HUNTER Business Chamber has given a guarded thumbs-up to the new Infrastructure Australia priority list, while federal Labor MPs say the absence of key Hunter projects and long time frames for most Hunter projects that made the list showed the region was being ignored.
The Hunter response came after the official release of the 2020 infrastructure priority list, foreshadowed in Wednesday's Newcastle Herald.
The report has been generally well received across the nation for the increasing importance it places on infrastructure proposed to deal with major environmental issues including water security, rising sea levels and waste management.
But the Hunter is not the only region complaining about a lack of importance accorded to key projects, with Queenslanders unhappy that a 45-kilometre road project - the Coomera Connector between Brisbane and the Gold Coast - was left off the list.
Paterson MP Meryl Swanson told parliament yesterday that leaving the M1 extension to Raymond Terrace on the lower level of a two-tier priority system was "not good enough"
"It hasn't moved in four years," Ms Swanson said before being ejected from the House of Representatives for an hour over her interjections while government members endorsed the report during question time.
Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes welcomed the inclusion of "key regional projects" but said most deserved quicker delivery than Infrastructure Australia was suggesting.
He said the Hexham to Fassifern rail bypass seemed to have "fallen off Infrastructure Australia's radar".
Shortland MP Pat Conroy criticised the absence of the Glendale transport interchange, saying it was "a disgrace" the NSW government "failed to ensure the interchange was included in the priority list".
"Regardless of this, Glendale remains the most important project in the Hunter and is key to delivering jobs to Lake Macquarie," Mr Conroy said.
Infrastructure Australia was created to provide objective recommendations on major infrastructure projects, and this week's new 2020 priority list contains major works nominated by various governments and departments, as well as those promoted by the organisation itself.
I really hope this modest agency has not been politicised, but I have to askPaterson MP Meryl Swanson
As the Herald reported yesterday, the privately owned Port of Newcastle is pleased that Infrastructure Australia has identified a need for a new deep water port to handle a new "ultra large" category of container ships that are widely tipped to eventually dominate global shipping trade on major international routes.
Endorsement of the second stage of a $1.6 billion overhaul of John Hunter Hospital has also been welcomed in the region.
Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes said that as well as the M1 extension and the John Hunter expansion, the Hunter list included the New England Highway upgrade (incorporating the Muswellbrook and Singleton bypasses), and the Newcastle to Sydney rail upgrade.
Mr Hawes said all of these projects had been in the chamber's submission last year to Infrastructure Australia.
"Having Infrastructure Australia note and commend these projects will help ensure they attract the commitment and funding certainty required to ensure they advance and deliver the promised benefits," Mr Hawes said.
He said the report highlighted the need to preserve a corridor for a future east coast high-speed rail line, but did not mention preserving the Lower Hunter Freight Corridor - otherwise known as the Hexham to Fassifern freight rail bypass - despite it being previously listed as a "high priority initiative".
"It is disappointing the freight corridor seems to have dropped off Infrastructure Australia's radar but the chamber continues to argue for its preservation as a high priority," Mr Hawes said.
Paterson MP Meryl Swanson was ejected from House of Representatives question time yesterday by speaker Tony Smith after interjecting while Deputy Prime Minister Michael endorsed the report in answer to a question from his own side of the house.
Afterwards, Ms Swanson said the M1 extension had been listed as a "zero to five year" priority in 2016, yet there had been "no progress toward this important road and the 'next steps' remain unchanged".
"This project is 15 years overdue and is described by infrastructure Australia as one of the most heavily used road corridors for freight in NSW," Ms Swanson said.
"This road is the last choke point between Sydney and Brisbane, and a major intersection between western NSW and the Port of Newcastle, the world's largest coal port.
"Only four per cent of funding for the M1 extension has been made available by the Morrison Government in the next five years.
"If the Coalition Government is serious about regional infrastructure, this project would be a high priority, the business case would be completed, and the project would be underway."
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