Recent works on the Pacific Highway upgrade at Banora Point.
Recent works on the Pacific Highway upgrade at Banora Point. Scott Powick

Oakeshott pleads for highway funds

PORT Macquarie-based independent MP Rob Oakeshott is calling on State Coalition MPs to force the NSW Government to match Federal funding on the Pacific Highway.

Speaking in parliament on Monday night, Mr Oakeshott suggested the 2016 deadline to complete the highway upgrade would be threatened if NSW did not increase its funding.

Roads Minister Duncan Gay has previously said he expected the State Government to foot 20% of the outstanding $7 billion highway upgrade bill and the Commonwealth to pay 80% of it, because that was the model the two governments had previously relied on.

Neither the State nor Federal governments are awash with cash. The Commonwealth is tightening its belt as it works to meet its promise to have the budget back into surplus by 2012/13 while the recent interim Schott report has found years of wasteful practices had demolished NSW's budget.

However, Mr Oakeshott told Federal Parliament on Monday the clock was ticking on the highway upgrade deadline.

"The 2012/13 budgets will include the four-year forward estimates on Pacific Highway funding to 2016, the deadline promised by both the Federal Labor government and the NSW Coalition government," Mr Oakeshott told the House of Representatives.

"I've kept at the Federal Government to uphold its end of the bargain. North Coast communities expect their state MPs to do the same with the NSW Government, and yet National Party MPs this past week seem more focused on looking for a 'get-out' clause.

"If the 80:20 funding split requested by NSW threatens the deadline, then Mid-North and North Coast state MPs have no option but to fight for more funding.

"The irony is that two National Party MPs who have spoken endlessly about the need for an upgrade have consistently, in Opposition, stated that the highway is a state road and should be funded at least 50:50 by the state.

"Now, when record federal funds are being tipped into the project and the Coalition has control of the state's purse strings, they say the Commonwealth should fund 80 per cent of the project.

"I'm asking these MPs to do the right thing. They know what they've said in the past and they know what they've promised. It's time to honour that promise.

"I call on the Federal Minister for Transport to resolve the dispute with the NSW Government, to make sure he can win the fight within the federal Expenditure Review Committee and to reach an agreement with the state National Party Roads Minister, Duncan Gay."

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