(Parkes-The Nationals Chief Whip) (09:30): I rise this morning to speak about the crisis that is unfolding across northern New South Wales and more widely across regional Australia at the moment. This crisis is the poor state of local and regional roads. The poor condition of the roads has probably been hidden over the period of the 10-year drought. They were passable for use during that time, even though the gravel had been denuded and they were mainly on black soil. Another reason why the poor state of the roads was hidden is that to avoid getting on the financial watch list they hid the true figures about their roads. As a result, I believe that there is about a $6 billion deficit now in the condition of local roads.
Everything that we purchase on a supermarket shelf starts its life on a local road. The two major economic drivers that kept this country out of recession in the global financial crisis, mining and agriculture, rely on a local road network. That is why the councils of Gwydir and Moree have formed the Australian Rural Roads Group. They now have over 100 members, including the largest agriculture-producing councils in Australia. They firmly believe that, as well as vehicle traffic, the value and amount of produce that is delivered on these roads should be taken into account and that there should be a strategic approach in putting in local road networks so that this produce can make its way to the markets.
At the moment, we have farmers in dire financial stress because they have the grain from last year’s harvest in storage on farm but cannot meet contractual agreements with flour millers, feedlots and the like. We have cattle producers that have regular contracts with supermarkets and abattoirs who cannot meet those contractual agreements because they cannot travel on these roads. This is not just an issue of people getting their children to school and getting to work, as important as those basic things that most people in metropolitan areas take for granted are. This is an issue that is affecting the productivity of our country. It is having a severe effect on the bottom line and restricting our ability to earn export dollars.