O'Farrell vows to combat carnage
BARRY O’FARRELL was at Clybucca, north of Kempsey, the day two buses hit head-on in 1989, killing 35 people.
Mr O’Farrell, then 28, arr-ived in the town within hours of the accident and witnessed the harrowing sight of 30 body bags lined up along the western side of the road.
“It’s not something I ever want to see again,” the NSW Opposition Leader said yesterday afternoon before stepping on the bus that would take him down the highway to Grafton – through the scene of yesterday’s fatal accident near Iluka and the scene of the Cowper bus crash that killed 21 people, two months before the Clybucca disaster.
Mr O’Farrell is even more personally acquainted with the horrors of the highway. His wife, Rosemary, lost her mother and nearly lost her brother on the road in 1987.
But that doesn’t mean the 2016 deadline for the full upgrade of the highway would be met if the Coalition wins government in NSW next year.
Funding for the upgrade is currently set to run out in 2014, with $6 billion worth of work still to be done over the following two years.
Mr O’Farrell said Labor’s lack of MPs on the North Coast put the highway issue out of sight and mind.
“These targets are always set with good intentions, but time moves on and those int-entions were forgotten,” he said. “But if you are one of the local members you can’t forget because there’s a major accident every other week or day and local people are inv-olved in them, as police or emergency service workers or losing their lives.”
And while shying away from the 2016 deadline, Mr O’Farrell said fixing the highway was a major priority for the State Coalition.
“Should we be elected next March, one of the first things I’ll do is sit down with (Federal Minister) Anthony Albanese and talk about speeding up the project ... or whoever is Prime Minister then, whether it’s Tony Abbott or Kevin Rudd,” he said.
As a starting point, the Liberal leader said the Coalition would at least reinstate the $300 million taken out of the highway budget when the Commonwealth increased its commitment after the 2007 election.
“The Pacific Highway should be above party politics,” he said. “It’s an on-going partnership between the Federal Government and the State Government.”
Mr O’Farrell was touring the highway at the invitation of North Coast mayors, whose council areas take in the road.
The tour was to be done yesterday afternoon in the company of mayors and a paramedic, who would provide a commentary about accident scenes they passed.
However, a mix-up with flights meant he landed at Ballina airport more than an hour behind schedule.
The new schedule had him leaving Ballina about 5.30pm to travel to Grafton, where he would be guest of honour at a fundraising dinner. This morning he is scheduled to continue his journey down the highway to Coffs Harbour, where he will catch a flight back to Sydney.
A report yesterday saying Ballina MP Don Page and Clarence MP Steve Cansdell ‘could guarantee’ the 2016 deadline would be met by a NSW Coalition government, should have read ‘neither could guarantee’ the deadline would be met.