SUBJECTS: Kempsey Bypass opening; Pacific Highway
FIONA POOLE: At a cost of $618 million, the Kempsey Bypass is opening today. It is a 100 per cent federally funded project and it has finished ahead of schedule.
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, joins us now.
Minister, good morning.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day, Fiona. What a great day.
FIONA POOLE: It is, certainly. Firstly, congratulations on your new portfolio as Minister for Regional Australia and Local Government.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Thank you very much. It’s a good first trip to a regional community to open such a vital infrastructure project, you know? And it’s a real tribute to those people in the community who campaigned for it for so long.
FIONA POOLE: Yeah, tell us about that because this really came on the agenda only four years ago. And in that time, you know, it has been progressed forward to a point where it’s finished ahead of schedule. Why has this particular patch of the highway being given preference over others?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re committed to fully upgrading the whole of the Pacific Highway. What we did during the economic stimulus package, as part of the response to the global financial crisis, is look for shovel ready projects. This wasn’t quite there but it was almost there and hence we fully federally funded it – more than $600 million into the project.
We’re also doing the Oxley Highway to Kundabung section. Contracts for that project have been shortlisted and work will commence also to the north, that’s to the south of this section of road. The section from Frederickton to Eungai will begin in the middle of this year.
And combine that with all the work that’s going on from Woolgoolga to Arrawarra and the Bulahdelah Bypass. There’s been times when there has been more than 2000 people working on the Pacific Highway just in that region alone. And that is a great effort.
FIONA POOLE: What happens to those 2000 workers now? Do some go north and some go south or do they all move to the next project?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s why it’s important that we get this rolling program of works that we’ve been working on. There can be a pretty seamless transition. Some of the pre-construction work is commencing on different sections of the highway and in other areas you have the heavy construction.
And, you know, this time next year or well before then, you’ll see construction activity to the north of this section of the highway.
FIONA POOLE: And where are we at with the funding? Because I know there’s been a bit of a stalemate between the State and the Federal Government on that. Are you clearer at all on who will be funding what?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, we’re very clear. We’ve got $7.9 billion on the table, Fiona, we’ve put in since 2007. Now, our opponents when you had National Party Ministers, they put in $1.3 billion over the 12 years of the Howard Government. So, I’m very proud of our commitment but the State Government has got to do its bit as well.
I’m pleased that the Frederickton to Eungai section will be 50/50 funded. We have that in place. We’ve issued the contracts. It’s ready to go in the middle of this year. I think people want to see an end to the argy-bargy. People just want this to be got done.
FIONA POOLE: Minister for Infrastructure and Transport – amongst other things now – Anthony Albanese joins us this morning.
Well, you are in Kempsey today for the opening of the Bypass and I guess you must be, even though it’s been a difficult time, the bridge – the longest bridge in Australia – has been tested and it is well and truly above the floodplain. That must be a relief.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: It was extraordinary the photos from the air of the Bypass sitting above what looked like a lake. And, you know, that was a terrible time for people in the region but certainly the bridge was well and truly tested during that and it certainly came through very well.
We’ve had a community day there so people have got to have a walk across the bridge and that’s always a good thing as well.
FIONA POOLE: Yeah, 7000 people I believe walked over. Okay, what time today do you expect the first traffic to go through?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think we’re looking towards an 11 o’clock opening this morning. The state ministers are there as well and I’ll be travelling up with Rob Oakeshott, the Member for Lyne, who has campaigned incredibly strongly for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway.
And then I’ll be having a couple of discussions in Port Macquarie before I head home.
FIONA POOLE: Okay, well safe travel to the region. We look forward to seeing you in our parts today.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Fantastic. It’s a great thing to do as the Regional Development Minister, as well.
FIONA POOLE: And that’s Minister for Regional Australia, Local Government, and Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, joining us this morning and on his way to Kempsey to open the bypass.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.