Monday, 15 September 2008
Auslink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008
I spoke before debate on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008 was interrupted by question time about road funding and the shameful activities and politicking of the former Premier of Western Australia in neglecting roads. I will return to that in due course. At the start of the second reading speech of the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, he stated that the bill demonstrated the government’s commitment to road safety and local road infrastructure. It is these specific points, so clearly stated in the bill, to which I want to direct my comments today. In the electorate of Cowan in Western Australia there are a number of important roads and routes that need to be improved. Two years ago I wrote in support of the Alexander Drive and Reid Highway overpass. I have been advocating for a long time support of the Gnangara Road-Ocean Reef Road upgrade, the Hepburn Avenue extension in Ballajura, the Hepburn Avenue duplication to a dual carriageway from Wanneroo Road to Alexander Drive and the Wanneroo Road upgrade between Pinjar Road and Joondalup Drive. Local people in Cowan will recall my petitions to the state and local governments regarding Hepburn Avenue, Wanneroo Road and the Gnangara Road-Ocean Reef Road situation. In 2007 the Howard government provided $7 million of the $10 million total required to extend and duplicate Ocean Reef Road to link up with Gnangara Road. The critical upgrade of this local road was a high priority for the people of Landsdale and nearby suburbs due to the truck traffic along Gnangara Road. I am pleased that my advocacy helped get that road started. It is due for completion in June 2010.
Hepburn Avenue is another local government road that exists as a single carriageway between Wanneroo Road and Alexander Drive. It ends abruptly at Alexander Drive, leaving even more traffic to move down Alexander Drive and over or onto the Reid Highway. Given the proximity of a light industrial area called Malaga, some of the traffic from Hepburn Avenue then diverts through the suburban streets of Ballajura and moves past three schools on that route. Traffic congestion and the concern for the safety of children of Ballajura resulted in my raising a petition to the state government, asking them to contribute to the extension of Hepburn Avenue towards Beechboro Road. I did that in 2007, at the time the City of Swan had been talking about building the road for six years. A number of problems had gotten in the way and nothing had been achieved. All that changed when the member for Higgins came out to Cowan about two weeks before the election was called and announced a $10 million federal contribution to the dual carriageway from near Wanneroo Road to Alexander Drive and then to help build a new road over to Beechboro Road. Two weeks later, the department, unfortunately, called the announcement an election promise rather than a government commitment, which is a source of great disappointment and regret. I note that some weeks later the now Labor government, then the opposition, also made the same commitment. I have recently found that the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Northern Australia has written to the Cities of Wanneroo and Swan to inform them that $10 million will be provided sometime between July 2009 and June 2014. I hope that it is earlier rather than later for these important roads.
I would like to comment on the safety aspect of the intersection of Giralt Road and Hepburn Avenue, which is very close to my electorate office. This is an interesting intersection which has been the scene of a number of accidents and near misses. Although controlled by traffic lights, the lights have red right-turn arrows but strangely no green arrows. At certain times of the day, and with certain lighting, it can be difficult to see oncoming traffic beyond the line of cars waiting to turn. I raised the matter of the danger of the intersection on many occasions, as did local residents with me. It was therefore encouraging that, as a result of raising the issue, $740,000 from Roads to Recovery was allocated to the project. The project is very close to completion now, and I congratulate John Paton, the Acting Chief Executive Officer, Charles Johnson, the former CEO, and the team at the City of Wanneroo for getting this work done. I look forward, as do the nearby residents in my electorate, to this intersection becoming fully functional in the very near future.
Another great concern is the Reid Highway overpass—which does not currently exist—over Alexander Drive. I first raised this issue in early 2006 in a letter regarding black spot funding. This intersection is a notorious black spot that has seen many accidents. An overpass would improve safety and traffic flows. The member for Stirling will recall only too clearly the objections put up by the former state government, the Carpenter Labor government in Western Australia, when the Howard government committed $10 million, or 50 per cent of the cost, to an overpass of Mirrabooka Avenue and the Reid Highway in 2007. Instead, they wanted the money for the Alexander Drive and Reid Highway intersection. Some members might be aware that during the 2007 campaign both sides committed to that election promise. I recall the media release by the then Minister for Planning and Infrastructure in Western Australia, Alannah MacTiernan, in which she praised federal Labor for their commitment—obviously conveniently not mentioning that both sides had made the same commitment—and said that a win by federal Labor would enable the commencement of construction for this essential overpass to begin in the first half of 2008. So it was good—the local people knew that, no matter who won, the overpass would be built. Based upon her media release, regardless of the federal election result, there was a reasonable expectation that work would commence early in 2008. This expectation was further strengthened by repeated comments by the state minister talking about how unsafe the intersection was. I recall that she even said that it was the state’s No. 1 black spot.
It is now September 2008, and sadly nothing has been done. I do not know if that is because of some problem from the federal government side of things or if it is related to the former state Labor government in Western Australia. I know that this intersection bordered the electorate and the potential electorate of two former, now disaffected, state Labor MPs. I cannot help but feel that the former Carpenter government delayed action on this critical overpass until they could reannounce it in the state election campaign and associate it with their candidates—because that is actually what happened. There was no action until the two relevant candidates for the state Labor Party were able to be there for a photo opportunity. That occurred only some six weeks ago, as I understand it, just before the election. One of the candidates was the former Premier’s chief of staff and the other one was a television journalist. One was well connected to the former Premier and the other one was a high-profile name. Their interest in the lives of those people in those electorates possibly dated from the time they saw the redistributed two-party preferred margin.
