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Thursday, 12 May 2011
Page: 3884

Ms SAFFIN (Page) (16:27): For the benefit of the honourable member for Paterson: you cannot build a road without the detailed planning. Money has to be made available for the construction but also for the detailed planning. That is a simple fact. You cannot just go out and build it.

The road that we are talking about, the Pacific Highway, requires extensive planning. The honourable member for Paterson said it could not possibly be finished by 2016. I have heard and noted every promise, every commitment given by every player about the Pacific Highway over a few decades. The most recent was from the now Deputy Premier of New South Wales, Mr Andrew Stoner, then the Deputy Opposition Leader. He gave a commitment to the 2016 time frame. Everybody has given that commitment. I heard Mr Stoner. I have records of it. I have a file on the Pacific Highway that is knee deep. I have been involved in advocacy, meetings, planning, discussions, debate and in the inevitable funding disputes that the honourable member for Lyne said we should try to avoid. I agree with him, but these have been part and parcel of it since it started. It has only been in the last few years that we have started to get to a situation of agreement and cooperation. I just hope that that continues, because it is absolutely essential.

I found what the honourable member for Paterson said about the figures perplexing. I know the honourable member for Cowper has been bleating in the local media and on the airwaves about there not being new funding et cetera. I do not know why they cannot ever just accept it when funding is made available and say: 'Great. Good on you! Let's get on with the work.' That would be a preferable response but no, they have to go out and sully the waters, disturb people, make them think that nothing is happening. It is just so not true. The maths are simple: $3.1 billion was the previous allocation by this federal government, by the Gillard government. It was started under the Rudd government, continued under the Gillard government and continues again in this budget, with an extra billion dollars in new funding for the Pacific Highway.

Ms O'Neill: Hear, hear!

Ms SAFFIN: Hear, hear, indeed, honourable member for Robertson! I have been in the media talking about it and welcoming it. I thought it would be all systems go, because in the lead-up to the state election in New South Wales everybody was on board: the then state Labor government and the then opposition coalition—now the government—were saying, 'Great, we are going to fund this; 2016 is the operative date.' And I would expect that to continue and, in the spirit of cooperation, I would hope that the Premier does come on board and says, 'The money is available.' I have only read what he is purported to have said in the media. I do not want to verbal anybody. The NewcastleHeraldsays that the highway pledge—that is, the highway pledge from our government—took the state government by surprise. I do not know why, because we have all been talking about it for so long in the media and saying it would happen. A headline in the Daily Telegraph reads 'O'Farrell's fury at Pacific Highway funding split'. I am not sure if that is correct; I hope it is not. The Sydney Morning Herald was a bit more responsible in its reporting, carrying the headline, 'Horror stretch to go once O'Farrell gives funding green light'. That is what we are asking for—the green funding light. Instead of being in the local media telling people that it is not really new funding and blah, blah, blah, I would hope that the member for Cowper would be working with his colleagues at state level to say, 'Great, we have got this extra money; let's go.' I just find it incomprehensible that when money is allocated, particularly money that will benefit his constituents, the people in his seat of Cowper, he goes out and starts to denigrate it. It just seems a bit bizarre to me.

This government is providing $4.1 billion in funding. If we had had that money sooner, if the Howard government had not taken $2 billion out of the national road network—which it did—and if some of that money had stayed in that pie, we would actually be in a situation where we could almost have the duplication of the Pacific Highway today.

I also want to comment on something that the honourable member for Hunter talked about. It was an expectation that the federal government will fund anything, and he referred to the psychology of state governments. I think that that psychology has shifted somewhat into the community as well because there is an expectation that the federal government, whoever it is, can fund anything. If we want to work in that spirit of cooperation and not under the conflict model then we have to ensure that all of us are on board, using the same language, talking about cooperation and talking about the way we can get it funded.

One of the things that I have been able to do as the federal member for Page is to ensure that there are some additional funds for the Pacific Highway and to work in that cooperative model and criticise or critique when it is necessary. Yes, I have critiqued the Howard government and some of the members opposite still here who were part of that government for taking money out of the national road network. Yes, I criticised the state Labor government for taking some money out of the planning pie. And today I am also criticising the coalition government for not stumping up straightaway and saying, 'Here we are, here are the dollars; let's just get on it with it and let's get this road built.'

The Pacific Highway is my backyard; it is my local road. I drive on it frequently. I have been witness to the dreadful accidents that happen on the Pacific Highway. What disturbs me is that a lot of people hit the airwaves when those accidents occur and start the blame game; they start accusing each other. They get in the media and start talking about it. I have never done it. I will not do it. At times like that, just out of respect for the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones, I think it would be better if we kept our mouths shut, and I have adhered to that principle and I will continue to do that. I do not want to be in a position where I wake up early in the morning and hear the first report in the media that there has been another accident on the Pacific Highway. I know none of us do. It is dreadful when we hear that. We do want to ensure that the road is finished.

There has been debate about 2016. The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport has said that this road can be built by 2016. The Prime Minister has said that in this place. Many people have said that it can be done if the money is there. I heard the honourable member for Paterson talk about a $2.1 billion shortfall. Well, in the budget there was just over an extra billion dollars. We do not need a lot more money. That can come from the state government. Remember: the Pacific Highway was primarily the responsibility of the state government, and the federal government is stumping up because of the need, because of the urgency. The federal government has said, 'Yes, we will fund it because it is an urgent priority; we need to do it.' I hope to wake up in the morning and hear the honourable member for Cowper in the media saying: 'This is welcome. We have got a billion dollars for the Pacific Highway—money in our area. Isn't this great! I am talking to Premier O'Farrell to ensure that he matches this funding,' and that we get this road built by 2016 so that we can stop this debate and have the duplication done all the way to the border.