By Colin MacGillivray
LABOR and the Liberals have traded barbs over road funding ahead of this Saturday’s federal election, with Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell questioning the government’s record on past road promises.
In February 2019 the Federal Government announced $50 million of funding for upgrades to the Hume Freeway between the M80 Ring Road and Beveridge’s Lithgow Street, including a possible extra lane, through its Urban Congestion Fund.
In August 2020 the government announced another $50 million from the same fund to build south-facing ramps from Wallan’s Watson Street to complete a diamond interchange on the Hume Freeway.
It has been 1197 days since the freeway announcement and neither project has begun construction, as congestion through Wallan and on the freeway continues to cause delays, affecting the daily lives of Mitchell Shire residents.
Mr Mitchell said the government had incorrectly blamed the delay on the State Government, which made its own promise to duplicate Watson Street and carry out other upgrade works.
Mr Mitchell also took a swipe at Liberal candidate for McEwen Richard Welch’s credentials on road funding.
Mr Welch has positioned himself as a champion for Mitchell Shire roads, announcing a government pledge of $280 million to build a Camerons Lane Hume Freeway interchange at Beveridge.
“All we keep hearing is that [the Watson Street ramps are] in planning. Every single response we get from the Federal Government is ‘it’s in planning’,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Richard Welch is misleading the community about this. He’s saying he’s the one that will deliver the interchange, but he wasn’t even connected to McEwen and wasn’t preselected when that funding got announced in 2020.
“Since then he has been laying the blame for the lack of progress on the State Government, and incorrectly … running the line that they’ve got to wait for Watson Street to be upgraded before that can happen. That is false.”
Mr Mitchell said the Federal Government had delivered less than $1 million of the pledged $50 million for the Watson Street ramps.
But Mr Welch said the full funding would only be released once the State Government achieved predetermined benchmarks.
“The funding of Watson Street and the remainder of the Wallan diamond [interchange] is dependent on meeting milestones [and] those milestones have not been met. We’ve had the funding in that place for over 480 days, without a single spade being turned,” he said.
“It was an election promise from the local member – we funded it and he still couldn’t deliver it. So I think it’s really about how hungry you are for success in the area, how ambitious you are for the community. Watson Street needs to be done so that we can complete that Wallan diamond.”
A Liberal Party spokesperson said while the Federal Government funded infrastructure projects, it was state and local governments that were responsible for delivering them.
He said payments were made based on agreed milestones, and that $2.54 million had been approved for the Hume Freeway upgrades, of which $1.64 million had been paid to date.
State Minister for Roads and Road Safety Ben Carroll said the State Government had been cooperative with the Federal Government but simply had not seen the funding it needed to get works underway.
“We’re working with the commonwealth, but we need a lot more support and investment from them,” he said.
“We have a perennial issue where we don’t get our fair share from the commonwealth. If anything, we’re funding on the level of a state about the size of Tasmania by their own modelling.
“Of the $50 million they put on the table, they’ve only released several hundreds of thousands of dollars for planning and studies. We need a lot more commitment from them.”
Mr Mitchell labelled the promises a ‘con job’.
“There is $100 million-worth of promises, and we’ve yet to see one per cent of that,” he said.