Former Lyne MP and probable independent candidate for the seat of Cowper at the next federal election, Rob Oakeshott.
Former Lyne MP and probable independent candidate for the seat of Cowper at the next federal election, Rob Oakeshott. David Barwell

Oakeshott questions $700m bypass black hole

HAVING studied the budget papers, former MP and probable Independent candidate for Cowper at the next federal election Rob Oakeshott has some concerns about the funding announcement for the Coffs Harbour bypass.

On Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the Turnbull Government was set to commit $971 toward the project.

Mr Oakeshott said the budget papers reveal the government's level of commitment toward the project is much less than that.

"Despite the pre-budget advertising of a $971 million win for the local community, the truth of the actual budget papers reveals an unprecedented $700 million is missing, raising serious questions on the promised timeframe for the last piece of the Pacific Highway completion," Mr Oakeshott said.

The budget papers reveal that the amount of money set aside in forward estimates up to and including the 2021/22 financial year for the community changing project is $235 million.

That's $736 million short of the promised amount.

Mr Oakeshott said the shortfall of almost three-quarters of a billion dollars brings the finishing date of the project into question.

"On budgeted funding of $235 million over four years, the Pacific Highway will not be completed before 2030 and I think Coffs Harbour, and the entire North Coast, deserves better," he said.

"At the moment, there is a very large funding black hole in the budget for the Coffs bypass."

Mr Oakeshott said the budget announcement raises questions that long serving Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker should answer.

"The onus is on the local MP, Mr Hartsuyker, to clarify this one simple point, where is the missing $700 million?"

With a federal election due at some stage over the next 12 months, more likely than not this time next year, Mr Oakeshott said big talk regarding the Pacific Highway came as no surprise to him.

"Political parties have a track record of promising big things on the highway pre-election and then not delivering," Mr Oakeshott said.

"Before various elections, it was going to be completely dual carriageway by both the Labor Party and the National Party by 2007, then by 2011, then by 2016, and the most recent pre-election promise was to have the complete job done by 2020."

"The community is right to be sceptical about this latest pre-election announcement."

If he does run as an Independent in the next election, Mr Oakeshott said a bypass of Coffs Harbour is too an important an issue to be used merely as a political pawn between opposing sides.

He said a bipartisan approach is required for the vital project to be completed as soon as possible.

"Even the National Party should agree that Coffs Harbour, and indeed the entire North Coast, deserves better than a Coffs bypass completion in 2030," he said.

"This is a timeframe that can be, and should be, brought forward.

"All of us should be uniting to bring this timeframe forward. This includes local National Party and Labor Party members."

Not that he's holding his breath on that happening.

"We need to all apply as much pressure as possible to get this clarity on the missing $700 million," Mr Oakeshott said.

"Otherwise, we'll all just get burnt again on dates and timeframes and this hurts all of us."



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Man’s body left three hours before found

Man's body remained undiscovered for hours after truck crash

FATAL: Man dies in hospital following two-car crash

premium_icon FATAL: Man dies in hospital following two-car crash

A MAN has died following a two-car crash north of Coffs Harbour.

Police identify van involved in hit-and-run death

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Police believe he was the victim of a hit-and-run incident