The NSW government stands accused of backflipping on a $70 million last-minute election promise to duplicate the infamous Nelson Bay Road after the release of a "sensitive" document that revealed only a small fraction of the promised funding would be spent before voters return to the polls.
In March, 2015, the then Premier Mike Baird promised the government would spend $70 million duplicating the road between Stockton and Anna Bay if elected.
The pledge was included in the government’s official list of election commitments for 2015 to 2019. But a Strategic Business Case Assurance Review obtained by Labor, marked “sensitive”, showed that $226,000 of the $70.026 million in funding was spent in 2015/16, with the remaining $69.8 million earmarked to roll out between 2020/21 and 2024/25.
The internal Roads and Maritime Service document, which was compiled in late 2016, also rejected a request for $8.2 million to be spent in the interim for “project development works” on the basis that the money was “not warranted if there is no commitment to commence delivery of the program until beyond [financial year] 20/21”.
Parliamentary secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald told Fairfax Media on Thursday that he had recently pushed for more funding to be delivered sooner.
His office confirmed that $6 million had been fast-tracked to upgrade the intersection of Nelson Bay and Medowie roads as well as planning for improvements to the intersection of Nelson Bay and Lemon Tree Passage roads. But as it stands, that total represents less than nine per cent of the funding that was promised for the 2015-19 window.
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said the situation was “frustrating” and accused the government of backflipping on its election promise.
“Day-to-day [Nelson Bay Road] is congested, then you add the tourist season when we get an enormous influx of people and we’re all at a snail’s pace if you want to get anywhere,” she said.
“We’ve also got the sheer fact that this is one-road-in, one-road-out for an enormous population on the peninsular.
“How are they [the government] seriously going to try and gain any support back in this community, that they lost because of a whole raft of other issues, when they can’t even hold a commitment?
“We all just wish they’d stop playing politics with my community and do what they said they’d do – fully duplicate Nelson Bay Road.”
Labor roads spokesperson Jodi McKay said the backflip was an “insult” to Port Stephens and Hunter residents.
“Premier Baird stood in Port Stephens and promised a full duplication, then failed to deliver,” she said.
Fairfax Media contacted NSW roads minister Melinda Pavey’s office for comment and received a response from a Roads and Maritime Service spokesperson, who labelled the document obtained by Labor “historical”.
The spokesperson also confirmed that $6 million had been fast-tracked since the document was compiled.
“Planning work is underway on the duplication,” the spokesperson said.
The minister’s office failed to answer a question about whether the government had backflipped on its election promise.