The point remains that no action was taken to fix this black spot. I expect that this lack of activity is related to the electoral cycle. We had an opportunistic former Premier who called the election to avoid bad news from the Corruption and Crime Commission of Western Australia and delayed important road safety improvements to make yet another grab for headlines and demonstrate action only where there was inaction. I therefore ask the question: did the federal government know that the safety of West Australians was being jeopardised by former Premier Alan Carpenter delaying the start of this work—and therefore the completion of these works—and was that just rank political opportunism?
This political opportunism was further demonstrated in the case of Morley Senior High School. The parents of Morley Senior High School know that the state government has rejected addressing critical infrastructure problems in that school for years, only to announce in the recent pre-election weeks an upgrade to the badly decayed toilet block.
But let us go back to roads. I want to talk about the disgrace that is the state controlled Wanneroo Road—in particular, the section from Pinjar Road North to Joondalup Drive. Again, about two years ago I submitted an unanswered petition to the state government to address the safety concerns of this state controlled road. This road is predominantly a single carriageway but is actually a major arterial road. It runs past the new suburbs of Tapping and Ashby. It runs past the lifestyle villages of Lake Joondalup and Pineview. Yet it is only now, around the period of the state election, that it looks like some earth will be turned for this long overdue project. It is only now, with the former state Labor government trying to save the state electorate of Wanneroo for themselves, that the safety concerns of local residents and me are finally being addressed—or were finally being addressed.
It seems appropriate that, in celebrating the federal government’s continuation of the Howard government’s Roads to Recovery program, we talk about infrastructure. Roads have always been infrastructure, and it is good to see that this Howard government infrastructure initiative is also continuing—although I would call it ‘remarkable’, to use the Prime Minister’s favourite word, that this government should lecture us about a lack of commitment to infrastructure when this is just another example of the Howard government’s infrastructure initiatives.
I recall that in the last sitting week the Prime Minister was trying to channel Winston Churchill. He tried, but failed, to assume the mantle of an orator. In his usual casual and undignified manner, leaning on the dispatch box and reading word for word from his speech, he left no doubt that, rather than being in the mould of Winston Churchill, he is merely Winston Smith, the bureaucrat from Orwell’s book 1984. Smith’s job in the ‘Ministry of Truth’ was to rewrite historical reports to make them consistent with the party line.
What we have before us is a continuation of a former government program—and that is great—but, in the end, it will always be about local events such as the roadworks that need to be done in electorates such as Cowan. We should never forget that this bill, this initiative, had its origins in the past; that can never be written out of the future. What we have with this bill is a continuation of a past initiative, and that is good. We have opportunities to get a lot of roads fixed and safety issues addressed. I look forward to those things which were committed to in the past being delivered not by 2014 but as soon as possible. It would be good to see the money spent on fixing these roads and sorting out these safety issues for people in my electorate and no doubt other electorates around the country. I look forward to that. It is very good to see that this initiative is being continued. I look forward to the results making a difference immediately to people on the ground.
I rise to speak on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. There are two main elements to the bill before the House. The first relates to the Roads to Recovery program and the second relates to the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program. Firstly, I would like to address the elements relating to Roads to Recovery.
The bill will deliver a record $1.75 billion in new money to improve local roads around Australia. It will do this by securing the Roads to Recovery program for another five years, to 2014. As many members would be aware, this program was due to cease on 30 June 2009, so this further commitment of $1.75 billion is important. This bill not only secures this program for a further five years but also includes a significant rise in the money allocated to it. The allocation of $1.75 billion includes an increase of $50 million a year for five years, which is $250 million in total, compared to the previous annual allocations under the Howard government.
This funding will deliver benefits to my electorate of Charlton, as well as many other electorates around the country. This financial year alone the Rudd Labor government will deliver over $1.1 million to Lake Macquarie City Council, which covers a large area of my electorate of Charlton. This will be dedicated towards urgent safety upgrades and repairs to local roads. It will help my constituents who use these roads every day to do all the things that you would expect—dropping their kids off at school, going to work or doing the shopping. A number of roads across the electorate have already been upgraded with funding under this program. These include Government Road, in Barnsley; Oakville Road, in Edgeworth; and Rose Street, in Blackalls Park, to name just a few. Future allocations of the money provided under this bill to councils will be determined later in the year by the state and territory grants commissions. I commend this initiative and congratulate the minister for ensuring that this government is investing in safer roads for local motorists, cyclists and pedestrians.
As I indicated earlier, the bill also makes a number of legislative changes to ensure the implementation of the government’s $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, which was announced in the budget by the Treasurer. This program will provide additional heavy vehicle rest areas on key interstate routes, heavy vehicle parking and decoupling areas and facilities in outer urban and regional centres, new technology in vehicle electronic systems and road capacity enhancement to allow access by high-productivity vehicles to more of the road network. The bill before us today ensures that this program can be implemented by broadening the definition of a ‘road’ to allow funds to be used for the funding of rest and parking areas, heavy vehicle bays, decoupling areas and weigh stations. That is one important expansion of the application of this program. As the minister indicated in his second reading speech, this is an important initiative as one in five road deaths involve heavy vehicles. In 2007 alone there were over 200 road deaths involving heavy vehicles, with speed and fatigue being significant contributing factors, so in that context the funding available to broaden the program for heavy vehicle safety is extremely important.
