Melinda Pavey, the new NSW Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, talks to Roads & Civil Works Magazine about her role and what’s ahead for the New South Wales’ roads and freight sector.
What are some of the key initiatives and achievements your predecessor Duncan Gay has made in the NSW roads and freight portfolio that you will continue to build upon and why?
Every time I get in the car and travel across the state I am met with reminders of the tremendous work the former Minister has done in improving this state’s roads and freight network.
In just six years the former Minister was able to get the state roads back on track following 16 years of infrastructure neglect. This was especially the case in regional NSW. Rebuilding regional roads and making them safer and more efficient is a key initiative that I will continue to build on. I believe that safer roads and a safer heavy vehicle industry will lead to growth and development of regional and local economies.
I am extremely proud that the NSW Liberals and Nationals have increased the road spend by 105 per cent since coming to office. Importantly 65 per cent of this has been spent in regional NSW.
Are there any new initiatives or strategies you want to implement that will help bring more benefits to the region’s wider road and freight sector?
I think we [the NSW Government] are always looking at strategies to benefit regional NSW and its freight sector. Since 2011 the NSW Government has spent $4 billion on average each year on regional roads, maritime and freight projects – never before in the history of this state has NSW seen so many roads and bridges under construction, helping our farmers get their products to markets cheaper and faster. I am so proud to be part of a government that has delivered so much for regional NSW.
As drivers would know, we have over the last 6 years got on with the job of sealing a number of roads across the state, but a commitment of mine is to do more – to seal country roads. I am currently developing a package that will see more country roads sealed that will really help with those last mile issues currently faced by transporters and producers.
What do you see as some of the main challenges ahead for yourself in this new role?
I think the biggest challenge in this role will be prioritising what is needed to be done next. The budget remains in a great position, but at the end of the day there is a limited budget and so many areas across NSW that were neglected. Right across the State we are active in building roads, maritime and freight infrastructure that our communities deserve. So much has currently been done, in places like Boorowa, Bundarra, Gundagai and Carrathool we have new bridges being built as part of the $300 million Bridges for the Bush Program and we’re investing $500 million in the fixing country roads program, which has already helped 140 projects on council roads to improve safety and efficiency. Whilst this is happening we are delivering some of the most significant road upgrades this state has ever seen on our highways, from the Pacific Highway, to NorthConnex or WestConnex. Whilst investing heavily in the regions, we are also investing to ease Sydney’s congestion as we need to ensure that the road system does not lock our freight out of the city. We know that there is still so much to do, but we have demonstrated that we are the only ones with the proven capacity to get these things done.
What are some of the main challenges facing the NSW road networks in both rural and metropolitan areas? How will these be overcome?
In metropolitan areas the main challenge we face is congestion. The NSW Liberals and Nationals are currently involved in once-in-a-generation congestion-busting works across Sydney with projects such as WestConnex, NorthConnex and the Sydney Metro Northwst. $946 million has also been committed to fixing pinch points across Sydney, including $300 million to Sydney’s south. Our contributions to projects such as these will ease congestion and create a more efficient freight route.
In rural areas our challenges are mainly concerned with the quality of roads and connectedness of local communities. We have demonstrated a proven commitment to tackling these issues.
Whether it’s installing a town bypass like what we did in Moree, sealing the roads in Crookwell and Taralga, or fixing the council roads through the $500 million fixing country roads program, we are proving that we are the ones committed to addressing this.
Can you talk about some of the major transport and infrastructure projects on the horizon for NSW? What makes these unique for Australia and how will these provide wider economic benefits for the region?
I think it’s those driving the roads each day that have seen the benefits of the major infrastructure projects we are currently delivering. We are currently investing more than any other Australian state to build and improve our infrastructure in both the city and in regional NSW. In the city the NSW Liberals and Nationals are all systems go getting on with once-in-a-generation congestion-busting works across the city with projects such as WestConnex, NorthConnex and the Sydney Metro Northwest.
In rural areas we have demonstrated a proven commitment to provide the infrastructure to allow the state to grow. We only need to look to the Newell to see this – but you could look anywhere really. On the Newell we have announced the $500 million Newell Highway Upgrade Program including improvements in Parkes to improve freight efficiency and productivity, safety at railway crossings and reduce travel times along the corridor.
Duncan Gay was very passionate about the trucking industry; will you be following in his stead working closely with your road transport association partners?
A passion for the freight industry is one that I share. We are world leaders in producing quality food, fibres and natural resources for use across the world, and the trucking industry plays a vital role in transporting the valuable resources to those ports. Under the Liberals and Nationals, NSW is booming. None of this growth would be possible without an efficient transport network to which trucking operators play a vital role. I have already begun meeting with key stakeholders to continue this important relationship.
Where does road freight sit in your priorities and why?
Without safe and efficient roads for our road freight, we cannot expect our local economies to thrive. The NSW economy has been turbo-boosted by the Liberal and Nationals, and this would not have been possible without road freight playing their part. I am determined to ensure that NSW roads are improved to help with the freight task. I aim to ensure that truck drivers are travelling on not only safe roads but also efficient roads, resulting in a prosperous sector.