THE HON KEVIN HOGAN MP, MEMBER FOR PAGE: Okay look welcome everyone to actually before I start I will obviously acknowledge the Prime Minister, Premier, Deputy Premier, Deputy Prime Minister and my parliamentary colleagues, especially my good friend Chris Gulaptis.
Wonderful to be here today, we were here, we were all actually almost all of us were here together in our region just over 12 months ago and that was for a much different reason. That was obviously Rappville, just previously had had all the tragedy of the fire, we were in the middle of a debilitating drought and we were getting devastated by the fires and 12 months ago today here we all would have been breathing in smoke and in fack New Italy itself, if you don’t know the story of New Italy check that out too for anyone who’s not local. But if you look around, the scars of the fire are quite are quite recent and visible too soon.
But look today, we are here for a much happier story, the Pacific Highway is a multi-decade story. I mean a tens of billions of dollar story, the Woolgoolga to Ballina section is the last section that is to be done, by coincidence, Woolgoolga to Ballina is literally the length of the electorate that I represent. Which is a $5 billion spend, 144 kilometers. And why have we done this? There is not a person who is local here and I’m sure many of you who aren’t local who do not know someone who has had a very devastating impact whether a fatality or injury on this highway. There have been some unfortunately infamous accidents on this highway and this was all about reducing fatalities on this road. And fatalities on the Pacific Highway are already at multi-decade lows, so that’s what we are celebrating today, yeah the jobs when it was being built are great. The fact that this makes us closer to the rest of the world for the tourists to get here and for our businesses to get their goods and services out there that’s great too but this is about reducing fatalities. This is a wonderful, historic, significant day in our community and I welcome and thank everyone who is here today, the Premier and the Prime Minister said last year that they were going to rebuild and recovery Rappville and this community and they did and they’ve been very big supporters of building this highway as well and I thank them for that. And so on that I’ll pass over to my state friend and colleague.
CHRIS GULAPTIS, MEMBER FOR CLARENCE: Yeah thanks Kevin and again it’s always great to see the PM and the Premier visit the electorate as they did through the bushfires to provide support through the bushfires. But as Kevin said, this is a different day. This is a day to celebrate an incredible infrastructure project that we’ve waited for for decades. Over 1,000 people have died on the Old Pacific Highway since 1989. In 31 years, a thousand people have died and this morning we were in Cowper to see what the catalyst for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway was all about. When on the 20th of October 1989, a bus crashed with a semi carrying pineapple juice. 21 people lost their lives, 22 people were injured. We never want those sorts of things to happen again anywhere, especially in the regions, because we know those people. We know those people. They’re from our community. And look, for us in regional New South Wales, it’s really important to have infrastructure like this. We see billions of dollars being spent in the metro areas, which saves 10 minutes on a daily commute but those billions of dollars that are spent on the Pacific Highway save lives and it means that families and family members can come home to their families in the evening. So can I say to the PM, to the Premier and everybody involved in this project. It’s a mammoth project and as Kev said, $5 billion dollars between Woolgoolga and Ballina, it’s almost exclusively in the electorate of Clarence and it’s something that we’ve been waiting for decades and it’s finally happened. It’s finally here and we can celebrate it. So thank you everybody who’s been involved in this project because we’ve looked forward to it for absolutely decades.
THE HON GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN, PREMIER OF NSW: Okay, lovely, thank you. Can I thank the federal and state local members and appreciate what this means for their communities, but today is a significant day for our state. This is the largest road project in the nation and I think it’s demonstrated vigilance by successive Ministers and successive governments to make sure that when we set a deadline on an upgrade for a road project which will, which has saved lives, reduced travel times, it’s a wonderful boost for New South Wales, especially now when the regions are really so critical in our recovery from COVID and also as they recover themselves for the catastrophic bushfires from last year.
