The Coalition government has reneged on its campaign promise for a $188 million Fingal Bay link road five days after being re-elected.
The NSW government's duty MLC for Port Stephens, Catherine Cusack, told the Newcastle Herald on Thursday that the project would not proceed because voters had re-elected Labor MP Kate Washington on a campaign platform which included opposing the road.
"The wishes of voters will be respected and the Fingal Bay link road will not go ahead," Ms Cusack said.
Port Stephens mayor Ryan Palmer, who was at the funding announcement with Roads Minister Melinda Pavey, Port Stephens Liberal candidate Jaimie Abbott and Ms Cusack in Nelson Bay on March 5, said on Thursday that he was under the impression the promise was linked to the Coalition's re-election and not Ms Abbott's electoral success.
"I wouldn't think that project lost the election for them, so I'm quite surprised at the quick backflip on that one," he said.
"It's been in the planning for 60 years, and it is one of the hottest topics, particularly in the peak periods."
Ms Pavey and Ms Abbott promised the government would start work on the "essential" link road in the next four years if re-elected.
"If we are elected on the 23rd of March, we will work to ensure RMS comes up with designs about the specific route of the road by the end of this year," Ms Pavey said on March 5 while standing beside Mr Palmer.
"Over the next term of government we expect to get the road started ... everybody in this community knows this road needs to happen."
Ms Cusack writes in an opinion piece in today's Herald that it was "stated clearly at the time Fingal Link Road was a campaign promise not yet in the budget".
"This project was strongly opposed by the Labor candidate who won, and those views of Port Stephens voters need to be respected.
"Because our campaign suffered from incorrect claims of broken promises, I will be suggesting the new government move to clarify the list of initiatives debated during the campaign."
Mr Palmer, who said on March 5 that the council was "really excited" by the announcement, told the Herald on Thursday that he was disappointed by the "backflip".
"Having said that, if there's $188 million available for Port Stephens for what the community wants, I'm sure the community would welcome working with the Coalition government to deliver $188 million worth of other projects," he said.
"I would say that probably puts that project to bed forever. The price of roads is only going up and up."
Ms Pavey said when pledging the funds that the road was needed to ease congestion and improve safety for residents during bushfires and other emergencies.
"We need Jaimie to be part of our team to form government. This is going to be a tight election. There's no doubt about it," she said.
"What we're saying to the people of Port Stephens: 'You've told us you want this road. We want to do this road, and the choice is to support Jaimie and us into government so we can get that road done and designs out by the end of this year.'
" ... It's a big commitment from this government going forward. We need Jaimie to be part of that to form government to make this happen ... we need Jaimie there in government to deliver this road."
The Coalition was re-elected without winning Port Stephens, but Ms Cusack told the Herald on Thursday that Ms Pavey's comments justified the decision to cancel the project.
Ms Abbott said on March 5 that the promise was "one of the most exciting announcements of my political career".
"This has been talked about for decades, and finally a commitment to make it happen," she said.
Ms Washington, who retained the seat with a 3 per cent swing in her favour, derided the promise at the time as a "fantasy".
She said it amounted to $140,000 for each of the town's residents and it would be "much cheaper to hire helicopters for everyone to get in and out of Fingal Bay every day".
Hunter Business Chamber said on Thursday that the Fingal Bay promise had been "a bit of a surprise announcement" as the project had not been the subject of strong advocacy and the council had asked for only $90 million for the road in its budget submission.
"The $188 million commitment is a substantial amount of money which we believe could be better directed to higher-priority projects in the area, such as the Newcastle Airport runway and terminal upgrade or to extend the planned duplication of Nelson Bay Road to include the strategically important section between Stockton and Williamtown," chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said.
The Herald's March 5 report on the link road announcement quoted two Fingal Bay shopkeepers describing the project as a "great idea" which would save travel time.
Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association president Geoff Washington welcomed the announcement at the time and said most of the community supported the link road.
Tomaree Business Chamber business development manager Peter Clough said he was "ambivalent" about the link road and said it could lead to Shoal Bay and Fingal Bay shoppers bypassing the town centre.
Facebook trolling scandal
Ms Cusack's opinion piece also addresses the Facebook trolling scandal that "blindsided" Ms Abbott's campaign two weeks before the election.
Ms Abbott was forced to apologise to Ms Washington after Facebook deleted seven accounts connected to Ms Cusack's parliamentary staffer, Tasman Brown, including his own and Ms Abbott's.
Ms Washington had complained to the Clerk of Parliament and Facebook that fake accounts were trolling her campaign.
"I do not wish to recap except to reiterate my disappointment as the unauthorised activity sabotaged our core principles and approach, it undermined our own message and should never have happened," Ms Cusack writes in the opinion piece.
"My staff member had a fake account and fully understands it was a big mistake.
"I can only assume others involved were Liberal supporters, but the assumption they are Liberal Party members cannot be made as the activity was not co-ordinated and we still don't have important details including a full copy of the original complaint."
Ms Cusack says the Facebook scandal was a "terrible example" of political parties getting unwanted help from "supporters", but the "idea this activity is confined to one side of politics in one seat is ludicrous".
"This incident should serve as a stern warning to all of the stupidity of commenting with fake accounts and how badly it hurts the very cause you claim to be trying to help."
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