Despite those figures, the opposition appears determined to ensure that the government is unable to deliver the program. On 14 May this year, the coalition in the Senate blocked a proposed increase in the heavy vehicle road user charge. This increase provides the funding basis for the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, and without it the program will not be able to proceed. It is confusing, to say the least, to try to understand why the coalition would block this charge in order to give rise to greater safety in the heavy vehicle area, because it is extremely important for the reasons that I have outlined. The coalition’s position is even more confusing, though, considering that only in June last year the now Leader of the Nationals, Mr Truss, a former transport minister, in fact advocated a similar rise in the charge. I listened to the Leader of the Nationals addressing the House earlier today on this particular issue and, noting his complete reversal of position, I was no greater illuminated as to the reason that the coalition was blocking this charge. The rise in this charge will ensure that heavy vehicle road users get much-needed safety and road infrastructure improvements, and therefore it is critical that the coalition rethinks its position and ensures the passage of the charge through the Senate.
There are a number of other aspects of AusLink funding that have been delivered by the government in my electorate of Charlton under the Black Spot Program. In the budget this year, the government allocated $750,000 for improving the safety of Dorrington and Wangi Roads at Rathmines within my electorate. There have been a number of accidents there, including two fatalities. The funding was granted through the Commonwealth Black Spot Program, which of course comes under AusLink. Black Spot Program projects target those road locations where accidents, injuries and fatalities recur, and this program saves the community many times the cost of the relatively minor road improvements that are sometimes implemented. Since being elected in Charlton in November last year, I have been lobbying the state, the federal Rudd government and the relevant minister to secure the necessary funding to make this particular intersection safe. In fact the former member for Charlton was involved in an accident at this intersection not too long ago. The funding that has now been provided under the Black Spot Program will help repair and improve this intersection so that hopefully we can avoid future accidents, injuries or fatalities. As I indicated a moment ago, there have been a number of collisions there. There have been 34 accidents, two fatalities and 21 injury-causing crashes in the last eight years, so I am very pleased that we have been able to secure the funding at a federal and state level to improve the safety of that intersection.
But, apart from the Dorrington Road intersection and the funding announced in the budget, I was also pleased to announce last month that three further projects within my electorate will receive funding under the Black Spot Program. These include funding to the tune of $170,000 to make a number of improvements to the roundabout on the Newcastle Link Road and Cameron Park Drive intersection in Cameron Park, $100,000 to install a concrete median strip on Excelsior Parade to prevent right turns out of Jindalee Street in Toronto and $60,000 for works on Cary Street in Toronto to prevent through and right movements out of James Street and Donnelly Avenue and right turns into Donnelly Avenue in Toronto—for those familiar with the particular locality. These projects were assessed and recommended by a panel of independent road safety experts including the NRMA, the Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations of New South Wales, the Council on the Ageing and the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia. I am very pleased that Charlton is getting this much-needed funding and look forward to safer roads for my constituents.
But, at a broader regional level, it is also important to note that, in a recent report by the Property Council of New South Wales dealing with the infrastructure requirements of the Hunter region, three of the five top infrastructure projects—described as ‘catalyst’ projects because they can give rise to far greater economic activity in the region and create jobs and improve living standards—identified by the Property Council are in fact roads projects, or projects strongly related to roads projects, that may ultimately command consideration under future AusLink funding. These include the need for the F3 to Branxton freeway connection that commences in my electorate and crosses into the neighbouring electorate of Hunter, held by the current Minister for Defence. They also include the Lake Macquarie Integrated Transport Centre at Glendale in my electorate, which involves an important facility to connect residential, retail and industrial areas—an area where at least 10,000 people are currently working and many thousands are living but which is severely disadvantaged in its transport infrastructure. The third of the top five infrastructure projects includes the F3 to Raymond Terrace freeway connection, the F3 of course being the principal freeway from Sydney north.
The Rudd government is committed to road safety and local road infrastructure. That is evidenced by the bill that is currently before the House. As I have outlined, AusLink, under the Roads to Recovery and the Black Spot programs, is delivering for my electorate and for many other electorates around the country. While my focus of course is on the projects within my electorate—I suspect the rather lengthy list of speakers to follow me may also evidence a similar focus—it is important, though, to emphasise that AusLink is a national program that provides tremendous benefit to the community around the country and does much to improve road safety and reduce injury, accidents and fatalities. For that reason I am very pleased to support the bill as part of the government’s commitment to improvements in road infrastructure.
I am pleased to support the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. I see that the government are in fact picking up on a coalition policy, one that they, admittedly, did commit to prior to the last federal election and which they have copied in relation to Roads to Recovery.
In fact, prior to the last federal election, we committed, to an area that this bill will address under the government, $350 million to the Roads to Recovery program. At the time, in typical fashion, the now Prime Minister was out there—it was ‘me too’; it was always ‘me too’—saying they would also provide $350 million under the Roads to Recovery program if they were elected. So I am pleased to see that the government are honouring that commitment that it gave to the Australian people prior to the last federal election.
The Roads to Recovery program is very important. The $350 million under that program goes direct to local councils. It bypasses inefficient state Labor administrations. This money will go straight to councils whereby councils can determine where the priorities are in their area for local roads. I am sure that we have all seen the maladministration of many Labor governments. Every dollar which local councils receive under this program will be spent on roads, roads that are a priority in their own local community. Not only does that program deliver all of that money to the local council but, importantly, it upgrades roads that are a priority in those communities and creates jobs in those regional and rural communities, as well as in our councils. It is an important program.
It was originally initiated by a coalition government. I also have to give great credit to a former Deputy Prime Minister and former member for Gwydir, John Anderson. It was his initiative, knowing full well, as I did, that so many of those local shire roads out in our rural communities were beyond the capacity of local ratepayers to upgrade. They were not a federal responsibility nor a state responsibility and yet so much of our nation’s wealth originates in those rural and regional communities, whether it be from agriculture, mining—which I want to talk a little bit about in my contribution to this debate—or tourism. Those local roads are a very important part of the infrastructure of those local communities which create wealth in those local areas. I commend John Anderson, a former Deputy Prime Minister, a former Leader of the Nationals and a former member for Gwydir. He recognised the need and whilst he was in a position to do something about it brought forward Roads to Recovery. I am pleased it will continue under this government.
