Transcript - Speech - House of Representatives - Monday 26 February

I note that there aren't any contributions from the other side today—on the appropriations bill, no less.

The member for Grayndler, the member for Jagajaga and I this week will celebrate and mark the occasion of 22 years in this place. I don't recall—and I think they would agree with me—seeing a situation where government members are not contributing to an appropriations debate: a freewheeling and wideranging debate which allows members opposite, members on this side and the crossbenchers to discuss anything at all. It's not possible to be picked up by the Speaker for being not relevant to an appropriations bill.

This is a fantastic opportunity: 15 minutes to talk about how wonderful the government might be doing; 15 minutes to talk about what a wonderful job they're doing in health and education and defending the environment; 15 minutes, maybe, to talk about what's happening in their own electorates—as we just heard from the member on this side—and to talk about the things that have been done. But, apparently, they have nothing to say. They have nothing to say for two possible reasons, if not both. One is that nothing is being done in their electorates. That is one conclusion you might come to. A second reason might be that they are embarrassed to speak. They are not prepared to come in here and defend their own government, a government so dysfunctional and distracted that it is achieving nothing in this country. The truth is that this government has stopped governing. They are self imploding. They are so distracted by their internals they have stopped governing.

The bad news for the government is that the punters are on to them. They understand it. All they read about on a daily basis is scandal and internal division. Sadly, it looks like they're going to be reading about that for some time to come yet. I can see, already, the member for Warringah and the member for New England sitting up the back there smiling away. If anyone on that side believes either of those gentlemen—I'll call them that—have put their political aspirations behind them, then they are kidding themselves. So, the future doesn't bode well for all those who are represented by the people on those benches, particularly the members of the National Party, who have completely forgotten people living in rural and regional Australia. Constituents can't be hopeful that anything is going to change anytime soon. It's a disgrace that members are not prepared to either come in here and defend their government or come in here and stick up for their constituents. It's a disgrace, and not something I've seen in
my 22 years in this place.

That brings me to some issues in my own electorate which I want to speak about this afternoon. Traffic congestion is not something often associated with regional communities, but the Hunter Region, happily, is growing very strongly, and traffic congestion in the Hunter Region is a real issue. In fact, it is so much of an issue that it would be dangerous of me to single out particular problems. But I'm going to nominate four problems today which I think are a priority: the Glendale interchange in Lake Macquarie, the proposed Singleton bypass, the proposed Muswellbrook bypass, and the proposed Cessnock ring road and our aspirations to link Cessnock proper to the Hunter Expressway. These projects are important not just in terms of traffic congestion; they will unlock the further economic potential of the region. So they are traffic projects but they are also economic projects.
It is extraordinary that the 11 councils, the 11 local governments, in the region unanimously support the Glendale interchange as the region's No.1 infrastructure priority. That is pretty extraordinary in a large region so diverse in its communities. They unanimously support the Glendale interchange. A Labor government funded it here in Canberra. The Lake Macquarie Council has been prepared to put its money where its mouth is—and I think the contribution they are offering is $6 million or $7 million. But we can't get conservative governments in Canberra or Sydney to take the project seriously. It's time they did take the project seriously and recognised the economic benefits that will flow from the completion of the Glendale interchange and the wonderful difference it will make for commuters moving from one side of Lake Macquarie to the other or from the western side of Lake
Macquarie to the Newcastle CBD.

The second project is the proposed Muswellbrook bypass, which has been under consideration since 1988—at least, that's when I first became aware of the issue. The CBD of Muswellbrook is still inundated with trucks moving up and down the New England Highway. Mayor Martin Rush and the council there are doing a wonderful job of revitalising and beautifying the CBD and making it an attractive place to shop and visit. But it is very difficult while it remains the main thoroughfare for heavy traffic and indeed vehicular traffic on a daily basis.

Labor was funding the planning of this project when last in government. But since the election of the Abbott
government, and then the Turnbull government, the project has come to a grinding halt.
The next project is the Singleton bypass. Every morning, even when in Canberra, I tune into ABC Radio

Mr Husic: And why wouldn't you!

Mr FITZGIBBON: The member for Chifley rightly says, 'Why wouldn't you!' I'm sure he does it
occasionally as well—

Mr Husic: I try.

