Apr 23, 2019

Transcript of Doorstop Interview – Maitland Road, Hexham – Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Subjects: M1 Extension To Raymond Terrace, High Speed Rail

MERYL SWANSON, MEMBER FOR PATERSON: Good afternoon everyone, great to have you here in the fabulous seat of Paterson.  We are here on the edge of Tarro and Hexham right beside the Pacific Highway and the New England Highway where it all starts to intersect. And as you can see it’s the Tuesday after Easter and the traffic is thick and congested and all the things that we don’t need in our part of the world. But what we do need is the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities, Regional Development and throw in Tourism to boot, the Honourable Anthony Albanese, Member for Grayndler, here to bring some good news about this junk piece of road, really. It’s old and past its time and we want to do something new and great with it, don’t we Albo?

ANTHONY ALBANESE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, CITIES AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: We do. Thank you very much Meryl, and it’s great to have a welcome back to the Hunter for another exciting announcement. Labor when we were last in government made major advances here in the Hunter that of course had been neglected by the Howard Government, most notably the Hunter Expressway, talked about for a decade but it took a Federal Labor Government to put the funding for that project in the Budget, to get it under construction and create those literally hundreds of jobs while that occurred, and to get that major difference of that infrastructure upgrade. It also took Federal Labor to invest properly in the Pacific Highway. The Howard Government invested $1.3 billion over 12 years. We invested $7.6 billion over half that time. But there’s remaining work to be done and it’s right here, which is why Federal Labor will invest $1.5 billion to fix this intersection where traffic just crawls along. Everyone who has travelled north or south, so whether you’re a resident or whether you’re a visitor, you know that this choke-point is a major hand brake on productivity. So this project will require a second crossing of the river. It will require a dual carriageway to separate the road here and will be a major upgrade with a $1.5 billion commitment from a Federal Labor Government.

I want to congratulate Meryl on her ongoing advocacy for infrastructure in the Paterson electorate and in the Hunter region in general. The Hunter has some strong advocates which is why we have invested so much over such a long period of time, whether it’s smaller projects like the Tourle Street Bridge or whether the major upgrades such as the Hunter Expressway. This will be welcomed when it begins construction by all people who travel north or south along the Pacific Highway or if they use the New England Highway, or if they’re just residents in this region because this is a sad blight. There has been much improvement in recent years, but when you get better roads you also get better road safety outcomes, which is why this is such an important commitment today.

JOURNALIST: This is of course matching the Liberal Government’s promise, is Labor playing catch-up?

No, not at all. The fact is that it’s the current Government that have played catch-up. They neglected the Pacific Highway. They neglected the New England Highway. They neglected the Hunter Expressway – never did it. Never ever did it. It took a Labor Government to invest in infrastructure. And what the Federal Government has done is make an announcement but it’s off in the never never. If we’re elected we’ll sit down with the NSW Government and talk about a realistic timetable to make sure that the planning is concluded. The planning needs some work before construction can begin but we are willing to sit down with the NSW Government about how we can get this project, not on the never never, but with a realistic timetable.

JOURNALIST: This road’s been horrendous for decades, why are you promising to spend money after a plan? Why isn’t all this planning already established?

ALBANESE: Well, that’s a good question for the NSW Liberal Government. A very good question indeed because it is state governments that do the planning work. They have the planning departments and they do the work for our roads and our railways, and the fact is that they should have done that. One of the lessons that was there for all to see during the Global Financial Crisis, we funded 14 road projects and 17 rail projects, everything basically that was ready to go, including the Hunter Expressway was a part of that. If there had been more planning work done and more projects ready to go, we could have done more at a time when that economic stimulus was required. But the NSW Government hasn’t completed the planning on this project. We want to. We encourage them to do just that so that we can have that timetable.

JOURNALIST: So you committed the same amount of money as the Liberal Party and you’re both saying it’s going to take within five years for the bypass to be built. Is there anything that separates your plan from the Liberal National Government?