Can I acknowledge the Prime Minister and the Federal Government for their 80-20 contribution. Can I acknowledge my state parliamentary colleagues who have ensured that we’ve kept up our end of the bargain by maintaining the construction and vigilance in managing the project and to be able to meet it on time and within the budget prescribed is a very positive day for New South Wales and we are going through a difficult time and I always said during COVID we wanted to make sure we kept construction going and I do just briefly want to acknowledge that unfortunately, overnight, in addition to those three cases which the public is already aware of, there have been an additional two cases of COVID on the Northern Beaches, Health will be providing more details as the day unfolds but we’re encouraging everybody who lives on the northern beaches with the mildest of symptoms to come forward and get testing. The last, most recent two cases, one of which was in Frenchs Forrest but again, the health authorities will provide further advice. The advice I’ve received is literally in the last half hour, but we do as we do always in New South Wales, make sure we let the public know as soon as we know so that people can take measures, that people can take the actions they need to take and I encourage everybody with the mildest of symptoms on the Northern Beaches to please come forward and get tested. We have seen an increase in testing overnight. But we really want to get on top of this. We don’t want this to concern us leading into the last few days before Christmas. And I’m just urging the public to remain as vigilant as ever.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you very much Gladys. It’s tremendous to be here with you as always, and of course to Kevin and Chris it’s wonderful to be here as our Local Members, the Mayor of course, and I fully acknowledge [inaudible] again. And I’m so pleased to hear about the restoration and rebuilding of Rappville. Tremendous to see that, when I was here with Gladys in the middle of that devastation, to know of that community’s rebuildings and terribly encouraging.
To the DPM, always good to be here with you, Michael and Barra- John, great to be here with you as well and of course, the Minister.
I grew up, as I’m sure people of my generation know, doesn’t matter if you grew up in Sydney or you grew up along the North Coast or northern New South Wales, the Pacific Highway has so many sad stories, tragic, terrible stories, horrible bus crashes, terrible accidents, families going away for Christmas holidays or Easter holidays and it ending in terrible tragedy. And I remember watching on the news when I was younger and as the years went on and people would say somebody needs to do something about this, this has to be fixed. Well, it’s fixed, 30 years of hard work, 30 years of commitment now gets us to this stage where we can join together and say we got that done and it was so important to get it done. The fatalities on the section we’re talking about here from Hexham all the way through the border. 40 a year prior to all of this, we’ve now got it down well below 20 year and there’s still work to do. We will always keep working to improve all of this but it is such a relief to know, for all of us who remember those chilling and awful images and the calls for something to be done, to know that something has been done, something has got done and I want to thank everyone who’s played their role in making this happen. Of course, the voices of the local communities all along the Pacific Highway whose cries were heard and have been answered, to those who lost loved ones on this stretch of road this is bittersweet. I’m sure they’re very pleased that their cries have gone answered now. But equally, they remember those who they lost. And as they drive along this separated stretch of road now all the way from Hexham up to the border, of course they will be pleased about that but wish it was different when their own loved ones were travelling through those areas. We can’t change that. What we could change is this road and it has been changed.
I particularly want to thank my Coalition family, that’s the Liberals and the Nationals, and a broader coalition, which is the Federal Government and the State Government. This is a coalition project that has brought together people over many, many years going back to when John Howard was involved and Tim Fischer all those years ago through to most recently now with Michael and I and of course, with Gladys and John and the team here at a state level. And I’m sure everyone who has played a hand in this will be very pleased to see this now having been achieved.
I’m also really pleased to have been part of a government since 2013 that put the pedal right down on getting this done. Prior to 2013, this was being funded 50/50, but in truth, it was being funded 20/20, less than half of what was needing to be invested in, particularly this last section, which we’ve spent over $5 billion dollars on to get this last section completed. It wasn’t being spent and we went to that election in 2013 and we told the people of Northern New South Wales that if you elected the Coalition Government back in, then we would get this done and we would restore the 80/20 funding and that’s what we’ve done and now it is there for everyone to see and more importantly, to be able to be able to use and to use safely. I can’t think of a more significant infrastructure project in the last 30 years that has probably had more impact on people’s lives than this one, particularly in this part of the country and so I stand here today incredibly grateful for all of those who made it happen, the engineers, the designers, the workers, all of those who made this possible but frankly at the end of the day the taxpayers of New South Wales and the Commonwealth who at the end of the day foot the bill. So thank you very much to them for making that possible.
To Gladys again, thank you so much for the partnership with the New South Wales Government. It’s a great partnership. We’re getting a lot done. And, but this is a very happy day to say that we got this done and the person who’s been driving that for us over many years now is the Deputy Prime Minister at a federal level who’s seen through the vision of those who preceded us and made sure this has happened on the ground from a Commonwealth level.
