ACT News

Mike Baird blows through Dubbo, promises big bucks for the bush

The Baird government will splurge $500 million on NSW's longest highway, the Newell, as part of a $6 billion sweetener for the bush flowing from its controversial electricity privatisation plan.

But in Dubbo on Saturday, Nationals MP Duncan Gay signalled the government faces an arduous task pushing the reforms through the upper house if it is re-elected. He asked voters to shun minor parties at this month's election.

Premier Mike Baird and Nationals leader Troy Grant joined Mr Gay in Dubbo ahead of the Nationals Party campaign launch on Sunday.

The Nationals backed the "poles and wires" proposal last year after the government pledged to exclude country power company Essential Energy.

The government also promised about one-third of the expected $20 billion proceeds from the privatisation would be spent on regional infrastructure.

The Newell Highway corridor runs between the Queensland and Victorian borders, stretching more than 1000 kilometres, and is a key transport and freight route.

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The $500 million would fund upgraded road surfaces, duplication of the LH Ford Bridge at Dubbo, a truck bypass, overtaking lanes and improved alignment.

"This upgrade will transform inland NSW – we want more jobs, better roads and lower freight costs," Mr Baird said, adding only the Coalition has a "bold vision for NSW".

But delivering that vision through Parliament is shaping as a vexed issue. The Shooters and Fishers Party, which shares the balance of power in the upper house, has vowed to block the plan. The Christian Democratic Party, upon whose support the government is also reliant, will demand a jobs guarantee for electricity workers before considering the proposal.

Eight of the Coalition's 19 upper house members are facing re-election. The government hopes it can win 10 spots, substantially reducing its need for crossbench support.

Asked how the government would fund the highway upgrade if its reforms did not pass Parliament, Mr Gay said the question showed: "how important the vote is going to be in two weeks' time".

"Not only is your vote going to count in the lower house, it's going to count in the upper house … Be careful how you vote, make sure you know the party and what they stand for," he said.

Mr Gay, the leader of the government in the upper house, said the plea did not mean he doubted the government's ability to negotiate crossbench support.

"I'm confident that we will be able to get the legislation through. But I also want to make it easier for myself. Who wouldn't?" he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr Baird said the government would contribute $57 million towards a $115 million upgrade of Taronga Zoo. It would include expanding the gorilla enclosure, an "elephant trail" for better public viewing and two new precincts to house Australian wildlife.

The government would also contribute $25 million towards a $50 million upgrade at Taronga Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo. The zoo funds are not contingent on the electricity lease.

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