Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Pacific Highway politics - now and then. According to NSW North Coast MPs and others

Recently Commonwealth-State funding arrangements for Pacific Highway upgrades have been in the news, with the NSW O’Farrell Government waxing eloquent about the alleged unfairness of the Federal Gillard Government.

Even though the NSW Premier has known for at least ten months that funding provisions in the AusLink agreement were going to be enforced by the Federal Government.

A tendency to point the finger, assign blame and pass the buck appear to be prominent character traits of Australian politicians of all political persuasions - as illustrated in the quotes below.

However current and past Nationals MPs Fraser, Gulaptis, Hartsuyker and Causley, both in and out of government, have raised this tendency to an art form - ignoring as they do the terms and conditions of successive AusLink Memorandums of Understanding between the Commonwealth and NSW, commencing during the initial terms of the Federal Coalition Government led by John Howard and the NSW Labor Government led by Bob Carr.


Here is the NSW Nationals Coffs Harbour MP and Assistant Speaker Andrew Fraser on 22 February 2012 according to that NSW Hansard:

I move:
That this House calls on the Commonwealth Government to agree to maintain the historic 80:20 Commonwealth-State funding formula to ensure the completion of the Pacific Highway upgrade by 2016.

This is NSW Nationals Clarence MP ‘Steve’ Gulaptis popping up in support on the same day:

…Those on the other side should be encouraging their cohorts in the Federal Parliament to agree to the 80:20 split so that we can meet that 2016 deadline. I commend the motion to the House.

While this is Federal Transport Minister Antony Albanese according to ABC Mid North Coast NSW on 1 March 2012:

The New South Wales government says it cannot afford a 50-50 split and the 2016 duplication deadline may have to be shelved.
It wants the Federal government to pay 80 per cent of the project costs.
But minister Anthony Albanese says that's not the deal that was agreed on.
"It's in writing, it's part of the Auslink agreement developed by the Howard government 50-50 funding.”


The Northern Rivers Echo reporting on NSW Nationals Clarence MP Steve Cansdell on 14 March 2011:

The National Party’s Steve Cansdell has also made a similar promise to have a major upgrade of the Pacific Highway completed by 2016.

On 27 October 2009 NSW Nationals Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser was calling on the NSW Government:

The Pacific Highway is a state road that effectively causes the loss of one life a week. The state government should pour the money it receives from the increased registration charges for heavy vehicles back into regional roads.

While Federal Nationals Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker was saying in the House of Representatives on 27 February 2006:

I move:
That this House:
that the Pacific Highway is a State road designed, built, owned, and maintained by the New South Wales State Government;

And again on 8 February 2006

The Pacific Highway, of course, is a New South Wales state government road, designed, built, owned and maintained by the New South Wales government. It does receive substantial funding under AusLink…..

With the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority stating in 2006:

The Pacific Highway between Newcastle and Brisbane forms part of the Australian Government's AusLink National Network.

This was NSW Labor Minister for Roads Joe Tripodi  answering a question in the Legislative Assembly concerning the Howard Government’s Auslink agreement on 14 September 2005:

The NSW Government was forced to sign up to the Federal Government s Auslink agreement on roads and transport funding or risk losing Federal roads funding altogether.
(1) and (2) The NSW Government had been trying to negotiate a better deal for the State, but the Federal Government had refused to budge.
The bottom line is that signing this agreement means NSW has to pay an extra $298 million for roadworks but not signing would have cost us $940 million. This is because Auslink means the States have to foot the bills for maintenance and safety works which used to be funded by the Commonwealth.
It was either sign up and get some funding or don t sign and get nothing.
Under the Auslink agreement, the Federal Government reduced funding levels for maintenance, and stops the funding of safety and urgent minor works.

Further back, this was the Federal Nationals Page MP and member of the Howard Government Ian Causley speaking at the Pacific Highway Summit on 13 May 2005 regarding federal government plans to create Auslink and implement the National Land Transport Plan:

Project costs will be shared with the State Government, 50/50 agreement has been requested.


The Pacific Highway was never part of the Federally funded system of National Highways. This appears to be because when the Commonwealth funding of the 'national highway' system began in 1974, the longer New England Highway was chosen rather than the Pacific Highway as the Sydney–Brisbane link due to its easier topography and consequent lower upgrade costs.
Yet the highway was undeniably heavily used by interstate traffic and its upgrade was beyond the resources of the New South Wales Government alone. The NSW Government and the Commonwealth Government argued for years about how the responsibility for funding the highway's upgrade should be divided between themselves, only coming up with a mutually acceptable upgrade package just after the 1996/1997 financial year. The Highway is now part of the AusLink National Network and new projects are funded 50/50 by the Federal and State governments.

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