Australian gov't commits to paving crucial outback highway network

CANBERRA, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- The Australian government has promised to spend half a billion U.S. dollars upgrading crucial outback roads if it wins the general election.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday the government will invest 678 million Australian dollars (486.5 million U.S. dollars) paving all of the Outback Way if re-elected.

The Outback Way is a 2,700-km network of desert roads that connects Laverton in south central Western Australia (WA) to Winton in central Queensland via the Northern Territory (NT), passing by iconic landmarks such as Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park.

File photo: Xinhua

Despite being the main route connecting WA to central Australia and Queensland, large parts of the Outback Way are unsealed gravel and dirt roads, making trucking freight logistically difficult.

"Our investment locks in a pipeline of works that will drive investment in regional Australia and boost economies from Winton in Queensland to Laverton in Western Australia, helping regional and remote communities and those who call them home to grow and prosper," Morrison said in a statement.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who is also minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, said the project would employ hundreds of people for its duration and deliver major economic benefits for the Outback.

"These upgrades will spark new opportunities for industries along the route, including the critical earth precincts north of Alice Springs, the gold precincts around Laverton and the massive beef industry, while ensuring communities and people on the corridor have better access to supplies," Joyce said.

The announcement was made one day after Anthony Albanese, the leader of the Opposition Labor Party, promised to spend 200 million AUD (143.5 million USD) upgrading remote territory roads if elected prime minister.

"You are 11 times more likely to have a fatality on a remote community road as you do in a capital city," he said on Sunday.

"That's why this announcement of a 200-million-AUD Northern Territory strategic roads package is so important," Albanese said.

The NT is shaping as a major battleground in the general election, which is due to be held by May.