Appeal over deadly roads - John Barilaro responds

In Tuesday's Express we published a letter from Angus Fergusson of Jerangle who outlined a horror crash on Jerangle Road involving his wife Jane and three children. They survived. Mr Fergusson raised concerns about the state of the road, and the inadequacy of mobile phone coverage.

Dear Mr Fergusson,

Thank you for your email concerning the safety of Jerangle Road. I am very sorry to read that your wife and children were involved in such a terrible situation. This must have been extremely distressing for all of you and I am very thankful that your family have been spared from serious injury.

It is comforting to know that we have selfless individuals in our community, like the man who assisted your family. This community spirit is a huge part of the reason that I am so proud to be able to represent the Monaro.

Having travelled over 60,000 kilometres around the Monaro in the last calendar year I am well aware of the state of the roads in my Electorate. Of constant concern to me has been Jerangle Road.

Although Jerangle Road is a Council road and I, therefore, have no power to directly fix the problem. I have been seeking NSW Government financial support for further Council work on the road. Your correspondence has given me another item of evidence for the need for an upgrade and will strengthen my case for improvements.

Over $391,000 was invested in works on Jerangle Road in the 2011/12 financial year. This work included several externally funded projects including $181,100 in capital upgrades through the Federal Government's Roads to Recovery funding and $74,370 in works through the NSW Government's Storm Damage Restoration funding. Maintenance works funded by the Cooma-Monaro Shire Council totalled only $135,770.

It pains me that despite this investment, the road is still not up to the standard that the community expects. The Council's limited funds and resources create immense difficulties in prioritising works across the Shire, despite the best efforts of Councillors and Council Staff.

In the last financial year, the NSW Government supplied Cooma-Monaro Shire Council with $328,000 in Block Grant, $105,000 in Regional Road Repair Program and $88,000 in Supplementary Block Grant Funding for local road works. Unfortunately, regardless of how much the NSW Government invests, it is the responsibility of the Council to determine their program of works and priorities for road investment in their region.

Another option available for Council to consider is the NSW Liberals and Nationals Government's recently announced program of low interest subsidies through the Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme. We plan to invest $70 million to pay for the first four per cent of interest on significant loans that NSW councils take out specifically to pay for maintenance and infrastructure projects such as Jerangle Road. If the Council deems this to be a prudent investment, they would be able to borrow money on low interest to fund an upgrade of Jerangle Road.

I continue to work with the Minister's office and Cooma-Monaro Shire Council to secure additional funding for Jerangle Road despite tough economic circumstances. Jerangle Road remains the Government's top local road priority in the Monaro electorate.

In relation to the issue of mobile coverage I am somewhat limited as a State MP to achieve a meaningful change in this area as telecommunications is a constitutional responsibility of the Federal Government. However, I continue to raise the matter with our Federal Representative, Mike Kelly, as well as my Federal National Party colleagues.

I have been heartened by the commitment from my Federal National Party colleagues to support Federal Government investment in telecommunications infrastructure in regional areas such as the Monaro.

Since being elected, the Rudd and Gillard Governments have not invested a single dollar in improving the mobile phone network in Regional Australia. This stands in stark contrast to the Howard Government's investment of $145 million in improvements to the mobile phone network during their time in government.

The lack of mobile coverage has serious emergency implications for rural residents, as you have experienced this week. It is my view that government has a strong role to play in bridging the gap between what is commercially viable and what is a public necessity. I will utilise your recent situation as an example of the need for renewed government investment when I lobby my Federal counterparts.

If I can be of any further assistance to you, on this or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely

John Barilaro

Member for Monaro

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