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Friday, 10th June, 2011

“Compelling argument” for sealing remaining sections of highway

By Andrew Robertson

NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner believes there's a "compelling argument" for the remaining sections of the Silver City Highway to Tibooburra to be sealed.

But the NSW Nationals leader could shed no light this week on just when funding might be forthcoming from the government to do the work.

Recent road closures caused by above-average rainfall have brought into sharp focus the snail-like progress of sealing the remaining sections of highway.

Local MP John Williams last month used his first speech as a member of the NSW Coalition Government to highlight the hardships faced by graziers and Tibooburra locals by the road's "fragile state".

He told the parliament that when the road was closed it meant graziers could not get stock to and from market, tourists could not enter the region and fuel and other supplies couldn't get through.

He spoke of one Tibooburra couple who had lost some $100,000 in cancelled bookings from tour companies unable to get to their hotel because of the rain.

The Member for Murray-Darling this week spoke again of the need for funding to fix the Tibooburra road and the partially sealed Cobb Highway, which is also in his electorate.

"Obviously there's a lot of roads out in this western area that need sealing as a priority," he said.

"I think it was clearly demonstrated to us (by) the community of Tibooburra and the isolation it's felt during the change in season."

Mr Stoner, who left the city yesterday with other members of the Nationals parliamentary team after a two-day visit, said the government was preparing to make "real money" available for infrastructure projects across the state.

But he added that the Coalition was not taking the approach of previous governments which would "run around making promises" and then not deliver them.

Instead, he told local reporters at the Civic Centre, projects such as the Silver City Highway would be prioritised by a new, independent body called Infrastructure NSW.

"Its job is to develop a 20-year strategic plan for infrastructure across the state, and a firm five-year plan that's got costings and time frames around it," Mr Stoner said.

"What we want is proper process for deciding and funding infrastructure.

"We're not quite there but it's not too far away because the legislation is in the parliament right now to get all of this happening.

"The beauty of this is we will all be able to see in a rational way the economic importance of particular infrastructure items and we'll all have certainty about when these things will happen and certainty about the fact they will be funded."

Mr Stoner expected the plans to be finalised by the end of the year.

"We'll then be in a position to attach all the dollars that come with that."

There will also be more dollars available through the Restart NSW Fund which, said Mr Stoner, was "about injecting a big investment into infrastructure".

Thirty per cent of the fund will be allocated for projects in country NSW.

"So there'll be real money there and we'll be working with local government in particular, but also the road transport industry, to put forward compelling submissions for Infrastructure NSW to make sure roads like the Silver City Highway are high on the priority list."

But he could not say the highway was a certainty to make the priority list.

"The money will be there, if it is a priority to the state it will happen, we just need to convince Infrastructure NSW that it is a priority and I think we have a compelling argument."

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