Just before I do that, I do also want to acknowledge very, very briefly but importantly, the terrible loss of a farmer up in the Southern Downs in Queensland who has tragically lost his life as he was looking to shepherd his livestock to safer pastures. It is a terrible reminder that in one year, we will be hit by fires and next year we’ll be hit by La Niña and we will be hit by floods and cyclones and those sort of extreme weather events and we’re working very closely together obviously with the New South Wales Government, but also with the Queensland Government to ensure that we can do everything we can to support people who are being devastated or impacted by these events. The DRFA funding here for Northern New South Wales has been activated which is a partnership between the New South Wales and the Federal Government and the Premier and I will take the opportunity later today to go and get an update on how things are progressing there.
But on this occasion, it’s about a wonderful road that is open and I look forward to plenty of people travelling it safely and particularly those locals who travel it every day.
THE HON. MICHAEL MCCORMACK MP, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER AND MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT, AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Well, thank you, Prime Minister and I acknowledge the Premier, acknowledge the Deputy Premier, John Barilaro and he and I are getting things done in regional New South Wales and right across regional Australia there is $110 billion dollars of infrastructure being rolled out right at this very point in time and over the next decade. Acknowledge Chris Gulaptis, the local state member and my good friend and colleague Kevin Hogan and acknowledge also Luke Hartsuyker is here today, who campaigned for many, many years to make sure that this road was duplicated.
It’s quite appropriate that we’re here today in New Italy because when migrants arrived in Australia, they built things. They were very resilient. They came particularly to regional Australia and regional New South Wales, and they got things done. Yes, the burden was large. Yes, the outlook at times was bleak, but they soldiered on. They knew that they wanted to forge a better life for themselves and their families. How proud would they be today? How proud would the pioneers of New Italy and even those who came before them, be today when they saw that the duplication of the Pacific Highway was complete. And just a few little statistics, at its peak, 3,800 direct jobs, at its peak of construction, 11,400 indirect jobs and all of those jobs mean local procurement. All of those jobs means food on the table for a family, many of them living nearby, many of them locals and they got on and they built this magnificent highway. And perhaps the most important statistic of all, one extolled by the Premier and by the Prime Minister, was the fact that the road toll is now halved in fact more than halved. So you can travel from Hexham to the Queensland border, two and a half hours less travel time, but you’re driving on a four lane duplicated highway, not the corridor of carnage that it once was, not the road that the Prime Minister said brought tears to his eyes when he read the stories and heard of the tales, the harrowing and devastating tales and loss and I know I come from Wagga Wagga and I can remember coming up here on summer holidays and the road was a goat trap but we fixed that and that’s what Liberal and National governments do. We get on with the pioneering spirit, people who came to this country to forge a better life for themselves. We got on with the job and we finished this highway. We finished this duplication and it is magnificent for all to see. I know it will save lives now and into the future.
And with that I’ll hand over to John Barilaro.
THE HON. JOHN BARILARO MP, DEPUTY PREMIER: Thank you, Michael. Can I also just acknowledge the Prime Minister, the Premier, the Deputy Prime Minister, my ministerial colleague Paul Toole, the local members and Kevin and Chris, to all of you and my other parliamentary colleagues that are here today, but also the former colleagues like Andrew Fraser, Luke Hartsuyker who have lived this highway, its stories and yes we can talk about the jobs that we can talk about the bitumen, the concrete, the steel that’s been laid to make this road safer but over the past three days we’ve been in a bus from Sydney. The National Party are using this opportunity in celebration and the opening of the road but as an opportunity to reflect not just on the road itself and the investment but on the communities, communities that have been bypassed but are being refreshed with a new life. Those workers that have been part of the story of rebuilding this road and most importantly, meeting with those families that have lost loved ones. I said this morning we were at the Cowper Memorial where 21 lives were lost. I said that the tears that were- the rain that was falling from the sky was a reminder of the tears that were lost, and the families. Hundreds of families impacted in a way through those deaths and the deaths that we’ve seen on this road. So it’s a bittersweet day that we celebrate an opening of a road but it is right that we acknowledge and respect that lives have been lost and governments have come together and I do have to acknowledge Warren Truss at the time at the federal level, and I have to acknowledge Andrew Stoner at a state level that fought for that 80-20 rule and Andrew Stoner thought that the sale of the Port of Sydney, some of that money must be dedicated to the Pacific Highway and Warren Truss on honoured the 80-20 deal and that’s been honoured consistently by all Liberal and National Governments since then. I also just want to acknowledge the loss of Ian Armstrong yesterday, another champion for the region. Someone that wanted to see investment in regional New South Wales. You know, we get, we’re lucky today. We’re all lucky to stand in to cut a ribbon but there are many before us that fought for this and those that fought for it the most were the community and I got the chance this morning to meet some of those community members, first responders that turned up on the day and today they still can’t look at the site or even taste pineapple because there was pineapple being carted on that bus and the reminder of the smell and the look of pineapple in itself is a traumatic event for those people who are reminded of what was a traumatic day for those families and the loss of life, young life, families, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters who are lost. These are the stories that we should always remember and why there is a change and the community came together off the back of tragedy, united and forced change, forced change in one way shamed government to come to the table but you know, we were willing those before us and now here at the end this is a significant day, a day that I love, that we’re reflecting on the why and, of course, we get to celebrate the opening of the road. So with that I just want to say thank you to the community for being patient and working with us. I’ve got to tell you what, this is the sort of investment that makes a real difference. We can all leave politics one day and say you know what, I’ve made a difference and I think today’s one of those days.
