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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 25584

Mr NAIRN (2:58 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the Deputy Prime Minister advise the House of progress on Federation Fund projects to replace bridges on the Murray River? Are there any impediments to the successful completion of these projects?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I note that none of the bridges of concern are in his electorate, but I can certainly assure the House that the member for Eden-Monaro is a vigorous advocate of the need for infrastructure in his own electorate. There are other members of this place, though, that are very concerned indeed that there are impediments to the successful completion of three very significant and important bridges that were announced three years ago as part of the federal government's Federation Fund commitments. It involved $44 million to build new bridges at Echuca, Robinvale/Euston and Corowa as part of the Federation Fund, which was of course a program designed to celebrate the Centenary of Federation and national unity.

These bridges are in fact technically the responsibility of the two state governments, but we, recognising that there was a very great need here, put together a package which would have delivered as an outcome of our centenary very much better transport links. It was agreed that as part of this the states would contribute remaining funds to construct the three bridges. I am very disappointed indeed to have to report that three years on—thanks very much to Victoria and New South Wales—we are not yet in the process of building any of them. Despite the fact that most of those original bridges were built at around the time of Federation—thus making it very appropriate that we now rebuild them—the fact is that the Commonwealth's funding is still sitting on the table.

The apathy of the New South Wales state government to the construction of new bridges over the Murray River is a disgrace to the Federation spirit. Not only are they being slow in progressing the planning of the bridges but they have committed no money. It ought to be kept in mind that there has been a joint cabinet meeting of the two state governments down in Albury, and we have committed around $440 million to road projects in and around towns along the Murray River. Some of them go to projects that are not, strictly speaking, Commonwealth responsibilities, but we have been prepared to help those communities to make a real difference to their economic and their social lives, and it is about time that the ALP in both Victoria and New South Wales showed a similar commitment.

In particular, the time has come for the New South Wales minister, Mr Scully, to stop palming his problems off to the Commonwealth and accept his responsibilities to Murray River communities, particularly given the quite scandalous overrun that the RTA engaged in when it came to estimating the costs of the Albury bypass. Mr Scully wants to avoid all of that now and sidestep it. He cannot. He has a political and a moral imperative to step up to the mark.

The Carr government has just announced a $323 million package to upgrade Windsor Road in Sydney. I am sure that is needed. I know that, when I was out there announcing the Western Sydney orbital, people were pointing to the need for the state government to do something about it. But just one-tenth of that would do something for the people of rural and regional Australia along the Murray River. The fact that that one-tenth is not there, that it is not forthcoming, ought to leave no-one under any misapprehension at all about the apathy that the Australian Labor Party has for rural and regional Australians.