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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 55

Senator NASH (2:35 PM) —My question is to Senator Conroy, the Minister representing the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government. Is it true that the New South Wales Labor government has just ripped $245 million from the Pacific Highway road program and deferred upgrades at Banora Point and between Tintenbar and Ewingsdale in the electorate of Richmond? Isn’t it the case that Banora Point has been described by the NRMA as the worst black spot between Sydney and Brisbane, where 121 accidents have claimed two lives and injured 67 people between 2003 and 2006?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Nash for her question. The New South Wales mini-budget discloses a deterioration in the state’s net operating balance. New South Wales now expects to run a deficit of $917 million in the years 2008-09. The mini-budget indicates that New South Wales is facing significant reductions in stamp duty revenues and reduced GST receipts. Reduced GST receipts will also have an impact on New South Wales’s operating balance of more than $400 million in 2008-09. New South Wales indicates that it is doing everything it can to retain its AAA credit rating, and this mini-budget takes the necessary steps towards preserving that rating. In the context of a global financial crisis, a reduced fiscal position is not unexpected.

The introduction of time-of-day tolling and related congestion charges by the New South Wales government is a welcome step to address urban congestion in one of Australia’s major cities. The Rudd government is committed to the duplication of the Pacific Highway. We have committed $2.45 billion for the highway over the next five years. This commitment is rock solid and will be delivered in full. In fact, we will spend more on the Pacific Highway than on any other road in the country and three times more than the coalition spent over the last five years.

I am aware that New South Wales announced yesterday that it will provide only $500 million for the Pacific Highway over the next five years. This is a cut of $300 million and it means less work will get done and it will take longer to complete the duplication. The Rudd government has told New South Wales quite clearly that this is not enough and that they should be providing much more. However, we will not be punishing the motorists of New South Wales by reducing our commitment to this critical road.

I also note the member for Cowper’s bipartisan support for us continuing to deliver a record investment irrespective of what New South Wales does. I will continue to urge the New South Wales government to increase their contribution. But, as the New South Wales Treasurer has indicated, all revenue raised will be spent on public transport initiatives—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator CONROY —But the money they are raising is going to be spent. What we are seeing in New South Wales is the full impact of the global financial crisis. As Senator Sherry and I and many others on this side have said, Australia is not immune from the global financial crisis. But we are better placed than most to stand up to it—in spite of the irresponsible economic vandalism from some of those on the other side of the chamber in blocking budget measures and voting against them, in spite of those on the other side saying they were going to support the economic security package and then criticising it and undermining it. We all understand the dog-whistle politics from those on the other side: you say one thing but you do another. You are getting very good at it and Australians are becoming very, very clever—(Time expired)

Senator NASH —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that the minister has just placed on record the government’s commitment to the duplication of the Pacific Highway, how does the government propose to make up the $245 million Pacific Highway shortfall, created by its Labor mates in Sydney, in order for these critical upgrades to proceed in the time line promised by the government?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I think I answered that question previously, but let me repeat what I said earlier. This is a cut, and it means less work will get done and it will take longer to complete the duplication. I do not think we can be clearer than that. As I said, the Rudd government has told New South Wales that, quite clearly, this is not enough and they should be providing more. We have been absolutely up-front. We are saying it will now take longer because of the New South Wales government’s decision, and that is not good enough. But we will not be reducing our commitment and we will not be punishing New South Wales motorists for this decision. We will not be taking away any funds whatsoever.