Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey is being touted as a potential new minister in the Baird Government.
Member for Oxley Melinda Pavey is being touted as a potential new minister in the Baird Government. Nationals

Baptism of fire for NSW roads minister

"BAPTISM of fire," says Melinda Pavey, describing her first day on the job as NSW roads minister after being sworn in on Monday.

"There was a terrible accident on the M1 at Brooklyn (about 51km north of Sydney), I spent all day at the transport management centre in Redfern."

Mrs Pavey likened the enormity of the traffic crisis to a bush fire thanks to its impact on commuters and the scale of recovery efforts.

"It was a really good experience for me to see the transport management centre in operation," she said.

"It's a communication hub for all transport, there are 50 people there a day - staff from police, ferries... and data comes in from rural roads."

Biggest engineering project

Twelve hours after Brooklyn's traffic conditions were restored, Mrs Pavey emerged from her "baptism of fire" to share some of her goals as Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight with The Northern Star.

The ministerial title given to her by new Premier Gladys Berejiklian is Mrs Pavey's first, after serving in politics for 15 years and winning the mid-north coast seat of Oxley for the Nationals in 2015.

Pacific Highway upgrades in NSW amount to "the biggest engineering project since the Snowy Hyrdo", said Mrs Pavey.

"We have a road infrastructure bonanza in the (north coast) region and there's more to come."

Project challenges

Mrs Pavey said she was due to "meet the team" overseeing Pacific Highway upgrades in Grafton, next week, to learn of project challenges and to see how she might "better maximise opportunities for local workforces".

"That's something I'm going to drill down into, we've just done similar work in my electorate.

"Because we have such a construction boom going on in NSW, we need to build the capacity of the workforce by engaging with local road contractors."

An initial $500 million state fund for roads maintenance still had $360 million available for council applications over the next couple of years, she said.

State and federal government funding combined with private investment created another $38 billion for NSW infrastructure and Mrs Pavey said two thirds of tax-payer contributions would be spent in regional areas.

Strategies to reduce road toll

"We're looking at strategies to reduce the road toll, it's a whole of community approach," she said.

Too many speed zones, a lack of driver experience on rural roads compared to "state of the art" highways and driver distractions were key community concerns, Mrs Pavey said.

Mrs Pavey hadn't read NSW Chief Scientist Mary O'Kane's comprehensive report on koala populations, released in December, that included impacts of roads on koala habitat.

She had seen the Ballina to Woolgoolga Pacific Highway upgrade Koala Management Plan, mentioned in the report, and said the RMS was hiring an ecologist to work on site as the project continued.

"There's always more information that can be brought in," she said, "I think we are doing the best we can to balance the concerns of the community with creating safer roads".