Senate debates

Thursday, 18 October 2018


Infrastructure: Bass Highway

5:53 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I rise to make a brief contribution to alert the Senate to a minister misleading the Senate earlier today. I wrote to Minister McKenzie seeking clarification and my office hand-delivered a letter to her just before 5.00 pm today. Today, when reading a prewritten response to a question from Senator O'Sullivan, the Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Minister McKenzie, said that the coalition government has committed to spend '$400 million for the Bass Highway in Tasmania' as a part of the 10-year Roads of Strategic Importance package. This is simply incorrect and repeats the misleading messaging used during the recent Braddon by-election by the failed Liberal candidate Mr Brett Whiteley, both in press conferences and on his Facebook. As Minister McKenzie should be aware, the commitment at the by-election, from the coalition government, was for $60 million for upgrades to the Bass Highway. The coalition government also committed $10 million for upgrades to the Murchison Highway during the by-election.

To correct the record, during the by-election the Deputy Prime Minister said, on 29 May 2018:

…there is $400 million under the roads of strategic importance, a Tasmanian roads package that is going to make such a difference to Midland Highway, Bass Highway and all the highways and byways in the Apple Isle.

Nevertheless, Mr Whiteley continued to mislead the people of Braddon for a number of weeks with the false figure of $400 million for the Bass Highway. Of course, Mr Whiteley's deceitfulness was wasted. He lost the by-election and was unable to record a swing to the government. I have noticed his face around Parliament House this week and one wonders in what capacity he is back.

After the by-election, the hardworking member for Braddon, Ms Justine Keay MP, lodged a pile of questions on notice to the coalition government seeking information on their plans for their promises made during the by-election—promises that the then Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, said were not dependent on the Liberals' success in the by-election. In his response to Ms Keay on the Murchison Highway, Deputy Prime Minister Mr McCormack notes that funding for the upgrades will come from the $400 million Roads of Strategic Importance package. This is the same pool of funds that Minister McKenzie asserted today in question time will be spent solely on the Bass Highway. The people of Braddon are sick and tired of this government's repeated brazen mistruths.

Neglecting the Murchison Highway in the minister's prewritten response today demonstrated a lack of understanding of Tasmania from the Nationals, a party whose new Tasmanian representative relentlessly claims to be putting Tassie back on the map and a party who claims to care about the regions but either can't get the basic facts right or is telling mistruths.

While there is an intersection of the Bass and Murchison highways, the two serve very different communities and should not be confused as one road. The Murchison Highway runs from Somerset on the north-west coast past Hampshire, Tullah and Rosebery, ending near Zeehan, where it joins the Zeehan Highway to either Zeehan to the west or Queenstown to the south. It is a vital link for Tasmania's forestry, mining, tourism and agriculture industries as well as residents and small businesses alike.

In comparison, the Bass Highway runs from Marrawah in the far north-west through Smithton, Wynyard, Burnie, Alveston, Latrobe and Deloraine before terminating in Launceston. The highway has recorded some of the highest freight volumes of any road in Tasmania and connects more than 200,000 Tasmanians.

Minister McKenzie's prewritten response to the question on notice from her Nationals colleague Senator O'Sullivan demonstrates that the falsehood lives on. In the letter to Minister McKenzie, I requested that at her earliest convenience today she clarify to the Senate that the Roads of Strategic Importance package for Tasmania is $400 million over 10 years for upgrades to roads throughout Tasmania. I also requested that, as per the response from Deputy Prime Minister McCormack to the member for Braddon, Ms Keay, she clarify to the Senate that the upgrades to both the Murchison and Bass highways are yet to be finalised by the Australian and Tasmanian governments, that no project construction time lines exist and that no funding has been delivered.

Making an error during a response to a question from a non-government senator or member is one thing, but the error was in a prewritten response to a question from a fellow Nationals senator. It is not just disappointing that the minister failed to attend the chamber; it is a clear abrogation of her duties and a slap in the face to all Tasmanians.