THE Nationals’ Rick Colless proved surprising and shocking when he was asked last week about the need for a better crossing of the Blue Mountains to benefit the Central West.
What was surprising was that he didn’t try to deflect or dance around the topic.
What was shocking was that he agreed that the Central West needs a better route into Sydney and, even more shockingly, that some sort of work should start in the next couple of years.
And when you’re talking government-land, the land of consultants, scoping studies and committees of advice, a couple of years is the equivalent of next week.
So what led Mr Colless, the Parliamentary Secretary for Western NSW, to break ranks with his colleagues and say something so honest, unvarnished and obvious?
The uncharitable explanation would be that Mr Colless knows he has no power to get this project moving, so it does him no harm to call for it to happen post-haste.
The more charitable explanation, however, might be that Mr Colless sees what the people of the west see: that this part of the state deserves the same access that the communities to the north and south of Sydney have long enjoyed.
“If you look at the Bells Line and the Great Western Highway, both of those roads are basically goat tracks compared to the roads that run north and south of Sydney,” he said.
And the sound you could hear as those comments were made public was the creak of an ocean of necks as heads nodded from Lithgow to Gilgandra.
While Sydney hurtles towards five million people, shoehorning new residents into paddocks on the outskirts of the metropolitan area that once housed market gardens and small farms, there are Central Western towns and villages crying out for the injection of new life and new economic activity that would come from being dragged closer into the NSW capital’s orbit.
Sydneysiders seeking a new life, or even just a weekend escape, don’t want to travel too far from the big city – at least initially.
Orange has been a big beneficiary of the unhappy Sydneysider effect in recent years, and a better crossing of the Blue Mountains could spread that joy even further west.
So is work likely to start on a better crossing in Mr Colless’ two-year timeframe? Unlikely.
But we’re talking about this project now. And that’s a lot better than where we were just a couple of weeks ago.