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Elliott River Bridge, 20 May 1999: address at the official opening\n

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Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald 

Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government


20 May 1999 





Thanks very much, Larry; and to you, to your colleagues in Main Roads, to M
ike Reynolds the Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier and representing the Premier, to my friend and colleague in the Federal Parliament De-Anne Kelly the local member here, to Geoff Knuth the local Member for Burdekin in the State Parliament, to again my friend Mike Brunker the Mayor of Bowen, and I see Councillor Trina List the Deputy Mayor of the Burdekin Shire, other distinguished guests, and ladies and gentlemen.

Across Australia the Federal Department of Transport and Regional Services, of which I am one of the Ministers, opens a lot of roads and a lot of bridges each year. I always look through the list and see if there are any around that I’d particularly like to open. A couple of months back I was looking through the list and I saw that eventually the bridge over the Elliott River was to be opened. So I said to John Anderson, "Look, if you don’t want to open that bridge, can I please do it?"

And why did I particularly want to do it? When I first came to the North as a child of 11 in the - well, I won’t tell you when it was, it might give away my age. But I was only about 11, and it was in the late ‘50s, and I remember when it took four days to drive from Brisbane to Ayr. And we used to, in those days, talk about the Marlborough to Sarina ‘horror stretch’ that the Redex trials used to go through. A lot of you in the audience would be too young to remember those, but regrettably I do. But I do remember coming through this area and this low-level bridge here, which in those days was pretty new. And that was my first experience of this bridge.

Subsequently, as a teenager living in Ayr, we always used to think that the beaches in Bowen were better than the beaches in Ayr, so we used to head off down to Queens Beach and Rose Bay quite regularly in my teenage and early 20’s years. So again, I came to know this bridge pretty well.

Then 10 to 15 years ago, my legal practice in Ayr - or my former legal practice in Ayr opened an office in Bowen. And so I used to drive down to Bowen once a week, and again became very, very familiar with this bridge and all of its problems.

And, of course, in more recent times as I drive around the State, I’ve again renewed my acquaintance with this old bridge. So I was so pleased when I heard the replacement was almost completed, and it’s for that reason I really wanted to be here today on this very special occasion.

I know that a lot of local families around this area, the Hartwell, the Fisher, the Barrett and the Hickmott families, who live in this particular area around Guthalungra, will recognise even more than I what a problem the old bridge was, and what a tremendous impact this new bridge will have.

It’s happened through a lot of hard work. Those of you who are locals would have been, I know, pushing for this for a long time. The Bowen Council, Mike Brunker and his team, I know, have been really pushing for it, as we have in the Burdekin Council, over a long number of years; and I was very pleased that John Anderson, the Federal Minister for Transport, was able to allocate the money. Of course, the work is a great credit to Mazlow Constructions who built the bridge, and my congratulations to them and everyone else who has had some part of getting this bridge constructed.

Ladies and gentlemen, as Mike Reynolds said, and rightly gave the Federal Government credit, the cost of these bridges along the main highway - in fact all of the cost of the work on the National Highway is borne by the Federal Government. Whilst Mike mentions it, not many other of his State colleagues ever do. They always pretend it’s State Government money, but in fact, it’s Federal Government money, and we’re very proud to have made a contribution towards this bridge.

We do, of course, rely on the State Government and the Department of Main Roads to actually do the work, and do the planning for us. The Federal Government is not set up for that type of activity. So we provide the money and the State Department actually does the planning and the work. As Mike also mentioned, of course, you never have enough money for main roads. I often say we could spend the total Federal Budget, which is around $130 billion annually, each year for five years solely on roads and still not have enough money to deal with Australia’s roads. We’re such a vast country, with a small population, and limited resources.

But we do recognise the need for additional funding for roads, and this year the Federal Government has contributed an additional $18 million to Queensland to try and attack some of the spots that are always holding people up in flood time.

We are, over th e next four years, paying for the upgrading, the widening, or the replacement of some 25 bridges along the National Highway.

This bridge, which cost around $3.8 million, is part of the Federal Government’s commitment to rural and regional Australia. And we make no excuses for the fact that of the total Federal Road Funding Budget each year, which is in the hundreds, in fact in the thousands of millions of dollars, ninety per cent of those funds are actually spent in non-metropolitan parts of Australia. As Minister for Regional Services in the Federal Government, I am particularly pleased with that because roads really are the greatest service that any Government can give to regional Australia. Our commitment to roads and this bridge is part of our ‘bigger picture’ commitment to regional Australia.

As a Federal Government, we want to help all parts of Australia, and we do that by hopefully getting the ‘big picture’ right. By keeping interest rates down, by keeping inflation low, by giving people the opportunity to do things without having to pay undue amounts of money to the Federal Government.

But, in a more specific way, we’ve implemented a lot of little initiatives which try to help people in regional Australia get access to the same sorts of services that people in the cities accept as normal. We recently launched a Rural Transaction Centre initiative, worth $70 million, where we’re going to put money into getting banking services back into the ‘bush’. We spent some $45 million in this budget on a Rural GP Retention Scheme to try and keep doctors in the ‘bush’, and encourage more doctors back.

We’re building, over the next year, 30 more multi-purpose regional health service centres, and for those of us that use the roads quite a bit, we’re also spending $36 million over the next few years to try and get mobile phone coverage along the length and breadth of the National Highway. We’d like to do that right across Australia, and that will eventually come, but as a first step we’re going to make sure the National Highway at least has access to mobile phone coverage.

So, in many ways, ladies and gentlemen - and this bridge is perhaps a concrete and bitumen example of it - the Federal Government is attempting to make sure that people in Australia, no matter where they live, do get access to the services that all Australians have come to expect.

Ladies and gentlemen, and again to those involved congratulations. To the Queensland Government, Mike, and the Main Roads Department, thank you for what you’ve done; and again to all of you, thank you for coming along and celebrating this very significant event. And with that, I do take a great deal of pleasure and pride in asking Mike Reynolds to join me in declaring the Elliott River Bridge officially open.





jy  1999-07-28  11:25