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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 2748

Mr BALDWIN (9:40 PM) —I rise tonight to inform the House once again of the increasingly dire need for the Rudd Labor government to commit funding to the F3 to Branxton link road in the Hunter Valley. The $42 billion Nation Building and Jobs Plan introduced by the Rudd Labor government must support this project or they will risk needlessly detracting from the lives of many constituents, including those in the Paterson electorate. This is a costly delay at a time when the current government have led us into what is quickly becoming the ‘Rudd recession’. Money must be committed to funding projects that enhance the built environment and provide greater job opportunities for all Australians.

There is no denying that the shovel-ready F3 project will create jobs for the Hunter. With manufacturing company Pacific Brands closing its doors in Cessnock, leaving 83 employees in the region without an income, the urgency of funding the F3 link road has never been greater. It highlights the Rudd Labor government’s lack of support for Australian industry and lack of commitment to providing jobs for Australians. The billion-dollar F3 extension will not only act as a significant piece of infrastructure in the Hunter but also act as a significant boost for the local economy at a time when jobs are needed the most.

I have in my hand a petition signed by over 1,000 residents of the Hunter Valley who urgently request the construction of the F3 link road from Seahampton to Branxton. The project is shovel-ready. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Rudd Labor government are not interested in delivering on election promises; rather, they are preoccupied with hollow, media-grabbing headlines. On 8 June 2004, the member for Hunter criticised the coalition in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald stating, ‘…the funding is merely catch-up and eight years overdue. We should have been driving on that road by now.’

In the lead-up to the 2007 election, the coalition was committed to investing $780 million in the F3 link project. This was on top of the $107 million already provided to start the project, whilst we were in government. To date, 15 months into the Rudd Labor government’s reign, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has refused to commit to funding for the F3 link road. However, it is not the minister’s failure to commit funding to the Hunter project that is the most insulting. The most insulting thing is that the four Hunter Labor MPs are not standing up for their regions in this parliament. The members for Hunter, Newcastle, Charlton and Shortland all cried foul on the F3 funding for years, but now that they are in a position to spend, spend, spend. They have frivolously wasted the surplus on popular, poll-rating cash splashes, instead of investing in important infrastructure to create jobs, jobs, jobs.

The member for Hunter boasted on the F3 link website that he was ‘behind the project all the way’, but now that he has access to the government’s cheque book as a cabinet minister, it seems that Labor never had any intention of funding this project. Roads do not fix or build themselves. If the F3 link road were to be developed, it would alleviate heavy traffic in Maitland, Kurri, Cessnock, Lochinvar and Branxton and provide safer and more convenient driving conditions for local residents in these areas. As recently as this month, we saw how crucial an alternative road is for residents of the Hunter. On 5 March, the New England Highway became a state of chaos after a cherry picker brought down the Devonshire Street footbridge. The accident occurred at approximately 11.04 am; however, both lanes of the New England Highway were blocked to traffic until 4.25 pm—that afternoon. That meant that there was a time period of 5 hours and 20 minutes when travellers had to find an alternative route to their destinations.

This leads me to reinforce how essential it is that the Rudd Labor government get off their hands and act immediately to rectify the situation by providing funding for the F3 link project so that it can commence without delay. Otherwise, should there be another incident on the New England Highway, residents of Maitland and its surrounds will again be disadvantaged, with limited alternative routes around the city available to them. The F3 project is not a matter of want; it is a matter of need—desperate community need. I urge the government to listen to what constituents are saying and take appropriate action, rather than to arrive for media opportunities and make promises on which they have no intention of delivering.

Prime Minister, you said that this was the end of the blame game. Prime Minister, you said the buck stops with you. So, Prime Minister, let’s start the action by picking up the shovel and commencing the F3 link project right now.