ISSUES: Pacific Highway Duplication
KATYA QUIGLEY: Anthony Albanese is the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. Good morning Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good morning.
KATYA QUIGLEY: A lot of confusion around the funding structures and who’s paying what and the split is to how much State and Federal should be contributing, what’s your response to some of the comments made by the Deputy Premier?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well I’m stunned by the fact that the Deputy Premier can play politics with this issue, not just because he’s Deputy Premier, but because he’s one of the local members. It is quite extraordinary.
Wendy Machin from the NRMA belled the cat yesterday. She stated very clearly that it was the Howard Government who first proposed a 50/50 split for spending on the Pacific Highway between the Commonwealth and the State Government. They made it very clear in document after document in terms of AusLink.
The reason why the Federal Government has put in extra money for things like the Kempsey Bypass –Andrew Stoner’s happy to go and get photo opportunities there but not one cent from the State Government is going into that project – was part of economic stimulus. It was part of the bringing forward of major projects to create jobs and see us through the Global Financial Crisis.
But it is very clear that when they were in opposition year after year they spoke about the need for increased funding, spoke about the need to match funding dollar for dollar, Commonwealth and state. Now that they’re in government they are walking away from it.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Is part of the problem that there’s no formal agreement about who’s putting how much money into the highway? It seems to be that that’s where some of the confusion comes from.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, this isn’t confusion. This is a deliberate attempt to talk nonsense. I mean, I just listened to those comments talking about withdrawing funding. We’ve put $4.1 billion into the Pacific Highway. When there was a National Party minister during the Howard Government – and they were all National Party transport ministers – they put $1.3 billion in over 12 years.
If they had funded the highway at the same level that we have in terms of the Rudd and Gillard governments, the highway would now be fully duplicated.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Minister, when I spoke to Andrew Fraser yesterday, who’s the Member for Coffs Harbour, he said that there’s just no way that the state government can afford a 50-50 split.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The State Government has finances that are in a good state. The fact is we’re returning to surplus in 2012-13. During the last Federal Budget we found an additional billion dollars for the Pacific Highway. It’s a matter of priorities.
KATYA QUIGLEY: To be fair though, Minister, isn’t the O’Farrell Government mopping up the mess left by the Labor state government?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Rubbish. The Labor State Government left the finances of NSW in a good state.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Wasn’t there a black hole?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. Not at all and they’ve had to concede that that was just nonsense and rhetoric. There was no black hole.
It’s like they’ve forgotten that they’re the Government. They still think they’re the Opposition.
I mean, I find it incredible. The Coalition holds every seat when you cross the Harbour Bridge until you hit the Queensland border. They’re all held by the Coalition, the whole way up the Pacific Highway, all of the F3, and they’re saying that it’s too hard for them.
We have put in such an enormous amount of funds. What I’m saying very clearly is let’s end the politics. The NRMA also said it last night. The head of the NRMA, Wendy Machin, would know. She’s a former member for the State seat of Port Macquarie. She knows what the arrangements were.
The fact is under the Howard Government when they put in $1.3 billion the State Labor Government of NSW put in almost double that, some $2.5 billion.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Minister, can I ask you why it is that the New England Highway, which is not used in the same way that the Pacific Highway is used, is classed as a national road?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it is. It is the National Highway. That’s the National Highway.
KATYA QUIGLEY: But it doesn’t get anywhere near the kind of traffic that the Pacific Highway gets.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: That’s the National Highway because the national freight network is in terms of not just number of vehicles but in terms of heavy vehicles. That has historically been the highway. That’s not a decision that I’ve made when coming into government. That’s a decision that was made by governments some time ago.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Is it time to have another look at that decision?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, how much money’s going into the New England Highway compared with the Pacific?
KATYA QUIGLEY: I don’t know. You tell me.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Not much by comparison.
KATYA QUIGLEY: But it’s in – it’s in much better condition.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, that’s not right. The idea that the New England Highway is fully duplicated is, of course, a nonsense and I suggest you drive on it if you think that.
We have put more money into the Pacific Highway than any government into any road in Australia’s history.
And now we have the Coalition federally who have in fact been very critical of us for demanding dollar for dollar funding from NSW.
KATYA QUIGLEY: You’re listening to ABC Mid North Coast. It’s 13 to nine. I’m talking to the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese.
What do you consider, Minister, to be a realistic deadline for the completion of the duplication of the Pacific Highway?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, 2016 can be achieved.
KATYA QUIGLEY: It can be achieved, you say?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Absolutely. This isn’t just theory. I’ve released a program of works. I’ve written to the NSW Roads Minister [Duncan Gay] on that basis, outlining a program of works developed by my Department in consultation with the NSW Government to make sure that it can be done and it can be.
What it requires is simply for the NSW Government to actually do nothing more and nothing less than what they said they would do prior to their election.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Andrew Fraser, when I spoke to him yesterday, said that a more realistic date is 2018-2019 and when I said, well, what about 2020 he said, well, maybe that’s realistic.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, I just find that extraordinary. Andrew Fraser was prepared to go on radio and TV and make up all sort of nonsense, suggest that we’d withdrawn funds from the Pacific Highway and put them into the Oxley Highway upgrade which was, in fact, fully State-funded and has been opened just last month by ministers in the Government of which he’s a part.
So that was where he was a couple of months ago and now he’s saying, “oh, well, it can’t be done, don’t worry about it”.
You can’t have it both ways. If you want this highway to be fixed as soon as possible what you have to do is to get in and argue your case and what I have here is people like Janelle Saffin and Justine Elliot arguing the case as local members for increased funding for the Pacific Highway – and Rob Oakeshott arguing for increased funding, not just for their electorates but for the whole of the highway.
They’re arguing the case and the National Party is arguing against getting this done.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Okay. How do you then aim to come to some sort of agreement with the State Government on this?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it’s pretty simple. They’ve got a decision to make. I’ve said very clearly that funding will be available on a 50-50 basis. They have to decide how much they’re prepared to contribute and what they want the timetable to complete the full duplication to be.
It is extraordinary. It’s in writing. It’s part of the AusLink agreement developed by the Howard Government – 50-50 funding.
We think that it can be done. We know it can be done by 2016 because we’ve put forward the complete program – and I’d just find it extraordinary if the NSW Government walks away from this.
KATYA QUIGLEY: Thank you for talking to us today, Minister.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Good to talk to you.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.