Subjects: Pacific Highway
KATYA QUIGLEY: But first, when lives are lost on the Pacific Highway, there’s usually a fair bit of finger-pointing that goes on as to whose fault it is that the upgrade to dual carriageway hasn’t been completed. When I spoke to the New South Wales Roads Minister shortly after the accident at Urunga, he told me that there was a problem with governments over the years and funding arrangements – nothing new there. The federal government now stands accused of failing to prioritise the Pacific Highway upgrade between Nambucca and Urunga. Instead, the accusation is that funds were directed to the upgrade of the Oxley Highway in the electorate of Independent Rob Oakeshott. Anthony Albanese is the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Good morning, Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
KATYA QUIGLEY: What’s your response to these allegations by the New South Wales Roads Minister and Andrew Stoner that the federal government directed funds to the electorate of Lyne?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I note they’re actually not from Duncan Gay who didn’t appear on camera last night to his credit. Andrew Fraser has made comments which are ignorant, which are false and which are offensive. When you have a tragedy on the Pacific Highway, to attempt to play politics with it and suggest that Rob Oakeshott has got funds redirected from the Urunga section of the highway to the – allegation last night was to the Oxley Highway, not even to the Pacific Highway, then it is just beyond belief that these statements could be made.
KATYA QUIGLEY: So do you know why these statements were made? Because we’ve just heard Andrew Fraser in our news at half past eight, sticking by his claims.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: He’s got to explain himself. This guy does have a history of making outrageous claims. When the Federal Government put in a billion dollars extra to the Pacific Highway in our last Budget, bringing our investment to $4.1 billion, you had National Party MPs, state and federal in Luke Hartsuyker saying there was no extra money there. There was extra money – another billion bringing our investment to $4.1 billion. And conditional upon the state government matching $750 million of that funding. Now I stood in Kempsey with Andrew Stoner at the end of last year and announced a bring-forward of $500 million to this current financial year. What that has meant is that we’re able to get on with the job of doing the Frederickton to Eungai section which of course was the site of the Clybucca bus crash way back in 1989 where 34 people lost their lives. Hasn’t been fixed up to now.
KATYA QUIGLEY: No, and that’s – it’s hard to believe.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Hasn’t been fixed. We have provided record funding to ensure that occurred. We’re also providing funding – and the state minister did write to me on 9 January. I was on leave for one week. When I got back within an hour I had rung him. We’ve had a discussion and he indicated to me that we could have expressions of interest within the next 14 days called for on the Urunga section. That was certainly agreed to by the Commonwealth as soon as it was raised. I want this highway – all of it – to be fully duplicated as soon as possible. So…
KATYA QUIGLEY: Okay, let me ask you this, Minister. Is there enough money, state and federally, in the pot to complete the upgrade to dual carriageway?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No there is not. There is not enough money to do the complete duplication. What there is enough money to do, is to do Frederickton to Eungai. To do the Urunga bypass and as well to do – and this is where I’m flabbergastered at the misrepresentation here. The section of the highway that the bring forward of money will enable to be done is Urunga, to do the section from Frederickton to Eungai, and to do the sections between Port Macquarie and Kempsey, which have been broken into two sections. One of those sections is known by the RTA, by the state body essentially, calls it the Oxley Highway to Kundubung section. Now that is the misrepresentation that has been made. And if the suggestion is somehow that we should stop work on one section and just do the Urunga bypass, then that clearly is absurd. We need to do all of the sections, not try to pick one community against another. And I note that Luke Hartsuyker last year was running this sort of line. I don’t know what Andrew Fraser was saying, saying we should prioritise this section above that section. The truth is, we can’t just do one section at a time. As we speak, anyone who goes up and down the highway, and you would be aware, we’re doing the Woolgoolga to Arrawarra – and Arrawarra section from Sapphire; we’re doing the Kempsey bypass; we’re doing the Bulahdelah bypass; we’re doing the Glenugie upgrade; we’re doing Devils Pulpit; we’re doing Banora Point. We have all of that work taking place. We have 1600 people working today on the Pacific Highway. And Andrew Fraser is apart of a political party that had the federal transport ministry for 12 years, including local Members such as Mark Vaile and others, senior members of the National Pa
