By Paul Hemsley
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has warmly welcomed a funding pledge from federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott worth up to $10 billion to flood-proof the state’s Bruce Highway should the Coalition win government at the next federal election.
The flood-prone Bruce Highway is a major artery stretching 1,700km along the Queensland coast from Cairns to Brisbane, which became critically inundated at certain sections during the 2011 deluge that wreaked unprecedented destruction on the state’s infrastructure.
But the funding allocation from the Coalition to improve both the Bruce Highway and the Gateway Motorway has followed a continuing drama between the Newman government and the Julia Gillard-led Labor government because of disagreements over the amount of funding that the state deemed was necessary to flood-proof the highway.
Mr Newman’s upbeat response to the Mr Abbott’s funding pledge indicates a significant shift in the state government’s attitude to federal funding to strengthen the Bruce Highway’s resistance to annual flooding, given that Mr Abbott’s pledged funding doubles the present government’s pledge of $4.1 billion by Minister for Infrastructure, Anthony Albanese.
Labor’s pledge, however, received a cold shoulder from the Queensland government.
When Mr Albanese announced the funding in April 2013, Queensland Deputy Premier and Minister for Infrastructure Jeff Sweeney dismissed the Labor government’s move as an “election year stunt”.
Mr Sweeney claimed at the time that the Gillard government’s $4.1 billion investment was merely base funding and that no additional funding was being allocated in what he called “little more than a scam”.
But as the federal election looms closer, albeit without a date announced, the federal Coalition has been on the campaign trail to impede Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s new electoral momentum by outspending the Labor government on capital works programs that are likely to prove popular for the Coalition in Mr Rudd’s home state.
The funding promised by the federal Coalition will include $7.7 billion, including $1 billion to upgrade the Gateway Motorway between Nudgee and the Bruce Highway. The Queensland government will also contribute $2.1 billion.
This all hinges on whether the Coalition is able to win the election, which appeared significantly easier when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister.
Mr Newman said the federal Coalition’s promise would be the largest investment ever in the Bruce Highway and would significantly improve the highway.
“Tony Abbott and [Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport] Warren Truss have proven they are committed to bringing one of the worst national highways up to a standard that will support Queensland tourism, agriculture, resources and construction,” Mr Newman said.
Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Scott Emerson echoed Mr Newman’s comments by saying that the funding would deliver improved safety, capacity and flood mitigation on the Bruce Highway.
Mr Emerson said this will include additional lanes on the Sunshine Coast, construction of the Mackay Ring Road, duplication south of Cairns and key projects near Rockhampton, as well as crucial safety measures including wider centre lines, audible edge lines, more overtaking lanes and intersection upgrades.
“The former Queensland Labor government left the Bruce Highway in a crisis, with the RACQ [Royal Automobile Club of Queensland] predicting up to 350 road deaths occurring in the next 10 years if we don’t take action,” Mr Emerson said.
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