17th June 2020
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (18:25:26): It has been pleasing that much of the discussion and debate in the House this week has shifted from our response to the COVID pandemic to the recovery phase. Three months ago I do not think any of us believed that we would be moving into these phases of recovery as early as we are. As I mentioned in the House only yesterday, that is a great credit to the people of New South Wales, to the Premier and her government and to the State's health agencies that have so far guided us to this point. Yesterday the Treasurer updated the House on initiatives being taken to steer that recovery, including the fast-tracking of infrastructure projects that not only create much-needed jobs but also grow our economy. It is vitally important that regional and rural areas are at the forefront of that recovery and investment. I note the Treasurer's comments yesterday when he said the State's economy is expected to contract by around 10 per cent in the immediate term. No doubt there will be much greater contraction in some regional areas.
In Lake Macquarie, where unemployment—in particular youth unemployment—was higher than the State average pre-COVID, and where contractions in the tourism, retail and hospitality areas will be strongly felt, it is absolutely imperative that government investment is provided to stimulate local economies as well as that of the State. Many vital infrastructure projects in Lake Macquarie are greatly needed to help drive the State's economic recovery over the coming years. Among them is construction of commuter parking stations at Morisset, Cardiff and Fassifern rail stations. I have raised this matter in the House before and I have spoken with the appropriate Ministers. Most people who catch the train to Newcastle or Sydney drive to the station, park and then board the train.
This is putting great strain on existing parking spaces not only at Morisset, Cardiff and Fassifern but also at smaller stations such as Dora Creek, where parking space was recently reduced. Existing at-grade parking areas at Morisset are generally full by 8.00 a.m. on weekdays, while commuters who board at Cardiff are already overflowing into residential streets up to 500 metres from the station. They each require multi-level parking stations. With a bit of innovative thinking, those stations could accommodate business opportunities with ground level retail or office space. Those types of projects will create jobs in the construction sector. They can move quickly through the planning process and provide an immediate benefit to the community and the Government.
Another major project that could be fast-tracked and provide an immediate impact for the State is the Fassifern to Hexham freight rail link. This project has been in the works for many years and I believe planning is now well advanced. This bypass would take all freight off the main Sydney-Newcastle passenger line, which is interrupted regularly by breakdowns or issues with freight trains. Major road projects in Lake Macquarie could also be fast-tracked, including the long-awaited upgrade of Hillsborough Road and two dangerous intersections at Crockett Street and Chadwick Street. The upgrade of Hillsborough Road has been the subject of a master plan, which is also in the final stage of planning. The release of the master plan is now more than a year overdue.
At Cooranbong in my electorate a bridge on the main road in and out of town has been reduced to one lane of traffic because of structural problems uncovered during a routine inspection five months ago. The problem could be fixed with fast-tracked funding. Another major project that would stimulate the local economy is construction of stage one and stage two of the Hunter Sports Centre expansion project at Glendale. This project sits just across the border from my electorate and would significantly expand the existing sports centre. Both stages have development application approval and construction could start in the 2020-21 financial year. They have the capacity to create large numbers of jobs in the construction and operational phases.
I also note the Treasurer's commitment to schools and hospitals. While the Government recently invested in significant upgrades in Speers Point and Wangi Wangi public schools in my electorate—and I am very grateful for that investment—there are other schools in urgent need of significant upgrades. Among them is Lake Macquarie High School at Boorigal, and Morisset and Toronto high schools. I agree absolutely with the Treasurer and applaud the Government on its willingness to move swiftly into the COVID recovery phase and for the economic stimulus committed so far. Lake Macquarie and the Hunter must be supported to play their part and once again do the heavy lifting for this State.
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