There are some definitional changes to the AusLink bill which will see the definition of ‘a road’ expanded. It will include some lay-off areas, not necessarily on the alignment of the road but to the side of the road which will create rest areas. Funding will come from the Commonwealth government for the establishment of these lay-off areas, rest areas, particularly for trucks. I note that there is $70 million in this bill that came from the federal budget last year to provide for this initiative. There is a very urgent need for some of this money to be allocated in many parts of Australia, but there is a particular need in my own electorate and that concerns a road just west of Mitchell. It is on the Warrego Highway, an AusLink highway, which links Brisbane right through to Darwin. It is a very important road; it is a national highway. But type 2 road trains so often use that road. If there is one way that the trucking industry and the freight industry can help bring down costs, it is by using type 2 road trains wherever roads will allow that to occur. Travelling from the west, perhaps even from as far west as Darwin, when you come to Mitchell you have to decouple your type 2 road train at that point. For the benefit of the House, a type 2 road train is a configured heavy vehicle, with three full-length trailers, carrying livestock or general freight. They could be refrigerated vans. A range of goods could be carried in this three-trailer configuration. But once they get to Mitchell, whether they come from the west or from the east going west, they have to couple up to or decouple from that three-trailer configuration.
About a month ago I had a call from a transport operator in my home town of Roma. He said, ‘Bruce, last Friday evening, out on the pad and as far west as another 80 kilometres west of Mitchell, there were some 128 trailers all in the process of decoupling, coupling or waiting to get onto the pad.’ Why were they out about 80 kilometres west of Mitchell? Because they could not come further east. If they came further east and they had to decouple, they would have to do it in the middle of the Warrego Highway and obviously that would cause a dangerous situation. Many of these trailers of course would be carrying drought-affected livestock that have come from as far west as Western Australia destined for the saleyards in Roma, another 80 kilometres further east.
So there is an urgent need for an upgrade of the lay-by area where trucks couple or decouple—128 trailers all costing money while they sit idle, with trucks as far as 80-odd kilometres west waiting to transit east so that they can get on the pad to decouple. This is a situation that I cannot support and that we have to do something about. I say to the minister: make sure that some of this money goes, as a matter of urgency, to this decoupling area just west of Mitchell, in the interests of efficiency, road safety and the welfare of livestock which often have to sit for hours while the trucks wait to get onto the pad to decouple before they travel further east.
Prior to the last federal election, the coalition government committed some $128 million to the Warrego Highway, from this point at Mitchell further east to Dalby, because we knew that upgrading our highways to see type 2 road trains travel further east, or pick up a point further east to configure their loads if they were travelling west, was going to reduce costs, which of course is good for the economy. Unfortunately, the current federal government committed only some $55 million for this highway. That will probably do the Mitchell to Roma section of the road, but it is the road from Roma right through to Dalby that is in urgent need of money being spent on it. That is why I call on the minister not just to put $55 million into this section of a very important national highway but to commit to the money, some $128 million, we committed to when we were in government.
The road between Roma and Mitchell transits the heart of the Surat Basin coal seam, one of the emerging powerhouses of Queensland. The number of trucks on that road daily is unbelievable and it has ramped up in the last 18 months, driven not only by exploration but by the higher price of oil. I have seen an exponential increase in the road traffic associated with the oil and gas and coal industries as this development has started to ramp up. For instance, just north of my home town, one oil company is planning to drill over 2,000 holes in search of coal seam methane gas. Further north, up towards Emerald, a similar number of holes are going to be drilled to prove up coal seam methane gas reserves. This requires trucks, drilling rigs, pipes and specialised equipment and it is putting enormous pressure on this section of the Warrego Highway. Of course, the development of the coalmine at Wandoan will put similar pressure on this road.
Where some of the coal seam methane gas has already been proven and is being sold into the market, at Braemar, just west of Dalby, there are coal seam methane gas fired power stations—very good clean energy sources; much cleaner than coal fired power stations—being developed. There is another one just near Miles. But, once again, the construction of these coal seam methane gas electricity-generating facilities requires infrastructure to be brought in. It is heavy equipment and has to share the road with tourists, commuters and local traffic, which has put enormous pressure on this road. That is why it is urgent that the commitment of $128 million to this section of the road that we, as the then federal government, made be matched by this federal government.
Tragically, in the last few years there have been some very serious and fatal accidents on this section of the road. That brings into our rural communities tragedy that could have been, I would suggest, avoided had this road been upgraded. This capital injection is long overdue and I would say to the minister: please, have a look at this section of the highway; it cannot wait until 2014 for another round of AusLink. The government should match the commitment of $128 million that the former coalition government was planning for and commit to injecting it into those roadworks as soon as possible.
Under a coalition government this construction would already have started; it would have started on 1 July. The $55 million that the government has committed to will not start until 1 July next year. I say that the road cannot wait that long and the communities cannot wait that long. And, of course, if we are fair dinkum about ensuring the future of our industries—whether it be the export beef industry or the export grain industry or whether it be the establishment of new coal seam methane gas fired electricity generation in the central Darling Downs area—this region desperately needs the money.
