Subjects: Kempsey Bypass opening; Pacific Highway
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: With us this morning is the Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese. Good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: Now, plans to walk across the bridge, of course, have been a bit delayed by the weather up here. Are you – I hope the forecast is for fine weather on Sunday. Can you do anything about that?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I can’t do anything about the weather, but it was a pity that the flooding that occurred up there meant that there was a delay from a couple of weeks ago. The photos showed that the bridge held up pretty well so it’s certainly been tested and it’ll be open for traffic later this month. This Sunday, there will be an opportunity for the community to have a bus tour of the project and to walk on the bridge. There’ll also be a sausage sizzle and kids’ entertainment and a jumping castle and all of that. It’ll be a really good day for the community and, of course, a one-off opportunity to walk down the middle of Australia’s longest bridge before it opens.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: What sort of an engineering feat was it to have this built?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s an extraordinary engineering feat. $618 million sounds like a lot of money because it is. And it was a really difficult task to build a bridge over the Macleay River and over the floodplains. It’s essentially a very long, elevated roadway, including a 3.2 kilometre bridge, fully funded by the Federal Government. Of course, this was something that was talked about for a long time but it needed the Federal Labor Government’s Economic Stimulus Plan to get it done.
It is opening 15 months ahead of schedule, the whole project is 14.5 kilometres, and the next section to the North from Frederickton to Eungai will begin construction in a pretty seamless way in the middle of this year.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: Okay. Of course, there’s been a bit of argy-bargy between the state government and yourself regarding the funding of the highway and who’s funded what and who should continue to fund what. Have we made progress in terms of the negotiations between yourself and Duncan Gay for the funding of the rest of the Pacific Highway?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: In practical terms the state government have had their rhetoric out there but they know that it’s 50-50, and we’ve had agreement for future parts to the North to be 50-50. That’s what the state government said should happen prior to their election, it’s what the Howard Government put in place. Of course, one of the things that’s meant that additional money was put in from the Federal Government was the global financial crisis and we did make decisions to fund this section of the highway 100 per cent.
That was very important in terms of creating those local jobs, all up about 1500 jobs created, direct and indirect, by this project.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: Well, of course the state government claims that the agreement is in fact 80-20, and it looks a very complex…
ANTHONY ALBANESE: And they haven’t been able to produce one bit of paper, a document, an agreement, anything at all to back that up. They know that that isn’t the case, and hence the agreement to go back to the Howard Government arrangements. The difference is that we’ve committed a total of $7.9 billion since we came to office. Now, the Howard Government, with the National Party having Transport Ministers including some local members, contributed $1.3 billion over 12 years to the Pacific Highway. I think our record, including the opening of this bypass some 15 months ahead of schedule, very much shows a record I’m proud of and I think the Federal Government can be proud of. The state government should really stop the rhetoric and get on with doing what they said they’d do prior to their election.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: And will the Federal Government’s contribution remain on the table for the Pacific Highway regardless of whether the New South Wales Government comes to the party for the full amount?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. It will be contributed on a 50-50 basis with the state government. We will quarantine the funds needed for our share but we expect the state government to put in their share as well, as they said they would do.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: And this – the opening this weekend for pedestrians, the event that’s been planned for Sunday, will it go ahead rain, hail or shine?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think, notwithstanding some extreme weather event which you can never discount, but the forecasts are reasonably good for this Sunday, all the planning has been done to ensure that it occurs. We’re looking at a traffic opening on Wednesday 27 March. This has been an extraordinary project. Just one little figure is that it’s involved 1.4 million cubic metres of earthwork, so that’s moving enough earth to fill 560 Olympic swimming pools.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: That is an extraordinary amount. Minister, thank you very much for your time, we appreciate it.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you, and I hope everyone has a great fun day on Sunday.
JOANNE SHOEBRIDGE: The Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese, speaking there about the Kempsey Bypass opening. The soft opening, if you like, for pedestrians only is this Sunday and there are shuttle buses from the Kempsey Showground, the CBD and from Gladstone, and there’s no parking available at the site so if you want to head along get to one of those shuttle buses leaving from the Kempsey Showground, the CBD and Gladstone. And there’s more information on the RMS website if you would like to find out more details. Here’s hoping that it remains sunny this weekend.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.