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Infrastructure and Transport – Leith Overpass

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 7 June 2022

Tags: Roads, Planning

Ms O'CONNOR - I wanted to follow up on the trauma that you put the community of Leith through, with the plan to build a massive overpass. At the time that you were spruiking this overpass, you said it was for road safety reasons. Are you able to explain whether you were being misleading about the road safety issues, and was that overpass in fact intended initially facilitate nearby large businesses?

Mr FERGUSON - Thank you for the question, Ms O'Connor. For me, it's always been about safety; nothing else. I'm certainly aware of the conspiracy theories that this was all for - was it Harvest Moon or someone else in the nearby area?

Ms O'CONNOR - It was a quarry.

Mr FERGUSON - Oh, a quarry? Okay. I hadn't heard that particular one, but I am aware of the different theories. I don't want to rubbish people for having different questions about why projects come into existence, but I'm simply not aware of any commercial factors that went into the original decision of the Government to offer an overpass at Leith. For us, it's always been about safety and nothing else. There was a death there, of course, I hope you realise that. In approximately 2018.

Ms O'CONNOR - I will take you back to your previous answer where you indicated that you did not want every time there was a road tragedy to dictate government road spending. What I am trying to do here on behalf of the people of Leith, who are still annoyed at what they were put through, is understand whether it was truthful to say that the road safety issues around Leith were so extensive that they required a very large overpass. Our understanding is that the data doesn't stack up and, obviously, it is not as significant as you painted it to be because you have walked away from the Leith overpass.

Mr FERGUSON - I can only repeat what I said earlier. I accept some of what you are saying, the premise of your question. There was a death and it was very soon after that the Government committed to offering an overpass at Leith. I would like to remind you that local organisations had been asking for an overpass, including the Central Coast Council, for some time. As you know, history has shown that while I have been managing this project, I received a lot of feedback from strongly held different points of view. Some strongly wanted the overpass and some were vehemently opposed to it, all for good reasons.

Ms O'CONNOR - The ones who strongly wanted it were obviously only communicating with you.

Mr FERGUSON - Sorry, did you say the ones -

Ms O'CONNOR - Who strongly wanted the overpass were certainly not communicating with the Greens.

Mr FERGUSON - Oh, that is interesting.

Ms O'CONNOR - I am interested to know that there were people who strongly advocated for the overpass.

Mr FERGUSON - The views were very polarised and very fifty-fifty. Anybody can have their point of view on this or represent their data, or their understanding of community view however they wish. But my experience, because I have been in the hot seat on this, was very divided and very strongly held views. I spent time on the phone with advocates for and against. I met in person, away from media, with a group of people who took different points of view. We had a very respectful, courteous exchange of strongly held views in Ulverstone, in Leonie Hiscutt's office, in the hall next door to her office. We worked through that difficult process and where we have landed is well and truly on the public record.

To your original point, no, the original imperative for the Government being prepared to invest in an overpass did not have a commercial character to it. It was only about safety.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you acknowledge that this proposal was poorly handled? That the evidence base for it was never solid? Will you offer an apology at the table to those residents of Leith who went through enormous stress for what you put them through for nearly two years and then the decision is reversed not long before the federal election when it was obviously a hot issue in Braddon? Do you think you owe the people of Leith an apology and a commitment not to put them through that again?

Mr FERGUSON - I have actually had very lovely conversations, particularly with the people who were the most affected.

Ms O'CONNOR - Good.

Mr FERGUSON - It seems like a long time ago that I made that decision and you have again invoked another spurious theory around the federal election. That played no role whatsoever in my thinking. That is demonstrably the case because it was a long time ago I made that judgement to not proceed and, instead, to go with improved infrastructure and safety treatment that I felt on advice when I asked -

Ms O'CONNOR - It was not much more than seven months ago.

Mr FERGUSON - Thanks for that. I conduct myself honestly and fairly with people as best I can, knowing that in respect of that particular decision I disappointed a group of people as well. We are doing our best for safety and transport efficiency through the Bass Highway at Leith.