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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3881


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (16:17): I will accept an extension of time if it is offered again by the member for Hunter. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport has made grand claims on budget night that the government is to provide an extra $1 billion for the duplication of the Pacific Highway in New South Wales. That would be absolutely great news if indeed it were only true. It seems that he has got the member for New England and the member for Lyne absolutely conned on this. If you look at the budget papers, we see that the minister's $1 billion commitment is nothing short of a fraud. I say that because, instead of the Gillard government putting up new money, all it has done is re-announce $700 million in funds previously committed to the highway and $270 million siphoned from other projects in New South Wales. On page 267 of the budget papers under Infrastructure and Transport, Nation building, Additional Funding to the Pacific Highway, it says:

Of the contribution $700 million had been previously provisioned for in the budget with $400 million brought forward from 2014-15 to 2012.

It goes on with other figures and then it says:

... to accelerate planning, route assessment and other works.

So this is not new money. I note that the member for Robertson is in the chamber. She has got to be absolutely ecstatic about this because the budget papers, on page 268, also say:

The Government will defer its contribution to a feasibility study into the F3 to Sydney orbital project in 2015-16. This will reduce expenses by $150 million in 2013-14. Savings from this measure will be redirected to support other government priorities.

I note that during the election campaign the member for Robertson made much of the need for the F3 to M2 missing link. In fact, in her inaugural speech in this House she raised it as an infrastructure issue that needed to be rectified for her constituents. I am looking forward to seeing the press release praising this government for taking $150 million that was needed for infrastructure planning away from the benefit of her community. And it benefits not just her community but all people that travel the Pacific Highway, indeed up to the New England Highway through to Sydney. It is an absolute disgrace that that $150 million has been pulled.

The government is not providing new money for the Pacific Highway, it is just pushing congestion further down the road. It is reallocating money that was there. An article in the Australian on 12 May, page 8, says:

The largest tranche of new infrastructure funding in the budget for New South Wales is $750 million towards upgrades to the Pacific Highway in the north of the state. But Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner said the promise was partly offset by the scrapping of the previous commitments of $270 million towards an extension of the M4 motorway in Sydney's west and $150 million for the study about connecting the F3 to the M2 motorway.

So the government should at least be honest when it talks about new money. This is not new money; this is just taking from one area and reprioritising it into another. I look forward to the member for Robertson's budget reply speech when she stands up and praises the government for taking away funding for studies that would benefit her community, ones she heralded so much during the election campaign. I am really looking forward to that speech. And I am looking forward to the press release that I have not seen yet praising that.

We need to understand that the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport actually conceded in his media release that not one inch of bitumen will be laid with this road funding. The $1 billion they talk about is earmarked for detailed planning, and that has got to be some kind of planning record. We know this government has a history of putting anything it does not want to deal with off into further planning stages. In fact, Labor promised during the election campaign that it would do everything it could to get the duplication of the Pacific Highway finished by 2016. Yet during the October 2009 Senate estimates hearings, the secretary of the federal Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Mr Mike Mrdak, confirmed this promise, stating to the senators that 'the government retains its objective to achieve a duplication by 2016'. In fact, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, confirmed this promise during question time on Thursday, 21 October 2010 when she stated in response to a question from the member for Lyne that:

I can very much commit to him that the government is committed to duplicating the Pacific Highway by 2016.

Labor had committed only $3.1 billion towards the upgrade of the Pacific Highway from 2008-09 to 2013-14, and the New South Wales Labor government had committed only $500 million towards the upgrade during the same period. It was a total of $3.6 billion committed to duplication. I heard the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport in this House today say how appalling it was that the New South Wales government had only committed $500 million. For the past 16 years it has been a Labor government in New South Wales—a Labor government that refused to adequately fund the Pacific Highway.

How many times in the past 3½ years have we heard the minister for transport come in this House and raise that as an issue? How many times has he come in here and said, 'The New South Wales Labor government needs to match the funding that the federal government has put up? Not once. So to come here today with feigned indignation that the new government, the O'Farrell government, has not rushed to match his pledges is nothing short of showmanship. I understand that the reason he did not want to demand that the former Labor government match his funding was that his wife was the Deputy Premier. He was not about to attack his wife and the government that she was the deputy leader of.

I take what the minister says with a grain of salt, because he had the opportunity. No-one would have had a closer relationship with the New South Wales government than that minister, and yet nothing was delivered. The majority of this $1 billion that the government talks about had been previously provisioned in the budget. The $1 billion brought forward in the budget is for planning, route assessment and other works rather than actual construction. Even if you were to assume that the $4.6 billion was available over the forward estimates the government is still short $2.1 billion if it is to complete the duplication by 2016 as promised.

The National Roads and Motorists Association, in its January 2009 budget submission to the Australian government, stated that it would cost a total of $6.7 billion to duplicate the Pacific Highway. On the basis of current road-building costs, the real cost of building the remaining kilometres is likely to be double the $6.7 billion 2009 estimate. This figure was confirmed by departmental secretary Mike Mrdak during the October 2009 Senate estimates. Approximately 411 kilometres of the highway needs to be duplicated by 2016. Of this 411 kilometres, it is estimated that about 260 kilometres will need to be duplicated—that is work that has not started—from 2014 to 2016.

There is a practical inability to achieve that amount of roadwork between now and 2014-16: (1) because there is a shortfall of $2.1 billion in funding; (2) because there is a very tight time frame to duplicate 260 kilometres of road; and (3) because of capacity constraints on labour and materials. Even if that $2.1 billion in funding were provided beyond the forward estimates, it would not be possible to finish that duplication by 2016 because you cannot duplicate 260 kilometres of major road in a single year.

I leave people with just one question: if this minister thought that this roadwork was so important then why did he blow, and be part of a team that blew, a $22 billion surplus? Think what they spent on pink batts and gave away in cash splashes. It could have duplicated this highway three times over. So the feigned indignation from this Minister for Infrastructure and Transport is nothing more than that. There is not a genuine or sincere bone in his body. He had the opportunity and he failed the people in delivering this highway infrastructure. (Time expired)