FUNDING THREATS: National Party Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie said funds for regional projects were under serious threat with the passing of the Medivac Bill.
FUNDING THREATS: National Party Deputy Leader Bridget McKenzie said funds for regional projects were under serious threat with the passing of the Medivac Bill. MICK TSIKAS

Border security over the Coffs bypass funding

FEDERAL Parliament has heard the Coffs Harbour Bypass could be one of several regional projects under threat with the recently passed Medivac Bill to blame.

The bill will allow for the medical evacuation of asylum-seekers from Manus Island and Nauru. Speaking in the Federal Senate on February 14 the Deputy Leader of the National Party Bridget McKenzie estimated costs associated with the bill could be as high as $16 billion.

Ms McKenzie went on to outline the regional projects under 'serious threat' due to these costs.

"It's going to cost at least another $16 billion-money that can't be then spent on growing regional Australia and creating local jobs. It means we won't be able to invest in the $10 billion Inland Rail project that will revolutionise freight and market opportunities; in the Coffs Harbour bypass, reducing congestion for local businesses and residents; or in the Rockwood Weir project in Capricornia."

Independent candidate for the state seat of Coffs Harbour Dr Sally Townley says the comments should be a warning that the promises of delivering the bypass may not be on solid ground and that the Nationals are prepared to blame someone else.

"How can we have faith in any promises when the Deputy Leader threatens that the money for the Coffs Harbour bypass may not actually be available? The Minister stated that if additional expenditure is incurred for border protection, then it may not be available for other regional projects and she specifically named the Coffs Harbour bypass as an example.

"The Coalition needs to assure the people of Coffs Harbour and all Pacific Highway users that the money is committed for the project no matter what. These veiled threats of withdrawal undermine their credibility and undermine public confidence. The bypass is absolutely critical infrastructure for Coffs Harbour and should not be used as a weapon brandished between the two major parties."

She is calling on the Nationals to review Minister McKenzie's comments and provide assurance for the community that the bypass funding is 100 per cent secure.

The Nationals candidate for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh has been in contact with the Minister to seek an assurance.

"I have been in touch with Minister McKenzie to clarify her comments in the heat of Parliament a couple of weeks ago. She has assured me that the Federal funding for the Coffs Harbour bypass is also 100 per cent guaranteed in the forward estimates of the Federal budget," he said.

Federal Nationals Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker has made similar references to a potential 'hit' to the regions associated with border protection.

Mr Hartsuyker has claimed the motivation to support regions could disappear if Labor won the election because it had very different policy and spending priorities, and was clearly bent on a return to more costly open borders.

Labor candidate for Cowper Andrew Woodward said Mr Hartsuyker, who is retiring at the federal election, should go quietly.

"In recent weeks Mr Hartsuyker has claimed the decision of both houses of parliament to support the medivac bill would materially hit funding for regions. He has also said Labor will impose a Retirement Tax on people. Both are lies.

"First, he claims the decision of the parliament to support transfers for medical emergencies would come at a cost, which could be better spent in the regions.

"This is a bit rich from a government that wanted to give an $80 billion tax cut to big business including $17 billion to the banks. The wanted tax handouts to the banks were way more than Australia's border protection bill. Could that have not been better spent in the regions, Luke?"