Transcript - NSW Road Safety Package press conference

MICHAEL JOHNSEN

Well, first of all I’d like to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, and the New South Wales Minister for Regional Roads and Transport, Paul Toole, to the electorate of Upper Hunter, which I’d like to remind you is the home of world class mines, wines, equines and bovines – hopefully you’ll play that clip many times.

Today we are privileged to have the minister and the Deputy Prime Minister here because there is a major road safety announcement that will be made, and I’ll let the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister talk about the bigger picture on that. But importantly here in the Upper Hunter electorate, as part of this road safety program, we are going to be the beneficiaries of a $9 million round of projects which will cover 11 projects throughout the Upper Hunter. And they’re all about road safety. And some examples are Whittingham, just south of Singleton; we’ve got some work here that’s going to be done here in terms of shoulder widening on this Golden Highway here just out of Denman. We’ve got important works happening in Bingleburra Road in the Dungog Shire and also around Stroud Hill Road in the MidCoast Council Shire. And we’ve also got some more works around Merriwa.

So there’s major roadworks that are actually going to happen which will do nothing but improve the safety for our locals and the traffic through. We all know that driving a vehicle on the road anywhere is a dangerous activity at any given point in time, and anything that the government can do to be able to make it as safe as possible for our residents and people travelling to a place like the Upper Hunter is critical, and we need to make sure that we focus on this.

Of course, it won’t take away from the responsibility of any driver to do the best that they can while they’re behind that wheel, but we can share that responsibility from the point of view of making it as safe as possible to traverse the roads of regional New South Wales, in particular here in the Upper Hunter.

So to give you more detail, I’ll hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister, and they can give you more detail on what the announcement is.

PAUL TOOLE

Well, thanks, Michael, and I’ve got to say it’s really exciting to be here again in the Upper Hunter and joining the local member, Michael Johnsen, who does an amazing job for this area. I will put on the record that I’ve been up here now on many number of occasions and really it’s because of the hard work that Michael Johnsen is doing for this area. We’re seeing investment in roads, in bridges, supporting councils with community infrastructure projects, projects that are making this electorate a great place to be able to live.

I’d also like to acknowledge the Deputy Prime Minister, the Honourable Michael McCormack. I’ve got to say that we have a great working relationship. Together we’re able to bring a lot of projects forward here in New South Wales. Many are road projects. Today’s announcement is about safer roads, but what we’re getting is when you’ve got the Nationals in government both at a federal and a state level we’re able to talk about the projects that matter to regional communities and we’re able to drive those projects in our local areas.

If you have a look at the road toll last year, it was the lowest that it’s been since 1923. We lost 297 lives, though, on our roads last year. That is still too many. It may be lower but that’s still somebody’s family member, someone’s friend or somebody who lives in our communities. And we know that two-thirds of those fatalities occur in regional communities. So we need to make sure that we are ensuring that those roads are safe for people to drive on.

Now when you have a look at these roads, we want people to have confidence that when they go to work and go back home it will be safe. When they go to a medical appointment, when they go to the shops, when the school bus is travelling through, that they are travelling on a safe road. That is why today we are announcing that $408 million is going to be delivered as part of the safer roads program and this is being supported by the Commonwealth and the State Government. Now this is going to see things like wire barriers being installed. We’re going to see roads being extended. We’re also going to see rumble strips being installed to make our roads safer.

But, again, this is on top of the work that we’re already seeing being invested in regional New South Wales. This year alone the New South Wales Government has got $258 million as part of our Safer Roads Program. This investment on top of that is going to bring a lot of these projects even more forward to be delivered in this financial year.

I want to congratulate Michael Johnsen again because Michael Johnsen, you know, we were up here only last month, we were talking about bridges being replaced in this area, 11 timber bridges for the Upper Hunter. We’ve got local roads that have been improved because of the advocacy of Michael Johnsen and we’ve got safer roads. This is an important investment that we’re seeing being made by both the Federal and the State Government.

And I will put on the record as well that when we’re having a look at the investment open of these projects, there is around 261 projects, 150 of them are going to be in the regions. And that’s going to equate to around about 255 kilometres of safety barriers and it’s going to be around about 1,700 kilometres of rumble strips for 36 projects.

We’re not going to stop there. We don’t want people to stop driving safely on our roads because, at the end of the day, we all have a responsibility.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well said, Paul Toole, my friend and colleague, the New South Wales Minister for Regional Roads. I acknowledge, too, Michael Johnsen, the hard-working Member for Upper Hunter.

As you drive around country roads you look out your window and you see posts adorned with flowers, you see monuments marking where someone has lost their life. And all too often we see those dotted around the countryside next to a regional road. We don’t want to see continual carnage on regional roads. As Paul Toole has just said, all too often those numbers of road statistics are over-represented by regional people driving on regional roads. All too often they’re just very close to home on a road that they’re very accustomed to. We want to stop that. We want to make sure that our roads are the safest places in which to drive. It’s not just up to the drivers, of course, it’s also up to the passengers. If they see a driver doing something wrong, I urge and implore them to tell them to slow down. I urge and implore them, anyone getting in a car, make sure that you don’t do it when you’re impaired with alcohol or any other substance. Make sure you drive to the conditions. Make sure you obey the speed limits.

We’ve got better cars. We’ve got better roads. It is up to the drivers, too, to be better behaved. And all of those factors will combine in less deaths as we work towards Vision Zero, as we work towards no deaths on roads. That’s an important ambition. It’s an important goal.