ALBANESE: They’re not saying five years for the project to be built.

JOURNALIST: They are, it’s (inaudible)

ALBANESE: Have a look at their budget papers. Their budget papers have nothing allocated for this year, nothing next year. There’s very little funding in the forward estimates for this project. What we will do is sit down with the NSW Government and talk with them about how this project can be brought forward.

JOURNALIST: It’s an incredibly busy road. The bypass and construction process; what contingencies are in place for avoiding more congestion while the new bypass is built?

ALBANESE: That is one of the planning measures that needs to be put in place by the NSW Government for this project. They need to do that work, that needs to be part of the planning work and that needs to be concluded before they can go out to tender and seek construction of this project.

JOURNALIST: The NSW Government’s withdrawn funding for a cruise ship terminal in Newcastle. What’s your response?

ALBANESE: The NSW Government just doesn’t seem to be prepared to fund projects here in the Hunter Valley. Barry O’Farrell when he was elected Premier was happy to go to the Hunter Expressway and to claim some credit for a project that was more than half completed by the time that change of government happened. It was well under construction. What the Liberal Party needs to do is actually do some work and actually support projects here in the Hunter. One of the things about a cruise ship terminal is that the Hunter needs to diversify further its economy. It’s done some fantastic work through the University, and with the closure of the steelworks it was anticipated by some that the Hunter would be in decline.

The fact is that the people of the Hunter are resilient. What they’ve done is develop manufacturing, develop through the University a whole range of new jobs and we’re very supportive of that. The NSW Government should look at the port for the same reason that they also are restricting the port with the deal that they’ve done over the sale of the ports in NSW, to restrict the activity that can happen at Newcastle Port. It seems to me that diversification of the port, whether it be a container terminal, whether it be cruise ships, would be a very positive thing for the region. This city is a magnificent city. It’s a great place for people to visit. You have magnificent beaches; you have a natural environment that’s extraordinary, great restaurants, good pubs and a great culture here in the Hunter. The State Government should be backing that in and encouraging people to visit. One way that you can do that is through a cruise ship terminal.

JOURNALIST: What about the rail line? We’re near one here. In some ways it’s slower to get to Sydney by train that it was 50 years ago with the Newcastle Flyer. What can a Federal Labor Government do about that?

ALBANESE: I’m a big supporter of High Speed Rail. We had the inquiry when we were in government. We contributed $20 million. It concluded its work in 2013 and we had a High Speed Rail Advisory Group. I did my best to ensure that was a bi-partisan group by appointing people like Tim Fischer, the former leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister and great rail advocate, to that committee. I appointed Jennifer Westacott from the Business Council of Australia, the late Bryan Nye from the Australasian Rail Association. We had Bob Nanva from the Rail and Tram Bus Union. We had a local government representative. It recommended the creation of a High Speed Rail Authority that would be the Commonwealth, NSW, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT, as well as local government representatives and private sector representatives, to advance the project; ensure the preservation of the corridor; make sure the project was advanced with funding. That funding was cut by the incoming Liberal Government when Tony Abbott was elected Prime Minister.

I have had a private member’s bill before the Parliament. It was introduced in 2013. I’ve had to re-introduce it over and over again because the Government not only refuses to support it, even though it’s supported by people like Tim Fischer. Not only have they refused to support it, they’ve refused to even allow it to be debated. So a Federal Labor Government is serious about High Speed Rail. It would present enormous advantages for the Hunter in terms of decentralisation, not just for the Hunter but those cities and towns to the north as well. It recommended having High Speed Rail with under three hours of capital city express routes between Sydney and Melbourne, and Sydney and Brisbane. But also the thing that made it viable was those regional routes, including to here in the Hunter. So if we’re successful we’ll resume the agenda after the six-year pause of inaction when it comes to major infrastructure that the Coalition Government has brought.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.