PACIFIC HIGHWAY UPGRADE
FIFTEENTH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ELECTION TO PARLIAMENT OF THE HONOURABLE MEMBER FOR COFFS HARBOUR
The Hon. CATHERINE CUSACK [9.41 p.m.]: The Pacific Highway is like a red river of blood running from Sydney to the Queensland border. Depending on the time frame chosen, the Pacific Highway has taken more lives in an equivalent period than the Vietnam war. The Vietnam war, of course, had a beginning and an end: the deaths on the Pacific Highway appear to be without end. Whereas 500 lives were tragically lost in Vietnam over 10 years, thousands have died on the Pacific Highway. I travel the full length of the highway frequently, as does my husband. Every day my children commute to school via the Pacific Highway between the notorious Ross Lane intersection near Newrybar and the even more notorious Tintenbar Hill.
My greatest fear when I come to Sydney and sit in this House is to receive a phone call about an incident involving a loved one on the Pacific Highway. I know the statistics, I know our usage, and I know logically that for our family and other families a major tragedy is near certain unless something is done about the death rate on our section of the highway. It is horrible. It is frightening. People have no idea unless they actually live with this fear, unless they meet the victims and survivors. There are many stories within the Ballina electorate about what a disaster and a disgrace this road truly is.
The Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA], of course, is without feeling, without humanity or compassion; and under the funding and policy guidance of this Government it is destroying communities in the Northern Rivers as well as lives. The Carr and Iemma governments are responsible for delaying and obstructing progress in repairing the highway. I refer particularly to the Ballina bypass. It should have been built years ago but it has been delayed year after year in successive budgets. It was announced by the Carr Government as a project to be fully funded by the State. So there are no excuses: every death on the road into Ballina and north of Ballina, including at Tintenbar Hill, is a death on the conscience of this Government.
Following the delay there are now huge problems with determining a new route. The RTA has waited too long to decide on a total redevelopment. Now there are four possible routes and the situation is turning neighbour against neighbour in the Northern Rivers area. I grew up on a great property called Walgrove, which is near Yass. It was one of the leading Santa Gertrudis studs in Australia. The entire viability of my family's property, as well as the amenity of our home, was destroyed by an RTA deviation on the Barton Highway. So I know firsthand the heartbreak that residents in the Northern Rivers are experiencing.
My parents battled the RTA for nearly 20 years. It nearly destroyed them. And, guess what? The RTA won. I know exactly what the costs are and I have nothing but sympathy for those thousands of North Coast residents who are now in the same unenviable position. I suppose there is only one thing that could be more important than our property and our home, and that is the loss of life on the highway. An upgrade of the Pacific Highway, as with the upgrade of the Barton Highway, must inevitably go ahead. The loss of life is unacceptable. This is not only the case in the Ballina electorate; it is the case the length of the Pacific Highway north of Hexham.
On Saturday evening I will attend a very special dinner in Coffs Harbour to celebrate Andrew Fraser's 15 years in Parliament. Tonight I acknowledge the contribution of Andrew, the member for Coffs Harbour, and congratulate him on his campaign to upgrade the highway. Black spots in his electorate are at least the equal of the black spots around the Ballina area. He has displayed passion and conviction in the face of cynicism and political games played by the Australian Labor Party and its disgraceful Minister for Roads, Joe Tripodi. A member of the public wrote to the Sydney Morning Herald asking whether strangling Joe Tripodi is a parliamentary privilege.
I acknowledge the contrition expressed by Andrew Fraser for the event that led to his temporary departure from the House. But I share and completely understand his frustrations. I place on record the pride with which I look forward to attending his testimonial dinner in Coffs Harbour this Saturday night. I call on the Government to learn from this experience to have compassion in its policies and to upgrade the Pacific Highway because, mark my words, it will be a millstone around the Government's neck if action is not taken.