THE HON PAUL TOOLE, MINISTER FOR REGIONAL TRANSPORT AND ROADS: Thanks Deputy Premier and I’d like to begin by just saying that this today is a celebration. We are celebrating the official opening of the duplicating of the Pacific Highway from Hexham to the Queensland border and that’s what happens when the Liberals and Nationals are working together for projects like this. So I want to extend that thank you to the Prime Minister, to the Deputy Prime Minister, to the Premier, to the Deputy Premier, but also hard working local members like Kevin Hogan and Chris Gulaptis and all those local members beforehand, those communities that have been a voice about the need for change, about the need to improve this road. Yeah look, it’s been 24 years. It’s been 24 years. It’s been a $15 billion dollar investment but it is an important investment because it’s about creating a safer road so that when people get behind the wheel of the car when they’re going on holidays, when they’re travelling to work, when they’re just going home, they’ll have a safe road to be able to travel on. To go back to 1989, those two bus crashes that year at Clybucca and Cowper, there were 56 lives that were lost it was incredible to think within a couple of months that there was a second bus crash. Incredible to think that in that year alone there was 123 lives that were lost on this road as the Prime Minister said an average of 40 a year. I can tell you now with the duplications of the Pacific Highway fatalities have been reduced by 75 per cent so that is why the investment occurred into this road. That’s why we’ve seen these improvements and I’ll put that in context, if I talk about the next 30 years, in the next 30 years that means 8,000 less crashes. It means 4,000 less injuries, and it means 656 lives that will be saved. So that means a dad will be able to go home to his family. He’ll be able to read a story to his young ones that night, not see an empty chair at home. This project has ensured that it is the largest regional road infrastructure project that we’ve seen in this country. It is now the safest and the most advanced road that we have seen. Again now we’ve seen communities that have been bypassed. There’s 30 towns that have been bypassed through this particular project. Again, those communities are thriving. We’ve got businesses now that are taking the opportunity to grow. Tourism is booming. People are going to those communities now because they’re seeing it as a destination. 600 bridges it’s a project worth investing in and that’s what everyone has done so along the way. I thank the community, because together we’ve all done this.
CR ROBERT MUSTOW, MAYOR, RICHMOND VALLEY COUNCIL: Thanks very much, and I just like to start off by acknowledging the traditional land owners the people of the Bundjalung nation and show my respect to their past and future elders and present. Mr Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Premier, Deputy Premier, Minister Toole, Kevin and Chris, it’s wonderful to have you back in our area today under better circumstances. Last time it was a tragedy with the fires were sweeping through our local government area. But since then with funding, tens of millions of dollars have come through the state and federal government to help our community and this where we’re standing now this venue has received one hundred thousand dollars of that funding for water tanks and also to put a kitchen on the hall it’ll make the hall more usable. Also, the road that goes between New Italy and Swan bay has received a major upgrade out of that money and if you go through that bush about 5 kilometres, you’ll find that Dirty Wheels off road push bike track. So they received $50,000. They were totally burnt out so they received $50,000 out of that money. So we’ve spent the money right through our local government area, right up into Rappville, millions of dollars been extended there. On this venue here when the fires were raging, they had to pack up all of their museum equipment and all the displays and move them off site which was a big job. And if anyone’s been in there it’s worth a look, the history of this place is astounding and what those people went through in those early days is amazing. I’d also like to acknowledge John and Peter from the New Italy, thank you for hosting us today it’s much appreciated. Just once again, thank you very much for your attendance. To me the Pacific Highway is what’s been mentioned here today between Woodburn and the Iluka turn-off was a black spot all the way along it that will be removed. So it puts all of our community and our emergency service responders who had to attend those accidents a lot of stress and that has gone out of their lives. So thank you very much. And it’s great to have you back here under better times. Thank you.
