State roads minister Duncan Gay has selectively requoted information provided by federal transport minister Anthony Albanese on Monday in an effort to shore up his government’s demands for an 80/20 split on funding for the Pacific Highway.
Minister Albanese has consistently denied the federal government ever committed to such a high level of federal funding for the long term, saying the method was only introduced during the global financial crisis as a way of kick-starting some much-needed infrastructure projects. He insists that future federal funding for the highway be met dollar for dollar by the state.
The ongoing stoush takes place in the shadow of urgent meetings being held this week between the Pacific Highway Taskforce and both state and federal governments. Both parliaments are also debating highway funding again this week.
In a media release yesterday minister Gay quoted a letter from his predecessor David Campbell, written in December 2009, assuming the federal government would accept the higher regime.
‘I will undertake to seek confirmation of a 20 per cent NSW government commitment to the additional funding required,’ the letter is quoted as saying.
‘If the commitments detailed above are not made within the timetable outlined, the opportunity to complete the upgrade in 2016 will quickly become unachievable.’
In his response to Minister Campbell’s letter Mr Albanese responded that he was disappointed the then-Labor state government had reduced its funding for the road beyond the higher threshold.
‘In [2008 and 2009], the NSW government scaled back its contribution for the Pacific Highway from $1.45 billion to $800 million. The subsequent NSW mini-budget, in November 2008, saw the NSW government cut its commitment to the Pacific Highway by a further $300 million, to $500 million,’ Mr Albanese said in reply.
‘Had the NSW government not reduced its contribution to the Pacific Highway… [it] would have been much further progressed by the end of the current Nation Building Program in 2013–14,’ Mr Albanese’s letter read.
Mr Albanese has quoted various coalition MPs (now state government ministers) demanding a higher contribution from the then-Labor state government.
‘I was extremely critical of the NSW Labor government when they did not do their bit on the Pacific Highway,’ he told parliament yesterday.
‘Indeed, I took $50 million from the NSW government when they were doing the wrong thing. I was out there at press conferences saying they needed to do more, and do you know who was backing me then? Not just the member for Lyne but every state coalition member, from Premier O’Farrell to Andrew Stoner to Duncan Gay.
He went on to quote Mr Gay himself as saying, ‘I would hope this time he [then-roads minister Eric Roozendaal] would say, “Yes, I will match that money and save the lives of people in NSW that have to use this highway”.’
Meanwhile, Pacific Highway Taskforce chairman and Clarence Valley mayor Richie Williamson said the group is hoping to convince National Party members to pressure the state government to arrange a new funding deal.
‘What we’ve undertaken to do is lobby both levels of government to get the cash. It is a particularly hot topic at both the federal and state levels of government at the moment. I do look forward to the day when I don’t have to lobby for funds for upgrades to the Pacific Highway,’ he told ABC radio this morning.