The hunt is on for an Australian or overseas partner to help construct the $5 billion upgrade of the Pacific Highway between Ballina and Woolgoolga.
But questions are being raised as to why an Australian company can’t do the job, and also whether the significant koala population near Ballina will be protected.
The NSW and Australian governments have announced that a briefing will be held in Sydney next Wednesday with the construction industry, to outline how an industry partner would work alongside the NSW Government to deliver the final 155 kilometre section of the upgrade.
Deputy prime minister Warren Truss said the proposed ‘industry partner contract model’ was based on the model used to build infrastructure for the London Olympics.
The upgrade has been approved by the NSW government and is currently being considered by the federal department of the environment.
NSW roads minister Duncan Gay said the industry partner contract model would harness the best ideas and solutions from the private sector and draw on knowledge from within government.
‘Current practice would be to deliver the Woolgoolga to Ballina upgrade as four or five separate packages using design and build or build only contracts,’ he said.
‘Under this new model, a major provider with design, building and management expertise will be engaged to oversee the project in collaboration with Roads and Maritime’s Pacific Highway office, managing multiple contracts for professional services, supply, and building of the highway.
‘The delivery partner model will offer better value for money and drive project efficiencies.’
NSW shadow roads minister Walt Secord said however that the minister should explain why the government was advertising for an overseas partner.
Mr Secord said there were many Australian companies capable of building the project.
‘The State Liberal-National government should be supporting Australian jobs as there are plenty of skilled workers,’ Mr Secord said.
‘The state government’s priority should be to generate jobs in NSW as the unemployment is rising on the back of the unfair and cruel Abbott budget supported by the Baird government.
‘The state government decision mirrors the Abbott’s government’s moves to have Australian Army boots made in Indonesia and decision to build Australian Navy boats in the United Kingdom.
‘The question remains: How is this good for local jobs and employment in our state?
‘The NSW government spends billions of dollars on goods and services each and every year. We should be doing everything we can to maximise the economic benefit of that buying power to support local industries and create local jobs.’
Meanwhile, koala campaigners are still hopeful that the federal government will reconsider the proposed route, which they say could decimate the koala population in Ballina shire.
A petition to federal environment minister Greg Hunt has attracted more than 40,000 signatures, asking that the route be changed.
But minister Gay gave an assurance that the presence of koalas would be an important element of the industry briefing.
‘The project team continues to work with NSW and Australian government agencies, Ballina Shire Council and key koala experts to minimise the potential impact of the project,’ Mr Gay said.
‘It is important construction industry leaders work with the Australian and NSW governments to deliver this key upgrade while mitigating the impact to the koala population.’
Page MP Kevin Hogan said the project would employ about 2,500 people directly and provide for another 6,500 indirect jobs in the broader community.
‘Some 58 per cent of the final highway length has already been upgraded to a four-lane divided road and open to traffic, with another 21 per cent being built or due to start shortly,’ Mr Hogan said.