PRIME MINISTER: Happy to go to questions there was an appropriate acknowledgement of Warren Truss, I also want to thank Tony Abbott too, because in 2013 he and Warren took that to the election, got the support of the Australian people and here we are today. So thank you to also Tony. The Premier and I and others are available for questions. Why don’t we start on the, on the project and we can move to other topics? I’m sure that everyone always likes to cover other topics as well. Strangely.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] You’ve spoken quite a bit about the highway, I think we’ve all got a lot of grabs on it,
PRIME MINISTER: Sure.
JOURNALIST: Can we turn to China if possible?
PRIME MINISTER: Sure.
JOURNALIST: When did you last attempt to line up a chat with China’s President?
PRIME MINISTER: This is a constant process for our Government. We’re always open to that discussion and we always seek those opportunities and we continue to do that but that is a matter for the Chinese Government. I think it’s important for us to maturely discuss the issues that are present but it’s also important that Australia continues to act in its own interests, in our national interests and our sovereign interests and we will, of course, do that. The World Trading Organisation, Trade Organisation rules what governs trade, and they need to be adhered to both in letter and in spirit and we’ve made the decision to take the barley issue forward and considering other matters at the moment. But it’s important that we understand that this relationship is not a one way relationship. The relationship between Australia and China is a mutually beneficial relationship and the current tensions are of no value to China or Australia. It is not assisting either of us and so that’s why it is important that we work through these issues and we’re very happy to do so.
JOURNALIST: When was the last chat? When was the last time you’ve spoken to the President?
PRIME MINISTER: The last time I spoke to President Xi was at the G20, in Osaka.
JOURNALIST: Premier, just on the COVID outbreak, the two cases today, are there a link to those two others on the Northern Beaches? And secondly, are you comfortable with the reporting process which is in place at the moment, very [inaudible]?
PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Yep. Firstly on the first issue, Health literally only identified the two positive cases about half an hour before this press conference started. So obviously, they’re working overtime to see if there is a genomic link with the previous two cases that were identified on the Northern Beaches. And of course, if there is a link to the air crew or the transport worker, in fact and so all that genomic testing is in overdrive at the moment. But of course in relation to air crew that is a concern for us given hundreds of air crew come in and out of Sydney Airport as they would in Melbourne and other capital cities around Australia and we’re working to tighten those protocols but it’s very complex because you need to work with every single airline, you need to work with the hotels. But we are confident that within the next few days, we’ll have a system which further tightens what’s occurring there to reduce the risk. But at the moment the priority is for us to identify the primary source of the infections that have been identified in the Northern Beaches in particular. And we’re asking everybody, please come forward and get tested if you have the mildest symptoms and we also know that there are a number of obviously aged care facilities which are very vulnerable in the northern beaches so health will also be issuing a directive to certain aged care facilities on all the beaches. We’re recommending no visitors until we identify the source of the infection and feel more confident that we have it under control.
JOURNALIST: [Inaudible] I think we’re asking the same question.
PREMIER BEREJIKLIAN: Look, can I leave that for Health to explain? Health tends not to provide individual case examples or individual circumstances to respect the privacy of those involved but can I stress again the importance of getting tested as soon as you develop a symptom but also please know that if you are regarded as a close contact if you’ve been at a venue the same time that other people have been with the infection you may not be demonstrating symptoms, you still need to go and get tested. So please take the health advice. If Health says you were at a particular location for a certain period of time you might not be having any symptoms, but you might have the infection. So please make sure you get tested. Important more than ever. But there’s no doubt it’s a concern for us when there are cases in the community which you can’t identify the source of it’s always a concern. Unfortunately or fortunately, New South Wales has been down this track before. We’ve seen our capacity to be able to get on top of it very quickly and that’s exactly what we need to do with the Northern Beaches area and we need to make sure that everybody comes forward and gets tested with the mildest of symptoms or if you’ve been at a venue or been shopping or at a cafe that have been identified please make sure you get tested.
JOURNALIST: Premier, is it important to isolate?