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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1362

Senator ROBERTSON —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport been drawn to reports of criticism by spokesmen for the Northern Territory Government that the Federal Government has deliber- ately delayed approvals for a number of road construction projects on the Stuart Highway between Alice Springs and Darwin? Is there any substance to these allegations?

Senator GIETZELT —I am aware of the rather outlandish statements made by the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory and, of course, the contradictory nature of the statements made by the Northern Territory Government spokesmen- both the Minister for Transport and Works and the Chief Minister. When the matter of the railway was being canvassed the Government made a very definite offer to the Northern Territory Government in respect of upgrading the Stuart Highway. It was told promptly by the Chief Minister that there was no need for that highway to be upgraded in terms of construction and making it part of our national highway network. Now, of course, he seems to have had a change of heart , possibly connected with the fact that he is considering whether to be a candidate in the next Federal election, and feels that he should show some concern about the state of the highway. The Australian Government has consistently suggested that non-contradictory recommendations of the Northern Territory Government should precede the Australian Government's providing the essential funds.

Both Senator Robertson in this place and Mr Reeves in the other place have been persistently asking the Minister for Transport, Mr Morris, for sufficient funds for that upgrading to take place. They have been putting the Government in a position of needing to decide on this matter before the Northern Territory Government has formulated a consistent position. Now that the Chief Minister has publicly complained about the lack of funds for the Stuart Highway, and as he is on record as saying previously that there was no need for such construction funds, the Minister for Transport, Mr Morris, sent a senior officer to conduct an inspection on his behalf. A technical inspection of the highway between Alice Springs and Darwin was carried out in association with the member for the Northern Territory, Mr Reeves. As a result of that inspection the officer has advised the Minister for Transport that the essential works should be carried out. As a result of that the Minister for Transport has approved the construction work, which means a sum of $47.5m will be provided for projects associated with upgrading the Stuart Highway. Of course, that confirms the view the Government took initially, a year ago, that upgrading the Stuart Highway was a priority job and one which should be supported by the Northern Territory Government.