PRIVATE MEMBERS STATEMENT
I am a proud product of our local community, having grown up, lived and worked in our region my entire life. From being part of a local small business family to attending local schools and the local university, through to serving on our local council, my journey to this Parliament has always been about the pursuit of local outcomes. My focus has always been to work hard to realise the potential of our region and to support and care for local people. When I arrived in this place almost eight years ago, the Princes Highway looked very different to the way it does today. For years we were promised investments and upgrades. There were meetings, there were glossy brochures, there were promises made and promises broken. Today, the Princes Highway through my electorate looks a lot different than it did eight years ago.
The Gerringong upgrade has been delivered with much safer access to Gerringong. It divided the highway through a notorious stretch that took too many lives, particularly young lives. The $340 million upgrade was completed in 2015 and has improved travel times and safety for motorists in our community. The community walk over the Omega Bridge is something I will long remember. I will never forget the day we officially opened the bridge, when local identities Murray and Robyn Alcock drove me across it in one of their classic vintage cars. The Berry bypass is something that people have talked about since 1955. For more than half a century, governments made excuses as to why this project could not be done. When I announced this commitment, the cynics emerged, saying, "I'll never see it." The less cynical said, "I'll never drive it." Today, this bypass has been delivered and given Berry its village back. I have no doubt that the changes through Foxground in particular have saved countless lives and prevented numerous accidents. This upgrade not only saves motorists time and money but makes this section of the Princes Highway an incredibly attractive drive.
The $62 million upgrade at South Nowra is working well. I look forward to continuing to campaign alongside my friend and parliamentary colleague Shelley Hancock on the upgrade to the intersection at Jervis Bay Road. The Berry to Bomaderry Princes Highway upgrade is well under construction. Many did not believe the Government could secure this commitment, but in the most recent State budget $450 million was nailed down to get on with this job. Once the Berry to Bomaderry upgrade is complete, I will have secured the duplication of the Princes Highway throughout my entire electorate. The Albion Park Rail bypass project, costing $630 million, will bypass six sets of traffic lights and reduce congestion at one of the worst pinch points on the Princes Highway.
Sadly, the Opposition voted against this project. It wanted the money to go to projects in Sydney, not our community. Its 10‑year infrastructure plan for the State did not mention the Illawarra once. Labor would have wanted another 10 years to go by before any action took place on the Princes Highway at Albion Park. Let me make it clear that getting things done for our community will always be my focus.
In a few weeks' time, I look forward to turning the first sod on the $251 million upgrade of Shellharbour Hospital. This upgrade will see a major injection into local health services and will deliver more doctors, more nurses and more staff.
When one compares this to Labor's commitment of a mere $30 million—just 12 per cent of the Government's commitment—I am sure members will understand how important it is to me to fight for local health improvements. This commitment was underscored by the recent announcement, made with my friend the member for South Coast and the Premier, that the Government will commit $434 million to upgrade Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital. That is in addition to a host of extra services at Shoalhaven hospital, such as cancer services, aged care, suicide prevention, mental health and the emergency department. This commitment has come after the tabling of petitions and speeches made in this Chamber, not to mention countless meetings with the local health district, the Minister for Health, local doctors and local health professionals. The scale of these investments has never been seen before. I am proud to have worked hard and represented the interests of our community by playing my part in securing this commitment.
It is fair to say I have not always agreed with my side of politics while I have been in this Chamber. I will be blunt: Whenever the interests of my community are compromised by the actions of this or any other government, it will be the community that sent me to this place with which I will stand. I was proud to stand with my community in fighting off unwanted and unjustified council mergers in my region. I offer sincere thanks to my friend and the former Mayor of Kiama, Councillor Brian Petschler, who was a relentless advocate for the Kiama community. While I will have disagreements with my local councils from time to time, since coming into this place, and even in my inaugural speech, I have advocated for the important role of local government in regional communities, and I will never support mergers that do not enjoy the support of our local community.
Be it standing up and fighting for better environmental outcomes and securing a moratorium on coal seam gas mining in the Sydney water catchment, opposing overdevelopment in our towns and villages, advocating for the needs-based and sector-blind Gonski school education funding reforms, fighting for more carriages for regional rail services, which are hitting the line early next year, or simply using the time of this Parliament to give a voice to people and issues in my community, I am humbled and honoured to have had the enormous privilege of representing the good people of the Kiama electorate. Their trust and confidence is an inspiration for a lifetime. I know I have been as much an advocate for them as they have been my friends and supporters. I thank them.