypass. I have had hundreds of responses from people in Pakenham. Here are just a few examples of what the ordinary people of Pakenham have said. Joy from Pakenham said:

We are sick and tired of the run around regarding the bypass. The increase in the traffic on the highway in Pakenham is growing day by day, and it will soon be at a standstill. No more excuses ... Just get on with it.

Mick from Pakenham said:

How long must we wait? What's the hold up? How many people must die? The longer it takes the more it's going to cost.

Michelle from Pakenham said:

There has been lost lives but you wouldn't know unless you took more notice in Australia rather than your appearance to other nations, like America for example. We the people of Pakenham ask of you to take a little more notice of the people of Australia, the country you represent.

Norma from Pakenham to the Prime Minister:

Take a drive along this area and you will see why we badly need this bypass, and with the building going on around Pakenham it is going to get much worse for us if the bypass doesn't go ahead.

Peter from Tynong North said:

Be a man of your word and honour your commitment to fund HALF of the cost of the Pakenham Bypass.

Shirley from Pakenham said:

I live on the north side of the Princes Highway. I am in fear of an accident every time I have to go to the shopping centre. The volume of traffic that divides our town is forever increasing. The freeway is a matter of urgency. BUILD IT NOW.

Jean from Pakenham said:

The noise and fumes from heavy trucks and the amount of traffic passing near our home is not only a danger but annoying to say the least. Please keep to your promise.

From John from Pakenham:

Firstly, I think a representative of perhaps the Federal Government should see first hand the congestion of traffic when people are going and returning from work, and report to Canberra. I also think that their refusal to supply the extra funding is political because we have a State Labor Government.

From Tony from Nar Nar Goon to the Prime Minister:

We expect your Government to fulfil your promise of half funding the Pakenham Bypass, particularly after your Treasurer's surplus budget for 2003. Anyone can produce a surplus budget by cutting costs on essential projects. The bypass is a MUST for our community and road safety priorities.

Robert from Pakenham said:

A promise is a promise.

Vicky from Tynong North had this to say:

John Howard, honour your promise and let the work begin to prevent a disaster.

And Maurice from Pakenham says:

It is an absolute disgrace that you have let us down. We need our bypass now—not in the future.

These are the thoughts and sentiments of ordinary people in Pakenham. They are fed up with waiting for this project. They know that the Howard government have broken their commitment in relation to this issue. They were promised in the lead-up to the 2001 election that the Commonwealth government would commit to half of the cost of the Pakenham bypass.

We recently heard the member for Gippsland, the Minister for Science, on ABC Gippsland Radio talking about this issue. I think it is important to record in the parliament what he had to say about the Pakenham bypass. For the benefit of my colleagues over here and the people in the parliament, the cost of the Pakenham bypass—in the federal government's own budget papers—is $242 million, and the state government in Victoria have committed to pay half, which is $121 million. We are asking the Commonwealth to match that $121 million to build this project. Peter McGauran, the member for Gippsland, when asked on 14 May about the Pakenham bypass funding, had this to say to Peter Eustace, the ABC Gippsland interviewer:

This is all a bit bizarre isn't it. We've had 100 million dollars for the last three budgets allocated. It's the State Government that hasn't taken it up. Thankfully, now they've announced it, they will start the Pakenham By-pass after the Hallam By-pass is completed which is expected within six months. Now we've given four and a half million dollars for the planning stages, our 100 million is on the table, I just wish they'd take it off us.

Peter Eustace, the ABC Gippsland reporter, then said:

So what about the shortfall, the 21 million?

To which Peter McGauran replied:

We've only ever said we'll fund 100 million. The State Government puts in about 250 million as is the usual and conventional proportion.

Wrong, Peter—$350 million is what your bypass costs in your head, but the real bypass costs $242 million. So, pretty close, Pete—only about $100 million out. That is pretty close, Pete.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—The member for McMillan will refer to members by their seat.

Mr ZAHRA —I say to him and people on the other side of the House that if your ministers do not even know how much this project costs, how can you lobby for it? How can you fight for it? How can you get it for the people in Pakenham? The truth is you cannot. These people have never been fair dinkum about the Pakenham bypass. They do not understand how important this is to ordinary people in Pakenham.

What about accountability? The two people most linked to this issue, the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, and the Treasurer, Peter Costello, have no commitment to this project and they have no accountability. Will the Treasurer be around at the next election for us to hold him accountable? After today, who knows? Will John Anderson be around at the next election for us to hold him accountable? We do not know because he has not made a statement about his leadership and whether or not he is going to stay on. Let me give this commitment: at the next election, the people in my electorate in the Gippsland and Pakenham regions will be holding this government accountable for their broken promise. (Time expired)