HUNTER VALLEY ROAD FUNDING
Mr KERRY HICKEY
(Cessnock) [1.44 p.m.]: I bring to the attention of the House the issue of funding for roads in the vineyard area in the Cessnock electorate—a prime tourist destination for the whole of the Hunter. The vineyards attract more than two million people a year to the Hunter Valley, yet the roads around this most important area are abysmal and tragic, to say the least. So much so that everyone, from local community members to multi-million dollar investors, complains about them. Development in the vineyard areas has accelerated over the past 10 years. In 1999 there were 1.5 million visitors per annum, 1,500 accommodation rooms, 6,850 persons employed and 39 million litres of wine produced. Tourism was valued at $560 million and the wine industry in the Hunter Valley was valued at $594 million.
The Treasurer and the former secretary for roads have met with the vineyards association and countless representations have been made to the Minister for Roads since I came into this House in 1999, and yet the response remains the same: these are council roads, and the council can allocate the 3 x 3 funding and grant money from the State as it chooses; this is not an issue for the State Government. Most of the roads—126.5 kilometres—are the responsibility of Cessnock City Council, with a further 23 kilometres being State regional roads and 58.3 kilometres being unsealed roads across the vineyards area. If this is not an issue for the State Government, who should be looking at the vineyards from a regional development perspective?
The vineyards area is the most significant tourist destination across the whole of the Hunter as well as a major employer in the local area, exporting a high quality product to the world. If we were serious in regard to development across regional and rural New South Wales we would start to look at the benefits that are delivered and at how to improve those benefits for the economic benefit of each region. The research undertaken by the Hunter Valley Vineyard Research Foundation for the Hunter Valley Vineyards Association determined that 39 million litres of wine were produced in the Hunter Valley in the 1998-99 period, valued at $273 million. The total turnover of the wine industry was estimated at $362 million, with flow-on effects of $231 million. Therefore the total value output generated by wine production in the Hunter region was $593 million in 1998-99.
I am sure that the Minister for Tourism has been in the Hunter Valley vineyards on several occasions and had his ears chewed by vignerons across the area, along with the Minister for Primary Industries, who was there recently at Tyrell's 150th
anniversary, and many other Ministers who have met the vignerons and have had the conditions of the roads in the vineyards area raised with them constantly. Some subsidy or money grants need to be given to this area to help generate more tourists who in turn will generate more jobs and more exports for this State. The Minister for the Hunter has had this issue brought to his attention numerous times, as both Minister for the Hunter and Treasurer, and it needs to be addressed immediately. The condition of these roads is terrible when one considers that interstate and international travellers are using them and we are trying to sell the product and the area to other countries around the world.
The local council has been spending its allocation of grant money in the vineyard area to try to address the problem, but considering the extent, length and condition of the roads that need to be addressed the amount of money allocated to the council by the State is insignificant. An extra allocation really needs to be made to address this problem. We are talking about a multimillion-dollar investment by many companies both on a local and State basis. We really need an injection of funds by the Treasurer to ensure that we address the problem of deteriorating roads across the vineyard area so that these investments have the correct infrastructure rather than infrastructure that detracts from the good work these people are doing.
It is clear to the local community, it is clear to the local council, and it is clear to the local member as well as to the Vineyard Association and many people who frequent the vineyards that the road system has not been addressed in a way that will benefit the massive number of tourists who use the roads and the people who have invested heavily in the region. I request that the Minister for Roads and the Minister for the Hunter and Treasurer address this problem as soon as possible. I would also like to request a meeting of the relevant Ministers with the Vineyard Association and the local council to come up with a plan to address this problem for the benefit of the Hunter region and beyond.