I will also touch on the second range crossing at Toowoomba, which connects Brisbane to the Warrego and Gore highways. The Gore Highway goes down through Goondiwindi into the Newell Highway and feeds through the central western regions of New South Wales, another part of the food bowl of Australia. The traffic that comes up from Brisbane splits at Toowoomba. It goes either to the Gore Highway or along the Warrego Highway. Daily in Toowoomba there are thousands upon thousands of trucks, transiting either to or from the Port of Brisbane, going through some 16 sets of lights. It is just not sustainable. We need federal funding to start the process of building a second range crossing. It is a very big project. In the last federal election campaign we committed funds—not matched by the other side of the House—and, if we had been successful, that money would now be deployed on work to build that second range crossing.
I just want to touch on the other imperative in relation to road funding and the importance of spending money in our regions. In Western Australia over the last 10 days we have heard Brendon Grylls, the leader of the Nationals over there, talk very strongly about the need for resources and funding which come out of the royalties from our regions to go back into the regions. I suggest that that is a very good policy which Anna Bligh, the Premier of Queensland, should follow. I am certainly urging my colleagues in Queensland to adopt a similar process because the rural and remote regions of Australia are where the great wealth of our nation is being generated. However, as we have seen in Western Australia, royalties are stripping the wealth out of the regions, putting it into the capital cities and not providing anything back in the regions for social infrastructure, roads, schools and amenities, which would take the pressure off local governments that have to provide the roads and infrastructure. Of course, local governments have to go to their local ratepayers. In Queensland, with the enormous wealth and the potential for jobs coming out of the Surat coal basin—as well as taxation to come to Canberra—we have to see this money deployed out there now and not at some time in the future. We cannot wait for that, because all Australians are benefiting from this wealth; it is not just a few. Because of our balance of payments and because of the exports—whether it is rural commodities or mineral wealth—all Australians are benefiting from this wealth.
The importance of planning cannot be understated. That is why, as I said earlier, the money that we had planned to put into the Warrego Highway was all about planning for the future. I was out in the west of my electorate during the winter break. It was pretty chilly out there, too, I have to say. I went out onto the Adventure Way, west of Thargomindah in the Bulloo shire—right out to the South Australian border, in fact. Planning for the future and putting money into infrastructure means a lot to those communities. When we were in government, we committed some $10 million under the AusLink Strategic Regional Program. I saw what the local shire was doing with that money. They have now almost completed the sealing of the road from the Cooper Basin oil and gas fields right through to Innamincka. Once the South Australian government matches it on the other side of the border—and I am pleased to see my colleague here in the House, who I am sure will be able to talk about this as well—the Adventure Way, from Adelaide to Brisbane, will be a fully sealed road. That will be wonderful for tourism and, importantly, for the resource sector out there—the Cooper Basin oil and gas fields, and hot rocks power generation capacity. There will be enormous wealth. If there is one thing we should be doing it is investing in infrastructure now for the benefit of future generations. It is roads like that which will make a difference. Once again, it was the coalition government that planned for the future and put money into that road.
The other day, I was delighted to be able to drive on the sealed road west of Thargomindah almost through to Innamincka. I was able to do that because of the coalition government’s planning and funding of roads under the AusLink Strategic Regional Program. I mention this road because it was probably some 14 years ago that I identified the need for a bridge over Cooper Creek. There was not a road going to it or away from it, but strategically it was important. The difficulty was always going to be funding a road to an area where quite a substantial bridge over Cooper Creek was needed. Since then, of course, the road has been built to the bridge and away from the bridge. We have seen the economic activity out there benefit from the decision, planning and funding for the bridge over Cooper Creek. The other day the oil and gas industry up there had new pipelines being built, allowing greater exploration of the gas and oil capacity of that region. Once again, it was about planning for the future and putting infrastructure in some of the most remote parts of Australia. But it is in those remote parts where the great wealth of this nation is generated.
I just mention to the House that Bulloo Shire Council have done a magnificent job. I commend the work of the councillors and council workers. They do a magnificent job under fairly arduous and difficult circumstances, where they camp out for two weeks on a road gang to build roads. They are building roads in some of the great wealth-generating regions of our nation from which all Australians can benefit.
I notice that time is going to beat me, and there is a lot more I would have liked to have talked about. I support the bill, but I call on the minister to not be mean spirited and to use some of the surplus. Put money into the second range crossing now to complete what we would have done had we been re-elected. Put money into the Warrego Highway and do it now. Do not wait until next year to start this process. This money is going to the resource-rich area of Australia. All Australians are going to benefit from it and I call on the minister to act. (Time expired)
I speak in support of the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. AusLink will remain an integrated part of the Rudd Labor government’s comprehensive plan to deliver key infrastructure projects to all Australians. AusLink is the single integrated national network of land transport funded by state, territory, and federal governments. This is based on a series of transport corridors, including connecting transportation hubs such as airports and railways to urban centres. AusLink includes national projects and the Roads to Recovery program, which maintains and upgrades roads all around Australia.
Sustaining our economic prosperity requires Australia to invest in essential infrastructure which we need to meet the challenges of the future. After 11½ years of the Howard government, our infrastructure backlog in water, energy and land transport alone has been estimated at $25 billion by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. In 2006, ABN AMRO estimated that $330 billion could usefully be spent on infrastructure in Australia over the next 10 years.
The Rudd government is taking the necessary steps to ensure that the Commonwealth fulfils its role in this area. The government has established Infrastructure Australia and the position of infrastructure coordinator to develop a strategic blueprint for our nation’s infrastructure needs. Under the stewardship of its chair, Sir Rod Eddington, the body is currently seeking public submissions to deliver the government’s nation-building agenda. This body will take a nationally coordinated approach to identify and coordinate priority infrastructure projects which are of high national importance.
After more than 11 years the Howard government failed to deliver not only the required infrastructure to maintain economic growth but the infrastructure to secure continuous economic and productivity growth for the future of all Australians. This is the same coalition government which neglected to tackle climate change and which is still bickering in the back rooms about its existence. It is the same coalition which neglected our schools, our TAFEs and our universities for 12 years. Indeed, we now have an opposition spokesman for education who has barely asked any question on education since his elevation to the front bench this year.
