By IAN KIRKWOOD
A SENIOR Baird government minister has promised that the Newcastle light rail and the rest of the government’s electoral promises will be delivered ‘‘in full’’ despite ‘‘seemingly vexatious legal proceedings’’.
The pledge was made by Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister Duncan Gay at a Monday night dinner before tomorrow’s ninth annual Newcastle and Hunter Region Economic Development Forum, hosted by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, or CEDA.
Although the government says it is determined to build the light rail, its opponents are equally determined to carry the day, with Save Our Rail and its supporters rallying outside Parliament House, Sydney, on Tuesday at 1pm in protest against a new bill to close the Newcastle rail line.
Delivering his speech to 160 people at Newcastle City Hall, Mr Gay highlighted the Hunter Region’s economic contributions to the state and national economies.
He said the $1.75billion lease of the Port of Newcastle had provided the funds to allow the government to ‘‘invest heavily’’ in the region.
‘‘But before I talk about that, I want to deal with what could be an elephant in the room, first,’’ Mr Gay said.
Mr Gay said the Coalition’s problems leading up to the March election, and ‘‘disarray’’ in the Labor opposition, meant it ‘‘would be hardly a surprise if some in the community had lost faith in representative politics at all levels’’.
‘‘I would say that would be premature,’’ Mr Gay said.
He said the Baird government had ‘‘proven they will deliver on the promises they make’’, which was why other states were looking to NSW for leadership.
Mr Gay said the Newcastle rail line debate had gone on for too long, and was ‘‘settled’’ by the government in order to ‘‘get on with investing in Newcastle’s future.
‘‘I do accept that not all parts of the community were happy with the decision,’’ Mr Gay said.
But the government believed that terminating the heavy rail line at Wickham, building an interchange and introducing light rail would ‘‘reconnect the city to its foreshore and enable urban and commercial regeneration in the city centre’’.
Mr Gay’s speech followed an announcement by Premier Mike Baird earlier in the day, when he unveiled an overhauled 10-year plan for the state, with a promise to deliver infrastructure on time and on budget.
With the long-term future of the coal industry the subject of international speculation, Mr Gay said coal exports from Newcastle were set to double by 2031.
He described India as an ‘‘untapped market with a lot of growth potential and a huge increase in the demand for coal’’.
‘‘With so much demand,
if I was a betting man I think I know where I’d put my money for where this predicted growth will come from,’’ Mr Gay said.
Mr Gay said Newcastle container freight was expected to ‘‘more than triple’’ by 2031 but in an answer to a question about a Newcastle container terminal he said the current arrangements were working well. Mr Gay also toured the port and visited Dungog on Monday.