Local, Politics

‘Fiery’ First Federal Bypass Forum

Forty people joined the three candidates for the Federal seat of Cowper last night in what proved to be a fiery exchange at times.

By the Coffs Bypass Action Committee

“I currently live 2.1km from the Pacific Highway in a house with double glazing, and yet I can hear the highway at night” Said Brian. “People talk about the effects within 500m of the highway but with the design of this bypass and the amphitheatre effect of the range we believe the noise issues will be felt much further away.”

Patrick Conaghan, candidate for The Nationals, called for bi-partisan support of the project. He confirmed a trial is being undertaken in Sydney that could enable the regulations on dangerous goods to be changed
enabling all vehicles to use tunnels. Patrick said we are way behind the rest of the world in this area.

Patrick Conaghan – Nationals candidate for Cowper

The meeting started with Chairman Brian Polack showing a detailed map of the bypass route and just how many people will be affected by this infrastructure project.

Andrew Woodward, Labor said he felt we had been lied to by The Nationals on many occasions about the b ypass. He feels this project needs to be looked at on a social, environmental and economic basis and that it
should be built considering it may have a 150 to 200 year lifespan.

Rob Oakeshott, Independent asked why this project had not been completed decades ago and talked of his own successes with bypasses in his electorates when he was a sitting MP. “My offer is to make sure the
process is facilitated well. It needs to be thorough, transparent and timely in delivery.”

He also said he had spoken to both Michael McCormack (Leader of The Nationals) and his deputy Bridget MacKenzie, and said they were both supported the project.

Questions followed and the anxiety and distrust of what was happening with this project in the hands of The Nationals became palpable.

Though Patrick Conaghan continued to say that his senior colleagues in both State and Federal Parliament meant bored or drill and blast tunnels when they said “tunnels” it was pointed out that they have failed to make this specific distinction in public and there were cases where both Melinda
Pavey, NSW Transport Minister and Ken Kanofski, CEO of the RMS had alluded to cuttings with land bridges as tunnels.

The other hot topic was the release date for the environmental impact statement (EIS) and why it is so delayed and why we can’t see what has been completed.

The very pertinent question was asked as to what design was the basis for this EIS given the September concept plan has been so clearly rejected by the public. Surely a new concept plan must be released before a final EIS, particularly if that concept plan differs markedly from the anticipated tunnels solution.

He said Anthony Albanese, Shadow Minister for Transport and Infrastructure, was also fully on board.

In his closing summary Brian Polack again asked for an unambiguous statement from both of the major parties saying they would direct the RMS to design the bypass with three tunnels of a bored or drill and blast
style, that funding would be provided for such a design and that an independent body would be brought in to monitor the noise situation.

Given the concern that the senior management of the RMS seems to be fighting every step of the way against tunnels it was good to see all 3 candidates support putting the RMS on notice that the figures they produce on the cost of tunnels would be independently verified if they appeared way out of line with existing sources of comparison which showed no significant difference in total cost to the project.

Patrick Conaghan also confirmed there will be no additional funding for the bypass in this year’s Federal budget despite what Gurmesh Singh told the State Candidate Forum.

“Surely, with Gladys Berejiklian announcing an upgrade of $1 billion for the Princes Highway with a further $15 billion to be spent on that highway over the next 20 years, The Nationals can find money for the bypass for which we have been waiting decades” Mr Polack said.

The above is a press release from The Coffs Bypass Action Committee dated Thursday 7 March 2019.



The National Party tonight confirmed that there would be no additional funding contained in the 2 April 2019 federal budget as to honour a commitment to include tunnels in the Coffs Harbour Bypass. 

The National Party Candidate for Cowper, Mr Patrick Conaghan, tonight told a candidates’ forum organised by the Coffs Bypass Action Group that no funding would be included in the budget to be delivered by the Treasurer said ALP candidate for Cowper Andrew Woodward (pictured below).

This is a major blow to the project and now throws into doubt the 2020 start date promised by the Nationals. As with all major infrastructure projects, the Nationals can’t start or finish a project on time and they usually come in way over budget. 

It is astounding to think this has happened with the Coffs Harbour Bypass even before a shovel or hard hat has come out of the back of the work truck.  

The Nationals have been in government in Sydney since 2011 and in Canberra since 2013 yet in 2019 we’re still way off getting a design for the Coffs Harbour Bypass with three tunnels that the community supports.

They’re simply not up to the task of delivering the single largest road infrastructure project ever between Sydney and Brisbane. 

Mr Conaghan tonight contradicted the National Party state candidate for Coffs Harbour, Gurmesh Singh, who a month ago said he assumed federal funding would be in the April Budget. It also contradicts statements in the media by the retiring state member for Coffs Harbour, Andrew Fraser, that the state government would fund the entire $300 million additional cost of the tunnels.

The Nationals are not on the same page. They can’t get their stories straight. The truth bypass continues. 

Mr Conaghan refused tonight to disclose how much the tunnels would cost, maintaining the Nationals secretive approach to the project. 

Mr Conaghan also committed to the meeting that he would urgently seek written confirmation from both the Deputy Prime Minister and federal Minister for Infrastructure, Michael McCormack, and the NSW Premier Gladys Berijiklian that the bypass would contain three tunnels.

He said he would also seek written assurances that they are ‘real’ tunnels – similar in design and appearance to the twin-tube St Helena tunnel near Byron Bay. Mr Conaghan ruled out the cut and cover ‘tunnels’ and or land bridges. 

I am pleased to see Mr Conaghan concede that his superiors in the federal and state governments have botched the management and communication for this project.

I assured the meeting that Labor is committed to delivering the Coffs Harbour Bypass by matching the announcement in last year’s federal budget. When the additional cost of the tunnels is known, we will be in a position to consider a proposal from the NSW Government, the project manager for the bypass. 


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