This is the same coalition government which neglected our hospitals and failed to deal with the long list of challenges in the health system. It is the same coalition government which ignored 20 warnings from the Reserve Bank on interest rates. It is the same coalition government which has an opposition leader who believes that he has the right to usurp the independence of the Reserve Bank and then just as quickly changes his mind on the issue when he fronts the next doorstop. That, in its essence, is the problem with the coalition: they are more of the same; they do not understand the neglect that they have left behind. They have wasted the resources boom and the economic reforms of the Hawke and Keating years.
Well might the member for Maranoa, the previous speaker, speak of the wealth generated by resources in the regions. The Howard government never understood that there was a need to build on that resources wealth generated in the regions, a need to build by creating essential infrastructure for the future. On this side of the House, we say more of the same is never good enough. In the last two or three days we have been offered a number of extracts from the memoirs of the former Treasurer, the member for Higgins. The member for Higgins, it seems, is attempting to rewrite the history of the former government, to pretend that the huge areas of inactivity never happened, to pretend, indeed, that the Howard government years were years of near perfect administration, leaving—so the memoirs seem to be asserting—a wonderful legacy. We read, for example, this offering by the member for Higgins—about as close as an admission to failure as it seems we are going to receive:
There are some areas in which the Coalition could have done better. It could have moved earlier to remedy indigenous disadvantage. It could have solved the constitutional issues concerning a republic. It should have rebuffed the challenge from One Nation sooner.
And we can all say to that—
The member for Parkes will resume his seat. He would know, if he had been listening to this debate, that it has been far ranging. If he had been in for a couple of previous speakers from his side, he would understand that I am giving the same latitude that I have given to everybody.
Indeed, as I am reminded, especially on which way those opposite voted in relation to the pension rise, and especially on which way those who were in the former cabinet voted on the rise in the pension. ‘Some legacy’ is all one really need say. That is all the member for Higgins can think of that was wrong about the former government—his areas in which ‘the coalition could have done better’. One can, of course, say, ‘Hear, hear!’ to moving earlier to remedy Indigenous disadvantage; one can say, ‘Hear, hear!’ to having a go at solving constitutional issues; and, absolutely, one can say, ‘Hear, hear!’ that there should have been a rebuff to the challenges of One Nation. But there is, in fact, a much longer list than this suggestion by the member for Higgins that this was all that was wrong with the former coalition government. Chief on that list is the failure to attend to the infrastructure needs of this country.
One could look at the conduct of the former Treasurer in running stimulatory budgets while the economy was booming from resource exports. One could look at the way in which the former Treasurer managed the economy, guaranteeing the need for 10 interest rate rises in a row and running the economy in such a way that compelled the Reserve Bank to seek to slow the economy. One could look at the legacy of the former Treasurer, which was inflation at a 16-year high. One could look at a whole range of other things that the former Treasurer should be regretting, like: halving the capital gains tax rate and thus massively contributing to housing price inflation; the former Treasurer’s failure to build on the superannuation reforms of the Hawke and Keating governments; and—most importantly and relevantly to the debate on this bill—the failure to invest in infrastructure.
This bill demonstrates that the Rudd government is not going to fail to invest in infrastructure, that the Rudd government is going to attend to the infrastructure needs of this country. This bill demonstrates that the Rudd government is committed to continuous road safety improvement and to the delivery of local road infrastructure. The heavy vehicle safety and productivity package, which is relevant to this bill, is part of the heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws which were adopted unanimously by the Australian Transport Council in February 2007 and which are due for implementation on 29 September 2008. In a vast country like Australia, where large amounts of goods are transported in large road trains, this bill will amend the definition of ‘road’ to put beyond any doubt that $70 million of funding can be delivered to fund technologies which will make our highways safer for drivers and other commuters. These technologies include electronic monitoring systems on drivers’ work hours and vehicle speeds. Decoupling facilities, rest stops and heavy vehicle parking bays will also be provided in this package. The Australian Trucking Association has welcomed this announcement and has since provided 18 priority areas for funding.
This government is committed to ensuring that there are quality roads for all users to drive on. It is appropriate and equitable that the heavy vehicle industry matches the government’s significant investments in roads. Thus, this bill seeks to reintroduce the heavy vehicle charges to pay back the money required to maintain the roads which these vehicles use. When I use the word ‘reintroduce’, I refer of course to the coalition’s deliberate obstruction of this legislation in the Senate in May 2008. The same Senate which gave us Work Choices was not willing to leave Canberra honourably and allow the democratically elected government of Australia to deliver its election promises. This is all the more inexplicable given that this very same charge was also proposed by the coalition government in June 2007. This is another example that the coalition are not committed to delivering what is best for the nation’s interest. The coalition and particularly the National Party are so preoccupied with their internal struggles that they neglect the safety of Australian truckies and road safety for short-term political gain.
Indeed, the National Party have really been quite an embarrassment to their constituency. It is no wonder that the Nationals have had continuous drops in their primary vote and the number of members which they send to Canberra. With a national primary vote of just 5.49 per cent in 2007, from a high of 8.2 per cent in 1996, the National Party are very un-national these days. The troubles that the National Party are having in Queensland are really just a small indication of their problems. If the Nationals had truly delivered for their constituents, then maybe they would have held on to Hume, Capricornia, New England, Kennedy, Dawson, Page, Farrer, Richmond and, lately, Lyne. Maybe if the National Party would concentrate on delivering genuine—
I will come back to the bill. As I said, if the National Party would concentrate on delivering genuine results to people living in their electorates instead of simply providing the mates-rates ‘Regional Rorts’ program then perhaps the National Party would have more than just a—
I am indebted to you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Nationals have had the gall to block the very legislation in this area that their own leader put up last year. Truckies all around Australia missed an opportunity to gain access to better roads and safer technology thanks to the political posturing by the coalition in May. If the Nationals paid attention to the needs of Australian truckies and the needs of the people, perhaps they would have more than just eight MPs in this chamber.