We know that when we have better roads, we will have less deaths. And as Paul Toole has just said, 297 deaths last year, a very low road toll, the lowest it’s been since the 1920s. But many people celebrated Christmas without a loved one around their table, and it wasn’t so much of a celebration as it would have been had that loved one been there, had that loved one been in that empty chair. Because all too often, particularly in regional centres, we’ve lost loved ones.

And, as I say, that’s why we’re rolling out a $2 billion package. Now this is the first tranche. New South Wales’ share of it is $408.2 million; 263 projects, almost two-thirds of which – 152 projects – will be in regional areas. And that’s because you’ve got the Nationals in government making sure that around that ministerial table the regions are getting well represented. That regional funding is there. It’s also the Nationals in a Coalition Government in both Macquarie Street in New South Wales and in Canberra. New South Wales and the Coalition Government getting delivery done, getting achievements done.

We’re here on the Golden Highway, west of Ogilvies Hill. $6.7 million is being spent on upgrades to Ogilvies Hill over the life of this road safety package. It’s an important package – $2 billion. It’s not just in New South Wales, though; it’s right across the country. And I’ve stood with other ministers from other states of all political persuasions knowing, making sure and getting people to understand that the Government, the Commonwealth Government, is working with the States and Territories to deliver road safety enhancements, road safety improvements, road safety upgrades that will save lives. And that’s the critical point.

We want to make sure that also we create jobs whilst we’re doing it. Two and a half thousand jobs will be created by this first tranche just in New South Wales alone. And as Paul Toole has indicated, it’s for rumble strips, it’s for audio tactile measures where if a car slightly diverts the driver will certainly know they’ve driven slightly off the road, they’ve driven slightly askew. Whether it’s guardrails, whether it’s shoulder widening and strengthening, sealing, making sure all those little things are done. Because when you get the little things right, the big things just follow suit.

We want to make sure that we save lives, we protect lives, we’ve got better roads, and that’s what we’re doing. I’m delighted to be here with Michael Johnsen and Paul Toole. Paul and I have stood on the side of many roads, many regional roads, right out bush and talked about what we’re doing as far as road safety and road upgrades are concerned. That’s what you get when you get two Coalition governments and two Coalition ministers working in partnership to build a better New South Wales, and particularly a better regional New South Wales.

JOURNALIST

Minister, can I ask you about the funding arrangements? How much is going to the highway system and how much is going to rural roads, shire roads, in particular.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, as I say, there’s $408.2 million, almost two-thirds of which – 58 per cent of it – is going towards regional roads. And that’s in guardrails, shoulder strengthening, yes, more sealing, all sorts of little bits and pieces that add up to saving lives. So $408.2 million, almost two-thirds – 58 per cent of it – is going towards the regions.

And it is the case on many of our road projects, many of our road safety upgrades. We want to make sure that regional New South Wales, that regional Australia, gets its fair share. That’s what I’ll always do as the Nationals Leader. That’s what I’ll always do in partnership with Paul Toole, proud Nationals Minister looking after regional roads.

JOURNALIST

There’s been a spate of fatalities in Muswellbrook especially, a triple fatality a few months ago. How important is this funding for this particular region given that spate of accidents?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

It’s absolutely critical. And, of course, we’ve got black spot funding as well. We’ve got a number of programs. And, of course, as Paul Toole has just indicated, any number of actual projects happening both here in the Upper Hunter, around Muswellbrook, around Denman, west of Ogilvies Hill where we are right now. We’re making sure that whether it’s large highway upgrades or, indeed, just the little things like rumble strips and guardrails and centre widening, that we’re doing it. We’re getting on and we’re doing it. We identify where these black spots are because we drive these roads every day, just like other members of the community. We know, we understand where these black spots are, and we’re working very, very hard to make sure we address them.

JOURNALIST

Minister, a moment ago you suggested that if you see somebody doing the wrong thing on the roads you should tell them.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

If you’re a passenger in the car, yes.

JOURNALIST

If you’re a passenger. Isn’t that inciting some violence? Because we know very much about road rage so much?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, I was talking about being a passenger in a car. And if the driver beside you is actually speeding or on their mobile phone – mobile phones are deadly. We know that. They’re just – you only have to look down just for a few short seconds, you’ve looked away from the road. And, you know, if you’re driving 100 kilometres an hour, that’s valuable seconds and hundreds of metres that you travel without actually looking at the highway. And that’s deadly. And we see all too often the result of these people, particularly young people, losing their lives.

JOURNALIST

How soon will the money be rolled out for those communities to use it?

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, it will be rolling out right now. We’ve made sure that the money is available now and projects have already started. And that money has to be used within a six-month time frame. We want the money used up by June 30. We’ve actually got ‘a use it or lose it’ system by which if States can’t spend to money in that time then it will go to another state which can. So there’ll be plenty of impetus on the states and the territories – two Territories, the ACT and Northern Territory – to get that money spent. So it’s a $2 billion package. We want that money out the door because we want the jobs on the ground. This isn’t just all about road safety, even though it is; it’s also about getting jobs on the ground in these local shires, getting community people knowing that they can see the councils at work.

And to that end, Muswellbrook Shire Council received $1.39 million as part of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Fund. But the Local Government areas, the councils, have got a lot of money washing around at the moment – 537 councils having a share of that LRCI funding to the tune of $1.5 billion. We’ve got a $2 billion road safety package. We’re partnering with States. New South Wales has been particularly good. I want to actually commend what Gladys Berejiklian and John Barilaro have done to make sure that New South Wales always gets its fair share, and particularly John Barilaro with regional New South Wales. We work together well, and we’ll continue to do that.

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