Protests to greet Rudd in Hunter

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd and federal cabinet will be targeted by protest groups during their first official visit to the Hunter today, with coal exports, climate change, road funding, pension increases and the region's binge drinking culture all on the agenda.

Environmental protests began yesterday in Newcastle's Civic Park, but the NRMA and the region's pensioner groups were equally vocal in their calls yesterday for more road funding and an increase to the aged pension.

Mr Rudd and his federal cabinet will go behind closed doors at the CSIRO base at Mayfield West for a cabinet meeting from noon. Ministers have a varied afternoon schedule before a public forum and community cabinet meeting this evening at Lambton High School. Public tickets to the events were snapped up within minutes of the Herald reporting the intended visit last month.

Unprecedented security will accompany the Prime Minister and his entourage.

Australian Federal Police will accompany Mr Rudd under what is known as close personal protection, but a spokeswoman would not elaborate on details of police staffing in Newcastle.

The NRMA moved quickly yesterday to put the F3 extension to Branxton and the Newcastle city bypass back on the national agenda.

Hunter-based director Kyle Loades said Swansea Bridge and the long-awaited transport hub at Glendale should also attract federal funding.

"There is a lot of opportunity for the Federal Government to add real benefit to local residents and the local economy by getting behind these important infrastructure projects," Mr Loades said.

Newcastle Combined Pensioners Area Council was unsuccessful in booking an audience with the Prime Minister, but said they would step up their campaign for an increase in the standard aged pension.

President Robert Hopkins said thousands of Hunter pensioners were going without as their meagre financial support was swallowed by soaring grocery, fuel and living costs.

Newcastle pub curfew campaigner Tony Brown is among the small number of people selected to meet the Prime Minister.

Mr Brown will attempt to convince Mr Rudd that the alcohol industry needed tougher regulation and that the controversial lockdown of the city's pubs should be strengthened.

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