Fight on for highway
NSW Roads Minister Duncan Gay says the State Government still intends to complete the Pacific Highway upgrade by 2016, despite signals last week more than $3.5 billion in Federal funding may be withdrawn.
Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese last week said $3.56 billion assigned to the highway in the Federal Budget would be redirected to other infrastructure projects unless NSW agreed to match the funds.
The combined figure of $7.2 billion was needed to fund the completion of the highway upgrade, mostly focusing on the section between Ballina and Woolgoolga, by 2016.
However, soon after Mr Albanese made the statement, Mr Gay's office said the NSW Government "can't and won't" match the Federal funding.
Speaking at Bangalow yesterday, Mr Gay said he remained "committed to finishing this highway as soon as we possibly can - certainly looking with a view of that 2016 finish".
"I need to continue to talk to the Federal government and certainly I will be continuing to talk to Anthony Albanese," he said.
Mr Albanese complained last week he had been unable to speak with the State Government directly about the highway upgrade, saying even text messages he had sent to Premier Barry O'Farrell had not been answered.
Mr Gay said the Federal Government's insistence on reverting to a 50/50 funding split on the highway effectively added $2.31 billion to the cost of the upgrade for the NSW Government.
"I know the community doesn't like us fighting but frankly when I'm representing NSW I'm going to dig my heels in and get the best deals I can," Mr Gay said.
"I have a limited budget. We inherited a situation in the treasury in NSW which was awful.
"The current funding that we're doing on 80/20 we're funding that out of asset sales and it's tough."
Mr Gay said his first task now was to make sure the Commonwealth's $3.56 billion was spent on the highway upgrade.
"I need to make sure first of all that the money they've promised, that they don't withdraw that money - that it's not given with one hand and taken away with the other," he said.
"The second thing I need to do is fight like hell to get as much money as I possibly can out of the NSW budget which is coming up in June and we're currently in budget negotiations."
Critically, Mr Gay said he would talk and keep talking with Mr Albanese.
"What we need to do and what the community needs to do is to work together and whilst I am disappointed that they've stepped away from the current 80/20 my firm commitment is to work with them wherever possible to deliver this highway," Mr Gay said.