Roads to Recovery Program

August 24, 2020

Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (12:54): Local roads are the arteries and veins of our local townships. We rely on them for safe passage in, out and around our communities. While local government is much more than rates, roads and rubbish, they do administer nearly 80 per cent of all road networks across our country. It's a big job for councils, and they need support. Local government has a vital role to play when it comes to building and, importantly, maintaining our road network. The Roads to Recovery program has been providing extensive funding support to councils since 2001, providing assistance with maintenance for these vast networks. My electorate of Paterson is arguably one of the most picturesque in New South Wales, but still, sadly, the Hunter region, where my constituency belongs, has one of the most significant infrastructure backlogs in the country, amounting to $207 million. My question is, how does the government dare pat itself on the back about how it's been going recently, when we know that more funding is needed despite this pandemic? In the four local government areas across my electorate we have a $136 million backlog. I ask the government, 'Will you take real action to fix this problem and also stimulate our local economies at a time when we have never needed it more?'

While I welcome the additional funding the government is injecting into the program, the question must be asked 'Is it enough?' The NRMA have come out and said 'No'. They released their funding local roads report showing just how dire the infrastructure backlog is in New South Wales and particularly regional New South Wales. The report shows us that the regional council maintenance shortfall rose from $11.2 million in the 2015-16 financial year to almost $29 million under the current government. The roads infrastructure backlog across New South Wales has risen by 14.5 per cent from $1.96 billion to $2.23 billion. It would seem that roads aren't getting the love they deserve under the state and federal coalition. Even the Deputy Prime Minister can't get enough money for roads in the Riverina. If he can't get the money, I ask who can?

As I said, regional roads are the arteries and veins that keep the blood pumping to our regional centres. For instance, many businesses rely on the freight and logistics sector to continue economic activity. This is a sector that really is critical to our country's economy, more so than ever, and it's highly reliant on investment in road infrastructure. The economic viability of our towns is dependent on freight getting in and out safely, and whilst we all want to be able to go to the supermarket and get the toilet paper and goods that we need at this time, if it weren't for those trucks freighting them in and out those supermarket shelves would not remain stocked. The township of Nelson Bay in my electorate has seen a situation of one road in, one road out for years. The state Liberals have been promising for three elections that they're going to duplicate it. It still hasn't happened.

Labor understands the value of regional roads. We know cash-strapped councils are absolutely desperate for support from the federal government if they have got any hope of catching up on years of backlog. The NRMA has also been calling on the government to take action on road funding for a long time. We can't leave it to the states and local councils to play catch-up.

The township of Cessnock is famous as the entry point to the vineyards, but I can tell you that the roads in Cessnock have been very rough for a long time. Many people in my constituency talk about that. Many people who drive through my electorate to get to the vineyards say, 'The roads are still pretty rough,' Maitland has been renowned for years for droughts and terrible flash floods. The roads there also need some help. A simple drive through the Maitland LGA after heavy rain shows you that the best part of council resources goes to patching potholes. That's a consequence of sustained periods of drought and then floods and roads under too much pressure. We have got a growing population. Patching potholes is just not good enough anymore. My community wants the government to front up with a real solution, not sprinkle some spare change for a few pothole fills and sprinkling a bit of asphalt around off the back of the truck. The M1 is in my electorate and it still needs to be extended. There are so many vital roads in Paterson. I implore the government put more money in.