Country mayors want more money for roads

The Parkes Road at Forbes underwater. Country Australia suffered major flooding further damaging infrastructure making roadworks in the bush an even more of a priority this election.

A plan by NSW Labor to scrap upgrades to the Great Western Highway duplication and tunnel in favour of funding infrastructure for Western Sydney has angered a major rural body.

The Country Mayors Association of NSW are becoming extremely frustrated by the funding focus on Western Sydney in the lead-up to the State Election according to its chairman Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey.

NSW Labor leader Chris Minns MP announced that should Labor form government after the 25 March election, the Coalition’s committed funding for the upgrades to the Great Western Highway duplication and tunnel will be scrapped in favour of infrastructure funding for Western Sydney. Though it is not all bad news for the bush with Labor later promising Labor a new $670 million Emergency Road Repair Fund a move praised by Lismore State Labor member Janelle Saffin, whose electorate taking in Tenterfield and Lismore through to Murwillumbah, was one of the worst hit last year.

“There is more to NSW than Western Sydney,” Chaffey said.

“CMA members have endorsed our state election priorities that are focused on eight key areas; regional road funding is high on that list.

“The city and regions are reliant on each other. The food and fibre, along with the minerals and energy produced in regional NSW, is critical to the prosperity of the state, and without safe and productive highway networks that connect city to the regions, we fail.”

CMA executive member, Forbes Shire Mayor Phyllis Miller said more attention should be paid to roads in the country.

“For 20 years the Central West has fought to open our food bowl to the rest of NSW – now we have been dealt a blow like no other,” he said.

“The much-needed upgraded Great Western Highway road duplication and tunnel infrastructure would help our residents by saving commute time for their advanced health and education needs, and now if Labor comes to power it will be taken away from the Central West community.”

Cabonne Shire Council mayor Kevin Beatty said: “This is extremely disappointing; we have been campaigning for a safe and productive link between Sydney and the Central West of NSW for more than 20 years. The last 12 months we have seen many extreme natural disasters – the Central West was virtually cut off from the city by road and rail for an extended period.

“Our tourist, business and residents were all dramatically affected and this caused an enormous economic downturn to our economies.”

On 10 February, the NSW Coalition government committed $1 billion for regional transport and roads if re-elected; $400 million to extend the critical Fixing Local Roads program, $300 million to create a Build Back Better fund; and $300 million to “Fast Track Freight” ($200 million of that amount will be allocated to rail projects).

“The CMA stands firm in our pursuit of equity of service provision for the residents of our communities,” chairman Chaffey said.

“We stand united with our members to advocate for residents who choose to call country NSW home. We will continue to work with both State and Commonwealth Governments to achieve the best quality of life and provision of services for our residents, and we look forward to a prosperous future.”

Labor promises regional road repair

Labor has promised a new $670 million Emergency Road Repair Fund, if the party wins the NSW state election according to Lismore MP Janelle Saffin whose electorate was one of the worst hit by the 2022 February/March floods.

She said it would be the Minns’ Labor Government’s first investment in fixing the critical nature of the regional roads on the Northern Rivers and Northern Tablelands.

“For more than a decade, maintenance of regional roads has tended to be patch-up jobs and we’re certainly not doing world’s best practice. We need to turn this around,” Ms Saffin said.

“The Nationals in government made a signature commitment in 2019 to reclassify and transfer up to 15,000 kilometres of roads to state responsibility but this has been an abject failure and could take another decade. It’s a hollow promise.

“NSW Labor will defer this failed road reclassification program and put the existing NSW Budget funding of $193 million – along with an additional $197 million of new money – into a more immediate response because road repair is so urgently needed.”

Ms Saffin said she welcomes NSW Labor Leader Chris Minns and NSW Shadow Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Jenny Aitchison’s confirmation on 3 March that a Minns Labor Government would continue the existing $280-million regional pothole program.

“This is a good baseline from which local councils can be confident they are being supported, particularly after last year’s flooding severely impacted what were already badly potholed roads,” Ms Saffin said.

“We will be providing an additional investment of $390 million over the next two years, bringing the total investment in road repair under the new Emergency Road Repair Fund to $670 million.”