As our economy heads into more difficult times, it is important for all elected representatives to look to the national interest. And yet all we have seen from the coalition is the blocking of measures like this one in the Senate. It appears that the coalition have forgotten that it was their hubris when they had control of the Senate that led to the terrible Work Choices laws being introduced. It seems that they still have not learnt their lesson. We have had an indication that, in addition to the blocking that took place in May of the measures in this bill, we still have the blocking of reforms with regard to alcopops, the Medicare levy surcharge, the Commonwealth seniors health card, the excise on condensate and now the luxury car levy. It seems the coalition simply do not understand that these measures will provide the revenue to bring quality programs to Australians, programs like the Roads to Recovery program.
The second part of this bill is to extend the Roads to Recovery program. It is a program that has delivered $1.2 billion to be distributed among local councils and $30 million to unincorporated areas to make urgent repairs and upgrades to roads. In my electorate of Isaacs, the program has delivered approximately $2 million each to the Frankston, Greater Dandenong and Kingston councils from 2005-06 through to 2008-09. It is money which is designed to supplement and not substitute council road funding, and it has been used for the upgrade of a range of local roads, including the widening of Abbotts Road in Dandenong South, with a $397,000 contribution from the Commonwealth; the resurfacing of Bloomfield Road in Noble Park, just around the corner from my electorate office, at $86,000; the repaving and sealing of Bear Street in Mordialloc, along with the replacement of kerbs, with a Commonwealth contribution of $688,401; the repaving and sealing of Scotch Parade in Chelsea, along with the replacement of kerbs outside the Beazley Reserve, at a cost of $156,521; and the reconstruction, rehabilitation and widening of Foam Street in Parkdale, with a Commonwealth contribution of $185,000. There are a number of local road projects in Isaacs in addition to these that I hope will get funding from this extra funding package in the near future.
Roads are very important for the people in my electorate of Isaacs, as they are for people throughout Australia—but, I suspect, particularly those in the outer suburbs. Good roads are required for the people and businesses in my electorate to operate on a daily basis. Despite the focus that one sees on public transport in some commentary, we do need to ensure that there are quality roads to serve the outer suburbs of our major metropolitan centres. Public transport at this stage simply does not extend far enough. Shaun Carney wrote a perceptive piece in the Age on 13 August about public transport, particularly in relation to the Carrum Downs area of my electorate. He said:
I suggested that people in the inner suburbs could benefit by taking the nearest train to the end of the line to see how hard it is for people in the outer suburbs to do without their cars. This was a mistake because it implied that Melbourne’s outer suburban belt was accessible by rail. In fact, it extends way beyond the metropolitan rail system.
Mr Carney was spot on. We need to keep clearly in mind that, right now, people in the outer suburbs depend on their cars and that calling only for spending on public transport ignores the very real current needs of people in the outer suburbs.
In the long term, better public transport may be the answer but, right now, we need to attend to much needed investment in local roads. The Rudd Labor government understands that local councils are well placed to prioritise requirements for local roads. Given that more than 75 per cent of roads are overseen by local governments, this extension of funding shows the government’s commitment to a national road improvement plan. This bill seeks to extend the Roads to Recovery project for five more years. The funding will also be increased to $350 million per year, totalling $1.75 billion of direct funding to local councils to fix local transport issues. The Australian Local Government Association has warmly welcomed this announcement and stated that the government ‘has recognised the economic and social benefits of investment to meet the transport expectations of local communities’. This bill builds on the comprehensive plans that the Rudd Labor government has for infrastructure and transport. I urge those opposite and their party in the Senate to put aside their partisan opportunism and support it. I commend this bill to the House.
I rise tonight to support the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, from determination from the Deputy Speaker before you, this is a wide-ranging debate, and I will take the opportunity to add some comments not only on this government’s attitude to infrastructure but on the attitude of the minister himself. For the benefit of the member for Isaacs, I have here a heavy vehicle drivers licence. I come to this place with experience in driving a heavy vehicle. I also have an electorate in which it takes eight hours to drive from one end to the other—it includes the Newell Highway—and in which probably 30 per cent of the roads are impassable after as little as 10 millimetres of rain. So I am not in here speaking theory or political chat; I am here to represent the people of my electorate.
I would like you to cast your mind back, Mr Deputy Speaker, to last Thursday when the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government was on his feet and just before he was expelled from this place by the Speaker. Just before question time on that day, I had a school in the gallery—Mallawa Primary School—a great little school west of Moree in my electorate on the black soil plains. I was explaining to them, at about five to two, that they were here at an ideal time in the day because they would see question time. I was about to explain what went on when the head teacher said: ‘No, Mr Coulton, we do not want them to stay here for question time. I’ve been teaching my students about manners and respect, and I don’t want them to see question time.’ After the debacle that was question time at last Thursday’s sitting, that teacher showed great judgement by not allowing her students to see that.
