16 October 2023
Mr COULTON (Parkes—Chief Nationals Whip) (18:42): I too rise tonight to speak in support of the motion by the member for Barker pointing out that the length of the government’s 90-day infrastructure review has now stretched out to nearly double that amount. This is causing an enormous amount of grief and heartache in my electorate. I’m really pleased to have the former Deputy Prime Minister and one of the best infrastructure ministers this country has ever seen sitting here next to me, who backed projects in regional Australia and not only backed them but came up with policies that were relevant for infrastructure—Roads of Strategic Importance, roads that linked into other major infrastructure projects; roads like the Coonamble-to-Tooraweenah road, which now after a lot of planning, design and preliminary work there’s a shadow over; and roads like the bypass around Gilgandra, where the council was texting me only on the weekend wanting to know what was happening.
With grade separations the member for Riverina and I met with the councils terribly concerned about the safety issues on these major roads and their interface with Inland Rail. A contribution from the previous government to build these grade separations is now on ice. One at Moree not only was a
connection over the Newell Highway and the Inland Rail but was the missing link in the piece of infrastructure to actually get the special activation precinct underway. I’m not one for giving kudos to Labor governments, but the New South Wales government in their budget actually continued the commitment to the special activation precinct in Moree and added to it. That’s in stark contrast to what we’ve seen from this minister. Reviewing and looking at these things while the cost goes up—as you drive around the Parkes electorate now, the work that’s going on is the work that was funded by our government: $258 million on the Newell Highway between Narrabri and Moree; there’s another $108 million there for north of Moree funded by the previous government. But work on the Inland Rail has ground to a halt in my electorate in a major way. There were major retrenchments; there are contractors who have gone to finance companies, borrowed huge amounts of funds to purchase equipment to take part in this major project, the most important infrastructure project in the last hundred years.
We’ve heard a lot in the last month about how the government cares about Aboriginal people. When they stopped work at Moree, about 100 Aboriginal people lost their jobs. On one hand we talk our virtue up in Canberra while we rip the heart out of local communities, people that had jobs, sometimes the first job they’ve had for years. I have spoken to these people out on job sites. I spoke to a lady north of Moree who was working in traffic control on the Inland Rail. She said it’s so good to have a job. They’re gone. On a slightly similar subject, the work that has been happening now on reforms to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan will rip more jobs away from Aboriginal people. One of the biggest employers of Aboriginal people in my electorate is associated with water.
So this minister needs to get her hands out from where she is sitting and actually do her job. Making stuff is hard. Stopping stuff is easy. When you had a government that’s full of a union hacks that have spent their whole life stopping things, they find it very, very hard to start things. So I wholly support member for Barker on this motion.