ISSUES: Upgrade and duplication of Pacific Highway
DAVID KOCH: Well, residents in Urunga on the NSW mid-north coast are demanding immediate action over a dangerous stretch of Pacific Highway. They’re furious, and rightly so, after a truck collided with a ute and ploughed into a family home. The tragedy killed an 11 year-old boy and the driver of the ute – seven other people taken to hospital.
Look at that; single lane – that’s our number one highway around the country. So why hasn’t anything been done about the road before now? Let’s get some answers.
Joining us now is Federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese Anthony, thanks for joining us. This is a notoriously dangerous spot. For 20 years, federal and state governments every election campaign have said dual highway between here and Brisbane – hasn’t happened. Why not?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Because governments haven’t invested in it. One of the problems that you have with infrastructure in general is that it’s very easy to put it off until tomorrow. Because when you plan a road – for example, the planning is taking place to fix this section of road – you can’t actually duplicate it overnight. The planning hasn’t been done. Government have let the community down – both sides of politics at both levels.
DAVID KOCH: So, basically politicians have lied to us over 20 years because they’ve said; yes, we’d fix it. Vote for us, when we get in, here’s the money. They committed the money – why hasn’t it been spent?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well the money is being spent now David. It’s important to acknowledge that there are currently today, over a thousand people working on the Pacific Highway. In the last year, I’ve opened the Ballina bypass. We’ve opened sections of the Glenugie upgrade. There’s the Buladelah bypass. We’re currently building the Kempsey bypass, which includes the longest bridge in Australia. The Fredrington to Eungai section, construction will commence next year. That’s the area, David, where more than 20 years ago, Australia’s worst accident occurred – the bus crash where more than 30 people died.
DAVID KOCH: Between Sydney and Brisbane, this is our number one highway in the country. What percentage of it is dual highway?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The percentage now is close to sixty per cent. When we came into office it was 40. We are getting it done. We’re doing it in partnership with the NSW Government. We’ve committed $4.1 billion to the highway.
DAVID KOCH: What’s the NSW Government doing about it?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: They’ve committed $1 billion.
DAVID KOCH: Is that enough?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No it’s not. And what we’ve said is that both governments need to do more. We’ve said let’s end the politics; let’s have 50-50 funding, NSW–Federal; let’s get it done by 2016. That’s an objective which the NSW Government shares.
I must say I’m working very well with Duncan Gay and Andrew Stoner, the Deputy Premier to make sure that this can be done.
DAVID KOCH: So the stars could be in alignment because we’ve got a conservative state government now for the first time in a long time. They’re all conservative seats…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Every one of them.
DAVID KOCH: …at the north coast, so they’ve got an inventive to deliver to their constituents now.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Indeed. And I believe they’re committed to doing so. We committed an additional billion dollars in last year’s budget. We said that was conditional upon the State Government finding $750 million extra – they did it.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. So are you happy the NSW Government has committed enough to get it done by 2016?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. I think both governments are going to have to commit more. So I’m not putting it on them. I’m saying we’re going to need to do more as well.
DAVID KOCH: So what do you need to commit? What more? How much more do you have to commit?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The estimate is around about $6 billion more to complete the full duplication of the highway.
DAVID KOCH: So you’ve got to come up with three, you’re saying NSW has got to come up with three?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That will have to happen, that’s right, over a period of time between now and 2016.
DAVID KOCH: Okay. All right. I’ve been doing this show for 10 years and this has constantly been a topic. Can we get you back – six months time, you and Duncan Gay, and every six months we want a report card on how it’s going?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely.
DAVID KOCH: Beauty. You’re on. It’s a promise. Talk to you then.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.