Subject: Pacific Highway Duplication.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s good to be here in Port Macquarie. Happy to take questions.
REPORTER: Mr Albanese you have come to Port Macquarie with some major concerns about the Pacific Highway duplication. Tell me a bit about what your concerns are regarding the funding of the highway.
ALBANESE: I’m particularly concerned that the funding for the Pacific Highway has undergone a major cut this year. For the year to June 30 the funding was $1.37 billion and that falls to $710 million this financial year. So we have seen under the former Federal Labor Government’s allocation, which is the funding that is being contributed to projects like either side of the Oxley Highway, the Kundabung Section, the section in between here and Coffs Harbour, was all funded by the former government. As that is starting to run down, what we are seeing is a failure by the Coalition Government to put the funding in. A $600 million cut in one year is a massive cut. That means less jobs being created in the short term. But more importantly it draws into question the Government’s commitment to meeting its own 2020 deadline for the completion of the full duplication.
REPORTER: The local MP Luke Hartsuyker has denied that and says Labor actually oversaw a $2.4 billion funding shortfall because of its inability to make sure that that the funding allocation was matched by the State Government. What is your reaction to that?
ALBANESE: It’s a nonsense of course and Mr Hartsuyker knows full well, or he should, that his Government has continued to see 50-50 funding on the sections of the highway such as Frederickton to Eungai, such as the sections to the north of Port Macquarie between here and Coffs Harbour were all completed under arrangements made by the former Government. So what we are seeing is that this Government has let the State Government off the hook by agreeing to it reducing its funding and now it itself is reducing the funding from $1.3 billion to $700 million in this current financial year. The result of Mr Hartsuyker’s efforts is a delay in the delivery of this vital project.
It took Labor coming to office in 2007 to press the accelerator on the Pacific Highway Duplication. We contributed some $7.6 billion to the Pacific Highway in our six years in office and that compares with $1.3 billion from the Federal Coalition over 12 long years of neglect. Mr Hartsuyker, for example, has been promising the Coffs Harbour Bypass since he was elected in 2002 but we haven’t seen a hole dug on that project and the Government has now been in office for four years and we are seeing again a massive gap between the Government’s rhetoric and the reality of what is happening on the ground.
REPORTER: With that point in particular, it is obviously under planning. There’s a lot of geo-planning works and testing that needs to be done. Is it necessarily fair when you know we have had the department say that … (inaudible).
ALBANESE: Well of course you do need planning. The problem here is that Luke Hartsuyker has been full of hot air when it comes to promises on the Pacific Highway. His Government didn’t deliver the Kempsey Bypass. It didn’t deliver any of the projects that are currently under way. It didn’t do anything about Frederickton to Eungai – the site of course of the Clybucca crash all those years ago that led to the Coronial inquiry that recommended the full duplication of the highway. It took a Labor Government to put that funding in place and now we are seeing a wind back of the funding from the Coalition and it is symptomatic of the neglect that happened the last time the National Party was in office and it seems that they promise big but they really take communities like the like the North Coast here for granted when it comes to infrastructure investment.
Luke Hartsuyker is the only MP I can recall who ever protested against an opening of a community infrastructure project when he came and protested when schoolkids were participating in the opening of the new park facilities in Coffs Harbour and he was there with a megaphone instead of with a set of scissors helping to cut the ribbon and it says a lot about his approach towards this community and I think it is about time that the North Coast was treated with respect.
REPORTER: What is your immediate call to Darren Chester in particular?
ALBANESE: Well Darren Chester and the Government need to accelerate the investment on the Pacific Highway, not press the stop button. They let the State Government off the hook because of all of the projects that were funded 50-50 – the projects around Urunga, the projects like Frederickton to Eungai. What’s happened is the State Government don’t have to put in any money because they say, oh well it should be 80-20, so we will just stop putting in that investment. And then they haven’t stepped up to the mark to fill that gap that is there in the funding which is why you see such a significant fall. A $600 million cut from year to year is simply not good enough from the Coalition Government and Luke Hartsuyker needs to explain why that is the case. The Coffs Harbour Bypass, for example, that he has talked about since 2002, there is no money in the forward estimates. So not this year, not next year, not the year after, or the year after that for this project.