Coalition vows to complete Pacific Hwy despite budget hole
A COALITION promise to finish the Pacific Hwy upgrade "well within this decade" stands despite revelations the $2.1 billion it would use to fund the upgrade has been removed from the current budget.
Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese confirmed on Wednesday the money set aside to build the Parramatta to Epping rail link has been delayed until 2019-20, citing the New South Wales Government's refusal to build the project.
Last year the federal Coalition said if elected it would redirect the rail link money to the Pacific Hwy upgrade, which remains $2 billion short of the required funding to finish the job because of a long-running dispute over the federal-state funding split.
A spokesman for Mr Albanese denied the rail link money had been pushed back to create a road block for an incoming Coalition government.
"In their (the New South Wales Government's) submission to our second Nation Building program they did not identify this project as a priority, to be delivered over that five-year period," the spokesman told APN Newsdesk.
"And at the end of the day we can't force them to take our money."
Mr Albanese told reporters in Canberra the Parramatta to Epping project remained vital, which was why the money had been moved to Nation Building Three beginning in 2019-20.
The decision to shelve the money means that to meet its promise of finishing the highway within the next seven years, a Coalition government would need to bring the money forward.
This would create issues for an incoming Tony Abbott-led government vowing to return the budget to surplus.
Despite this challenge Nationals Leader Warren Truss said a Coalition government would "make the budget work" to keep its highway promise, although he would not be drawn on whether this would involve cancelling projects or making additional cuts to the budget.
"Our $5.64 billion commitment to fund the duplication of the Pacific Hwy with the NSW Government and complete it within the decade stands," Mr Truss said.
"Labor's priorities are not binding on us. For us the Pacific Hwy is the priority."
In last year's budget the Federal Government committed $3.56 billion to complete the Pacific Hwy upgrade on the condition it was matched dollar-for-dollar by the state.
A month later the NSW Government allocated almost $1.54 billion to the project, creating the current stand-off.
Mr Truss said the Coalition would "restore the 80:20 funding partnership with the NSW Government".
"Minister Albanese is exposing his base political motivations in trying to further delay the completion of the highway, leaving communities along the NSW mid and north coast in limbo beyond 2019. It's abominable," he said.
"But, if elected, we are not tied to his priorities or timeframe."
NSW Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian failed to answer a number of direct questions about whether it intended to ever build the Parramatta to Epping project.
"The Federal Government knows the transport and roads projects we are building - we laid out all our priorities in the NSW Long Term Transport Master Plan," Ms Berejiklian said, adding the O'Farrell government was focused on the North West Rail and South West rail links.