News

Govt gets hwy upgrade deadline

Anthony Albanese.
Anthony Albanese.

FEDERAL Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese says the New South Wales Government has until next week to "get onboard" ensuring the Pacific Hwy duplication is finished by 2016.

Mr Albanese told the House of Representatives on Tuesday he would meet with NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay on June 28 to discuss the highway funding impasse.

"They have an opportunity ... and we ask nothing more and nothing less than they keep to their word," Mr Albanese said during debate.

Port Macquarie independent MP Rob Oakeshott instigated the debate in the lower house when he moved a motion calling for the "urgent need for a commonwealth-state funding agreement" to meet the 2016 duplication deadline.

The more than hour-long debate contained little in the way of new information or arguments on the highway funding stalemate.

Mr Albanese said the 2016 deadline remained "achievable" if the State Government matched dollar-for-dollar the $3.56 billion set aside in last month's federal budget.

The Barry O'Farrell government allocated $1.5 billion to the highway in last week's NSW budget, leaving a $2 billion shortfall.

Mr Albanese expects Mr Gay to produce a revised construction timetable at their meeting next week.

A delegation from Clarence Valley Council, including Mayor Richie Williamson, sat in the public gallery for some of the debate, which had contributions from Mr Oakeshott, Mr Albanese, northern NSW MPs Luke Hartsuyker, Justine Elliot and Janelle Saffin, Nationals Leader Warren Truss and NSW Liberal Bob Baldwin.

Mr Hartsuyker, whose electorate of Cowper is home to one of the deadliest stretches of the highway, said the opportunity to meet the 2016 duplication deadline had "slipped by long ago".

He later described the Federal Government's assertion the deadline was realistic as an "elaborate deception" .

The Nationals frontbencher repeated his call for both levels of government to stop arguing about the funding split and commit all available funds.

He said eliminating black spots - including extending as a matter or urgency the scope of work from Nambucca to Warrell Creek - and getting heavy vehicles out of Macksville, Coffs Harbour and Ulmarra were his priorities.

Mr Truss spoke at length about the state-federal funding split, quoting from letters and documents to argue his point the Federal Government needed to contribute more money.

Mr Oakeshott asked Mr Truss twice during his 10-minute speech to table the memorandum of understanding many federal and state Coalition MPs claim exists outlining the 80-20 funding split. No document was tabled.

Mr Truss also used the debate to claim the carbon price would make finishing the highway "more expensive and more difficult".

"Because the cost of building the road will be significantly higher than it otherwise would have been without a carbon tax," he said.

Ms Saffin said people on the North Coast were "sick of the bickering and lies".

She rattled off a string of quotes from NSW and federal Coalition MPs in an effort to illustrate show their rhetoric had changed on highway funding. She said Mr Hartsuyker was on the record saying the highway was a "state road designed, built, owned and maintained" by the NSW Government.

Ms Saffin described the 80-20 funding split as a "construct" devised by the current NSW Government.

Mr Oakeshott said the State Government had poured billions into Sydney transport projects in last week's budget at the expense of the Pacific Hwy, labelling it an "absolute disgrace".

He said it was "time to call the Coalitions' bluff" on the 80-20 claim.

Meanwhile, Cr Williamson and Coffs Harbour Mayor Keith Rhoades met with Mr Albanese late on Tuesday.

Cr Williamson, who chairs the Pacific Hwy Taskforce, described the talks as "honest and direct".

Topics:  deadline, duplication, hartsuyker, pacific highway, upgrade



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