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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 149

Mr BALDWIN (10:35 PM) —For the second time today in this House, I raise issues concerning the Pacific Highway. I now draw the House’s attention to enormous problems in my electorate concerning the proposed extension of the Pacific Highway from Beresfield through to Heatherbrae.

The RTA has put two different options for the highway on display, and the B3 option has raised serious concerns about the potential impact on existing businesses such as Weathertex, the Kinross Industrial Estate and thousands of local jobs. The route in the B3 option involves an extension of the highway through the botanic gardens, Hunter Water land and then through the Weathertex bore fields and the proposed and existing industrial estates.

I have been contacted by the Chairman of Weathertex, Mr Paul Michael, who is very concerned about the likely impact this option will have on the business and his employees—and for very good reason. This option for the highway extension could force the closure of Weathertex, which is a key employer in the Port Stephens area. The route which the RTA has proposed goes straight through the factory site, which has been in existence since 1939. The company employs between 85 and 90 direct employees and more in indirect jobs. This in turn puts more than $14 million into our local economy each year in wages and support.

The route of this highway option will go through the company’s bore fields, where they extract two megalitres of water each day under their licence, of which they return around 1.7 megalitres of water to the east of the factory through the woodlots irrigation area. Obviously, without these bore fields, Weathertex cannot undertake their work, and that would force the closure of an important and long-established local business, which most people would have known as the masonite factory. It will affect a growing export market which Mr Michael has developed.

The assault on the economy of Port Stephens does not stop there. The B3 option also goes through the Kinross industrial subdivision, which currently consists of 30 blocks, with a proposed further 130 blocks to be developed in industrial estates. An EIS by Castlecrest Consultants in 2001 found the development would put some $170 million into the local economy through infrastructure and factory construction costs. It is estimated that over 1,000 direct jobs and over 2,000 indirect jobs would be generated by industry in the subdivision and that this in turn would generate $51 million for the community each and every year. Twenty-three of the 30 blocks in the existing subdivision have already been sold, and the buyers are a combination of local businesses seeking to expand and businesses looking to set up in the Port Stephens local government area.

The proposed B3 route not only puts a cloud over the future of this important industrial subdivision but will be an inhibitor to local jobs growth in Raymond Terrace, Heatherbrae and the wider community. It will prevent a major push for economic development similar to the successes that we have seen in Thornton, Beresfield, Rutherford and Cardiff, which have been the drivers of employment growth in the Hunter region’s economy, particularly post BHP.

The fact that this has happened to the Weathertex employees just before Christmas is also a disgrace. One has to wonder whether any sound public consultation was done before these options were developed or whether a bureaucrat simply drew a line between point A and point B without thinking of the consequences. No-one knows their local area better than local people and, if plans are being drawn up for road infrastructure, communities should be wholeheartedly involved.

The second option put forward by the RTA involves the extension of the Pacific Highway through the middle of the existing infrastructure. While I am yet to hear the issues raised on this option, a range of possible options needs to be canvassed in the community so that plans for future economics and jobs growth, job security and the Port Stephens economy are not put at risk. The extension of the Pacific Highway should not be to the detriment of existing businesses; rather, it should work with communities like Heatherbrae, Raymond Terrace and Port Stephens to help them prosper. The construction of infrastructure should be the catalyst for greater prosperity for a community and not lead to the downfall of successful local businesses and the loss of future regional opportunities.

I strongly urge members of the Port Stephens community to have their say on these options and show their support for local jobs. Our community should not be bullied into accepting a second-rate option that they do not want and that will cause adverse effects for everyone. This is another case of arrogance by the New South Wales government at the expense of local people. Paul Michael, the chair of Weathertex, went to see the local member of state parliament, John Bartlett, and his response was to dismiss his concerns and say, ‘It’s up to the RTA.’ I say it is up to government. The state government should step in, administer the program properly and look for positive direction, not negative effects on the local economies of my electorate.