KATYA QUIGLEY: But the fact remains Minister, and you’ve just said this, that there isn’t enough money to complete the upgrade. Now, people listening who have been living in this area and travelling along that highway for years and years are asking why isn’t there enough money?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because the state government needs to front up and contribute its share. What I’m saying and I’ve said – I was critical of the former state government for not putting in more money. But bear in mind that during the Howard Government years when you had National Party Transport Ministers for that entire 12 years, $1.3 billion – the state government during that period put in $2.5 billion. Andrew Fraser used to give speeches in State Parliament just a year ago praising the federal government, praising myself as the federal Transport Minister and condemning the state government for not doing its share. Now, what we need to do is stop the politics and stop this sort of nonsense and misrepresentation; commit to 50-50 funding; say we’re going to find the additional funding. I can assure you that I will be, as I did prior to the last Budget process where I got an extra $1 billion in what was a very tight Budget, I will be arguing and have argued within our processes of the Budget for additional funding for the Pacific Highway. But that must be matched by the NSW Government. The NSW National Party made a lot of noise prior to the election and then people like Luke Hartsuyker have said they want 50-50 funding and that the state government should do its share. Well Andrew Fraser should be concentrating on talking to his colleagues…
KATYA QUIGLEY: [Interrupts] Alright. Okay.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: …to ensure that the funding is made available.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Well, we’ll be having a chat to Andrew Fraser shortly. I just wanted to get your thoughts on this Minister. A councillor with the Kempsey Council has made the suggestion, which is going to be pretty unpopular I’d imagine, that there be some kind of toll introduced to accelerate the upgrade to dual carriageway. What do you think of that idea?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, the problem with a toll on the Pacific Highway is the length of the highway, where you put the toll and you know, how much the cost is for the toll. It’s not as simple as an urban road where you can have an entry point and an exit point and what you don’t want is to have some form of tolling which just led people to go under the old parts of the highway and avoid it. It is very difficult practically to have a toll on a road such as that. And of course heavy vehicles already pay a charge through the road user charge that’s assessed every year which gets back to the Commonwealth over a period of time. There’s quite a complicated assessment of seven years – looking at seven years expenditure of state and federal governments on roads that benefit heavy vehicles and then a charge put in – a road-user charge which is a reduction on the fuel levy. So, there is a system that puts a return on there now and I know that when – indeed, when John Anderson was the deputy Prime Minister and Transport Minister he raised this prospect of a toll on the Pacific Highway. But I’ve never been convinced that such a measure – I’m not opposed to all tolls but it is very difficult to have a toll on a road such as the Pacific Highway because of the nature of the length of it which people would understand. But when people go out from your radio station, people listening there, they should look at Kempsey bypass, for example, is 100 per cent federal funded; completely in National Party state and federal seats. The idea – not one cent of state government money, not a cent going to the Kempsey bypass. And people should – when Andrew Fraser’s on your show in a while, you might like to ask him to commit to supporting, as he did when he was part of the Opposition, 50 per cent funding for future upgrades.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Alright. Minister, I want to give Andrew Fraser the opportunity to respond to this shortly but a question for you. You mentioned that there will be an expression of interest for the Urunga bypass called in the next couple of weeks and there’ll be call for tenders. Is this effectively fast-tracking Uranga?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: All sections have been fast-tracked of the highway, particularly the additional sections. I stood up in Kempsey with Andrew Stoner, who I must say I have found very constructive in dealing with these issues. I stood up with the deputy Premier; I’ve had a number of discussions with him and he certainly hasn’t played politics with this issue and we’ve brought forward, indeed, not just that section but other sections as well as a result of the announcements that we made last year.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Okay. We’ll leave it there. Thank you very much for your time this morning Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Anthony Albanese there who’s the federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport on ABC Mid North Coast.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.