Mar 30, 2016

Transcript of media conference – Testers Hollow, NSW

Subjects: Testers Hollow flooding; Hunter Expressway; Bob Baldwin

REPORTER: Can you tell me why you’re here today?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I’m here to look at Testers Hollow at the invitation of Joel Fitzgibbon and Meryl Swanson, and I’m here because this is an area that was cut off once again for six days last year. This is unacceptable in the 21st century.

We shouldn’t have communities that are isolated because of a lack of practical infrastructure. And seeing something first hand can point you to where the solution is. I want to work with the local members and with the Mayor of Maitland and Mayor of Cessnock who are both here today who want practical solutions to this problem.

REPORTER: So, you’re up against Bob Baldwin, he’s come out today saying you know, that this has been a long time issue as you know and I guess something that you said you’re going to be campaigning hard for because you’ve got the personal experience with it.

MERYL SWANSON, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR PATERSON: I do. My great grandparents grew up and lived over there on Dagworth Swamps. What’s changed in 90 years? They had to have a boat when it flooded, twelve months ago; we were using boats when Testers Hollow flooded. Not a lot’s changed. It is long overdue and time for change here at Testers Hollow, and I will be working hard to be elected as the local member.

REPORTER: What will you do in terms of trying to push for this to happen finally?

SWANSON: Well, Bob said he’s going to organise a meeting. I’ve already gotten that happening. You can see both the Mayor of Maitland and the Mayor of Cessnock are here today. We have the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese here today with Joel Fitzgibbon as well. I’ve managed to get those people together and we’re having constructive dialogue and conversation about how to fix Testers.

REPORTER: You’ve known this is an issue for a long time, being here and this was a part of your electorate. Can you tell me why now it’s important to act on it?

FITZGIBBON: This is absolutely an issue for the state government but we saw what’s been happening here in recent years and particularly in the last 12 months, it’s a community being cut off on two occasions so it’s grown a new level of importance and people are demanding action. So I’m happy to play my role in putting sufficient pressure on the state government to do something about what is a very serious issue.

REPORTER: The reason I say that is Bob Baldwin today put out a media release after yours saying how he is now trying to gather support for it to happen and that there was inaction and although it was a state issue, you may have been able to do more than you have.

FITZGIBBON: Bob Baldwin is all bluster. He’s had almost three years. The last three years in government but he wants to blame others for his failures. Bob Baldwin would be better off getting behind his desk and joining with us in helping to drag the state government to do something about what is a very serious problem.

REPORTER: There’s talk of putting pressure on state government to do something about this, this has been going on a long time. It’s an issue that’s not been addressed by state governments from either side of politics. Is it time that some federal funding could be put toward this?

ALBANESE: We want to see a practical proposal and that’s one of the reasons that it’s good that the Mayor of Cessnock and the Mayor of Maitland are both here today, to get that local input. We’d be prepared to sit down with the other levels of government and talk about what the solution is and what contribution we might be able to make.

I think I as a Minister have a track record in this community of delivering, particularly the Hunter Expressway that I’ve been on today rather than just talking. So when we make a commitment, then it’ll be firm, but we have to have that practical proposal put forward. But clearly, there needs to be a solution. You shouldn’t have in the 21st century, communities cut off for six days.

REPORTER: Sure, so has the state government approached, are you aware of any state government approaches to the federal government in recent years about this problem?

ALBANESE: I think the state government, certainly in the last twelve months, there’s been no proposal towards ourselves, and as far as I’m aware, no proposal to Infrastructure Australia for an assessment, or any firm proposal from the State Government to do something.

It appears that they’re not fulfilling their responsibility. This is a state road. They do have a `responsibility to do something about it on behalf of the residents. Clearly the petition that’s being collected, already with 4800 signatures means that members of the local community know that this situation is simply unsustainable.

REPORTER: Just finally, I saw some fellows over there with some pictures of what it was like here during the floods. Not sure whether it was January or last April, but it was closed for a substantial period of time for both times. What were your impressions after seeing those photos?

ALBANESE: Clearly it’s just unacceptable. You can see practically what the solutions potentially are. You either relocate the road or you do something to lift the road. But it shouldn’t be beyond the capacity of the state government, who have primary responsibility, but if they require assistance from other levels of government to come up with a solution to this we can help.

But clearly what shouldn’t happen is these regular flooding circumstances whereby communities are cut off, and you can see that there’s additional development taking place. We’re standing next to a sign about land sales. Surely given those circumstances the State Government would be getting revenue as well from the new residential properties.

How is it that the State Government’s prepared to accept revenue as a result of new sales but not prepared to put any of that revenue into fixing that road problem for the local community?

FITZGIBBON: Can I just say, and I’ll let the Mayors speak for themselves, but Bob Baldwin outrageously tried to blame the councils, suggesting that the councils, Maitland and Cessnock Councils, had opposing views as to what should be the solution.

It’s not up to the councils to make the final decisions about what the right solution for this area is, it’s up to the New South Wales Government to do that. So, Bob Baldwin has to stop promoting division and get on board with all of us, with all three levels of government to find a solution to this very serious problem.

CR PETER BLACKMORE, MAYOR OF MAITLAND: I was quite taken aback by the fact that – it was a simple phone call. Bob rang me. He was driving out this way and he asked my views and I had – I said have you been talking to Hilton Grugeon about the idea of allowing the roadworks to continue out here?

And then he got onto Bob, and Bob expressed his view and then subsequently the press release came out that both councils should sit down together with the State Minister.

Now, that’s not the answer really. I mean, the problem has been that the state government, through the RMS, the BCR ratio did not come up to an acceptable level. And what do you do about that? You’ve either got to try and get the case that it does come up to that level, because as you’re standing here you can see how many cars go by. Now, just raising it in Parliament is not enough. We need some action.

SWANSON: I think we need to revisit the RMS and the BCR, and the other thing is Bob’s talking about people getting together, well, we’ve got you here together today to talk about it and it’s only through working together with all three levels of government that we’re going to come up with a feasible solution for the community, because we just can’t have people being cut off in this day and age, with the thousands of houses that have been built on either side of the Hollow. It’s an important water causeway. It’s never going to go away. We need to come up with a better solution.

BLACKMORE: It’s got a history, you’ve been publishing the history which goes back a heck of a long time and to be fair, the State Member for Cessnock has certainly been very very involved in this issue as well, [inaudible] but if we keep going the way we’re going, the next time there’s decent rain- something could have happened last night – it would have been flooded again. And it’s the inconvenience it has caused.

Now, former Minister Albanese provided those funds for the Hunter Expressway. And look at these vehicles that are coming off the Hunter Expressway. Coming into Maitland and out of Maitland. Every day, five new people make Maitland their home. Cessnock has a rising population.

People depend on an all weather road here, and so we say we need to get all levels of government sitting down to have a discussion and talk. Whereas in local government we’re probably restricted to what we can do, but we need that extra muscle to come in over the top to recognise it and say ‘it’s a project that should be done’.

SWANSON: The other thing that is really important, and this is the RMS and the BCR, and whether it’s high enough or not, and whether there are fatalities – we don’t want a fatality. It would be terrible to think that someone was killed in a boat or on the road so it shouldn’t take a fatality to have this road adequately addressed. That’s the bottom line. Thanks.