The three trenches being proposed by the Liberal National Governments on the #Coffs bypass are 30 to 50 per cent bigger than the QE2. And there will be three of them within 14 kms.

At last Thursday’s community meeting on the Coffs Harbour Bypass, there were a significant number of voices saying the previously rejected western or inland route should undergo re-examination now as an alternative to the route and design proposed by the governments.

Based on everything I have read, heard and seen, the community had a debate about the western or inland route well over a decade ago. The route or corridor we’re talking about today has been on the drawing board and well known since then. But it was always promised with tunnels. Thus, I can understand why people are now questioning the whole project. The move from tunnels to trenches is a game changer. The governments have hoodwinked people who made decisions in good faith (that is, they were expecting tunnels).

There is a vocal section of the community that wants the whole route issue reopened. I acknowledge this exists and that some arguments have merit. At this time, however, everything I see, hear and read points toward overwhelming community support for this project on the route proposed by the governments but with tunnels and not trenches.

I support this route with tunnels and not trenches. I support tunnels because I believe they will overcome the majority of concerns. Tunnels will make it lower, quieter, less of an eyesore, less polluting and less of an impact on Aboriginal heritage, flora, fauna, ecosystems, farms, employment and property prices.

I also recognise there will be people impacted by noise, dust, vibration and emissions even with tunnels during construction and operation. If elected, I will work hard to ensure impacts during both periods are minimised and mitigated. I understand around 900 properties will require noise treatment without tunnels and 120 with tunnels. Mitigation costs about $50k a house, and we’re talking a bill of $6 million v $45 million, which in itself is outrageous.

Both governments must work hard now to reach consensus with the community on the route and design or come up with alternatives. If the community overwhelmingly rejects the current route and design, we are back to square one. And if that’s the will of the community, so be it. We will be able to gauge community sentiment only after the EIS is released and a fresh round of robust and credible qualitative and quantitative community attitudes research is undertaken by RMS and released. It needs to be more than “Would you like a milkshake?”. And then we find out it is a fish milkshake (that is, they must question sentiment on the detail and not the concept).

Given my background in marketing, research and public policy, I am happy to provide input into this research brief and questionnaire. It should also be noted that decisions on the bypassing of Coffs Harbour cannot occur during election periods. NSW has an election on 23 March 2019, and a federal election will be held in early to mid-February or mid to late May. Therefore, the alternative government and its representatives should be consulted on any work undertaken by the governments.

I have significant concerns about the process that the state and federal governments and their agencies are undertaking into this process. I believe there are some things we’re not being told about. I believe some work hasn’t been done that should have been done. I believe many decisions are being made based on the wrong assumptions. I believe the RMS is applying pressure to contractors to deliver findings that suit the RMS position. This is a process that lacks integrity. Thus, in the event of the election of a Labor federal government, I will be asking for our new Federal Integrity Commission (FIC), to investigate this project. Labor’s FIC is known more widely and a “Federal ICAC”. Labor’s FIC will look not only at corruption but matters of integrity as well. I am not, repeat not, alleging corruption here. But I am alleging breaches of integrity, such as releasing a “preferred concept design” without looking at half a dozen significant impacts. And this is a federal matter as the Commonwealth is funding 85 per cent or so of the project.

We support the public consultation process but again call on the current period to be extended until the end of the year, and after all significant reports have been released. The community doesn’t have enough facts in front of it at present to comment credibly by 26 October 2018.

The governments breached trust with the trenches design and now must get on with the job of finalising a consensus design, supported by the overwhelming majority of Coffs Harbour.

The federal and state governments can fix this tomorrow. Replace the trenches with tunnels. If they do this, Labor will thank them, congratulate them and move on. Just do it.

Updated: Sunday, 14 October 2018