Mr FITZGIBBON: particularly if he thinks he might be on the news! The traffic news every morning notes what is happening in and out of Singleton because of the commuter traffic heading to the coalmines. We still have a very healthy coalmining industry in the Hunter region—and may we do so for many years to come. Traffic through Singleton is a nightmare. Despite the New South Wales government making a lot of noise about a bypass over the period since 2011, we still don't even have a fixed route option. I am going to let the Turnbull government off the hook here. The Turnbull government can't fund a Singleton bypass if there is not a Singleton bypass to fund. Until the New South Wales government produces a project, it is pretty hard for the Commonwealth to fund the project. So I appeal to the New South Wales government to get on with it, give Singleton the bypass it deserves and give those who are in that traffic nightmare on a daily basis the relief they deserve.

The fourth project relates to Cessnock, my home town. Cessnock is another high-growth area in the Hunter region. It is growing rapidly. Of course, that is partly because people are attracted to the beauty of our wine tourism and other attractions. The problem is that with the way Cessnock has developed historically, with its periphery of mining communities, everyone living in any of those villages or new housing estates goes to the CBD every morning or afternoon as they exit or re-enter the town. That is a traffic nightmare. The council is acutely aware of the problem and has identified a solution. That solution is twofold. It includes Cessnock ring road which will allow commuters to exit their suburbs around Cessnock out of town without going through the CBD and to come in the same way. It will also link Cessnock city to the new Labor funded and built Hunter Expressway, which would give  people a quick exit to Newcastle and other places to which they might be commuting.

This is not an inexpensive project, I concede. In fact the ring road would be in the order of $174 million, and the link to the expressway and the required interchange would be expensive projects. But the economic return would be enormous. There is an inevitability about this project. This will have to be done at some point, and the state government and federal government should get on with supporting council's plans to do so.

There is another element. Sadly, more than a year ago Cessnock had thrust upon it a massive expansion of the corrections centre right on the edge of the town. It's virtually in the town, I would argue. It is only hundreds of metres to residential streets. The state government decided it would change its own planning laws so that council and residents could raise no objections and so that this project would not be subject to the scrutiny of council or local communities. There was very little consultation and very little opportunity for people to express their concerns about the impact of that massive jail expansion on Cessnock and its community.

I want to say at the outset that I do acknowledge and recognise the benefits of the expansion to Cessnock, both in construction opportunities and the impact on the community and on an ongoing basis, because the jail will be easily the city's largest employer. So I want to acknowledge that there are benefits to Cessnock. The New South Wales government would have had a significant level of support from the community if it had gone about this thing the right way, not changed its planning laws to protect its own decision and: provided a new entry and exit out of the jail so that substantial traffic movements are not going into residential streets; increased police numbers in Cessnock to deal with any antisocial impacts from the expansion; and made sure our hospital had the facilities necessary to deal with prisoners who might need to visit. That would not have been asking much. How many of
those three key points have been recognised and addressed by the New South Wales government? Not one. bout the ring road. It's time for it to get serious about ready access between the township of Cessnock and the Hunter Expressway. Of course, the ring road would provide a new entry and exit out of the jail, taking those traffic movements out of the residential streets of Cessnock. These are residential streets, of course, that the council has to maintain on an annual basis. So it's an easy opportunity for Premier Berejiklian and her government to make up for the massive expansion in Cessnock and to reward the residents of Cessnock for accommodating the jail expansion, keeping in mind that that jail generates enormous income for the New South Wales government. 

Ms Burney interjecting—

Mr FITZGIBBON: I hear the member for Barton agreeing. She as a former member of the New South Wales parliament would know this. Enormous revenue comes to the New South Wales government as a result of that jail, and that revenue is going to increase over time. So the residents of Cessnock should be compensated for what this expansion is doing for our image, arguably. Being known as the place of potentially the biggest jail in the Southern Hemisphere is not exactly what we're looking for as a town promoting ourselves as a wine tourism destination. They should be compensated for the impact on the roads and on the hospital. We see prisoners being brought into the emergency department at Cessnock jumping the queue, the queue where local residents have been sitting and waiting for a protracted period of time.

Residents are conscious of these issues. They know about the adverse impacts. But, as I said, they know that benefits come too, and they will accept that in net terms. They will accept that the benefits are there and that maybe the benefits can overcome the negatives of the project. But they will only do that if the New South Wales government gets serious about properly developing the project—that is, making sure the road issues are addressed, the health issues are addressed and the social issues are addressed. Until the New South Wales government is prepared to do that, it will not have wide support from the Cessnock community. The Cessnock ring-road is a fantastic project—something that is inevitable, something that has to be done, something that will allow Cessnock to grow without the usual growing pains, or at least minimise the growing pains. It's a great opportunity for New South Wales to get serious. We now have that jail expansion. I say to the Premier that there's not much we can do about that, but you can compensate us by backing some of these very important projects.

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