Coalition getting on with the job of fixing Pacific Highway

FEW people living in north-east NSW, or indeed anywhere along the coastal corridor between Brisbane and Sydney, would doubt the importance of the Pacific Highway for moving people and goods safely and efficiently. 

The Coalition Government's approach to vital infrastructure like the Pacific Highway is not to argue about funding processes, but to get on with the job. We have committed $5.6 billion to complete the duplication of the Pacific Highway from Hexham to the Queensland border by the end of the decade.

The Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport has claimed that our restoration of the 80/20 split has given the NSW Coalition Government a green light to reduce its contribution to the Pacific Highway duplication. But when New South Wales had a Labor State Government, Mr Albanese was more than happy to pay 80/20, or more of the cost of projects on the Pacific Highway. It was only after the election of the O'Farrell State Coalition Government that Federal Labor started demanding 50/50 contributions for the Pacific Highway four-laning. 

Labor knew the states could not afford to pay 50 per cent of the cost of projects on the National Highway. It was a cynical ploy to further reduce Labor's contribution to road funding which was already on the slide in the latter years of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Government. In addition, many of the road projects Labor announced were to be funded by the proceeds of the Mining Tax - but the Mining Tax was not raising any money.

Mr Albanese talks big now he is in Opposition, but the facts are that when in government, his road building promises were either unfunded or had conditions attached which were unacceptable to the states.

Had Labor been re-elected, work on the Pacific Highway would already be starting to slow as the State Government found it impossible to meet Mr Albanese's funding demands. The firm commitment to complete the four-laning by the end of this decade would be drifting off as another empty dream.

Our 80/20 funding commitment adds $922 million to the Commonwealth's investment in the Pacific Highway for the remaining 155km Woolgoolga to Ballina stretch. This funding difference between the Federal Coalition and Labor makes the upgrading of the Pacific Highway a funded reality - not an empty Labor promise.  

The Pacific carries more than three-quarters of the freight traffic between Brisbane and Sydney - more than 1,000 long-distance vehicles use the highway every day. This high volume reflects among other things a major shift of traffic from the New England Highway to the Pacific since the Yelgin to Chinderah bypass opened in 2002 and this freight flow is set to grow very sharply. Freight volumes are projected to increase three-fold between Sydney and Brisbane by 2027, compared to a doubling in Australia overall - and most of the Sydney-Brisbane growth will be carried along the Pacific Highway. 

This growth will be matched by a sharp rise in passenger movements. The Pacific coasts of NSW and Queensland have of course been a magnet for residents and holiday-makers for decades and the NSW coast north of Sydney has one of the fastest growing populations in Australia and is projected to grow to one million people by 2024.

This economic and population growth is very positive for Australia, and for our east coast regions in particular. However, we need to ensure that we have the infrastructure, including a fully duplicated Pacific Highway, which will support it. This of course includes ensuring that an inevitable growth in traffic does not come at the expense of the safety or the quality of life of the communities along the Pacific Highway.

This raises the stakes for ensuring that the Pacific Highway provides a safe and efficient means of moving people and goods. It also makes the approach we inherited from our predecessors to funding the duplication of the Pacific Highway all the more baffling.

The Pacific Highway is an absolutely vital national artery - and if we improve its performance we improve the nation as a whole. The Coalition Government is committed to this improvement - and I look forward to a fully duplicated Pacific Highway and all the benefits it will bring.

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