At that time, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government had a series of documents which were requests for funding from members of this House. It is my understanding that, as a member of this House, I take requests from my constituents, whether they be individuals, shires, mayors or general managers, and pass them on to the minister for due consideration. On that Thursday he made a mockery of that whole situation. I say to my colleagues on this side of the House how disgusted I am that the people of Australia have got to the stage where they do not want school students to come into this place. Those opposite say, ‘Oh yes, but it’s a bit of theatre; don’t take any notice. It’s for the benefit of the people up there in the press gallery. It’s about getting a grab on the news.’ What about the people in this gallery? What about the students who sit up there in the soundproof booths, who come here to look at our place of government? I have to say that I am a little disgusted at the behaviour that is going on here. I am not casting aspersions on the Speaker of this House, the Hon. Harry Jenkins, or any of the Deputy Speakers; I think they are doing a fantastic job. And I am addressing my comments not only to the other side of the House but to this place in general. We will need to tidy up our act if we are going to win back the confidence of the people of this country.
Infrastructure is a sacred cow for the people of my electorate. The portfolio of the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government covers my electorate immensely. The government wiped out the Regional Partnerships program on the pretext that it was rorting. There have been umpteen dozen inquiries into that partnership, and there have been no cases of any undue activity. It was an excuse to gut spending for regional Australia. I have heard the member for Blair speak here before about the great largesse that has come to his electorate on the pretext of funding election promises of $10 million for the main street of Ipswich. I have no problem with that, but the hypocrisy of the minister for infrastructure in making a mockery in question time of the people of this House, the elected representatives, for a ploy for television I find quite repulsive.
I cannot speak for everyone else in this House but I can speak for myself, and I can tell you why I oppose that bill for the heavy vehicles charges determination: it was bad policy and it was bad for the people of my electorate. I will explain this because the member for Isaacs might not be familiar with terminology in the trucking industry. In a B-double you have an A trailer and a B-trailer. They are the safest form of transport on the road. They allow large volumes of freight to be moved economically, and the development of the B-double has made smaller trucking firms viable.
Right across my electorate we now have transport operators disconnecting their A-trailers because of the cost. They are pulling 22 or 23 tonnes instead of 42 tonnes, so we have more movement and more vehicles on the road, and those businesses are going under. Heavy vehicle charges are fine for the big trucking companies—they are quite happy with them because they have contracts and can pass them on—but consumers will pay more. Operators in my electorate, whether they are farmers or small transport operators, cannot pass the charges on to anyone. I have transport companies in my electorate going broke hand over fist because of some theory in here about road safety. I think we need to have a close look at road safety and not just put more small trucks on the road because operators cannot afford to run the more efficient B doubles.
This bill proposes technical amendments to the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005 to achieve three objectives, one of which is to extend the Roads to Recovery program from 1 July 2009 to 30 June 2014. It is this aspect of the bill which I believe will have the biggest impact for the majority of the constituents of my electorate. This legislation will see the Roads to Recovery program receive $350 million a year for the next year five years, and I commend the government for matching the coalition’s election promise. It is surprising to see the government finally making a decision that will have a positive impact on rural and regional electorates. Their previous actions have seen them axe millions of dollars from regional programs. That has certainly been cause for concern, and it is a relief that finally a worthwhile program has not been put on the chopping block just for the sake of playing politics.
Roads to Recovery was, of course, an initiative of the previous coalition government. My predecessor, John Anderson, was instrumental in the implementation of this program, and it is to his credit that Roads to Recovery has been so immensely popular and successful. In my electorate of Parkes, every local mayor and general manager that I have spoken to about Roads to Recovery has told me how heavily they rely on the program to assist them in upgrading and maintaining local roads.
As a former Mayor of Gwydir Shire Council, I know from firsthand experience how important this program is for local councils. I believe that much of its success lies in the fact that it effectively cuts out the middleman of the state governments and provides direct and discretional funding. Councils are able to decide which roads need work and can set their own agenda. As a mayor, I found this to be the most effective aspect of the program. The best people to judge which roads need upgrading in a community are the locals that drive on them every day. This program is structured so that there is no place for city based bureaucrats to make the decisions about roads that they have no extensive knowledge of. I think this has been a major element of the program’s popularity, particularly in rural areas.
The Roads to Recovery program has vastly improved the condition of many local roads in my electorate and continues to do so. All of the councils in my electorate, which include the Dubbo, Moree Plains, Narrabri, Mid Western Regional, Walgett, Coonamble, Gwydir, Wellington, Gilgandra, Warrumbungle and Gunnedah shire councils, have literally received millions of dollars over the years to improve local roads, and it is pleasing to know that this will continue.
Some specific projects which have been funded through Roads to Recovery in my electorate include the replacement of the Gowan Creek Bridge near Ballimore, improvements to Talbragar Street in Dubbo and Tooraweenah Road, the sealing of Maryvale Road in Wellington and also the upgrade to the Baradine Gwabegar Road. Gilgandra Shire were able to improve the Armatree to Warren Road, Moree Plains Shire made improvements to Main Road 507 between Mungindi and Boomi, Walgett Shire were able to re-sheet the Collarenebri to Mungindi Road and my own council, Gwydir Shire Council, were able to make vast improvements to the roads around Croppa Creek, Gravesend and Bingara.
Despite these great projects being completed, there is always more work that needs to be done. For many reasons it is so important that local roads are kept in the best possible condition. Firstly, it is necessary to remember that almost every product that we export, and a lot of the products that end up on our supermarket shelves, begins its life on a country road. It is necessary for local country roads to be maintained so that our farmers and truck drivers can ensure their product ends up at its final destination in the best possible condition. Many farmers are at risk of breaching contractual obligations regarding the delivery of produce because of the poor condition of their roads.
Secondly, regional roads often have high numbers of tourists travelling on them. In my electorate, we have a number of highly popular tourist attractions, including the wine regions of Mudgee, the Warrumbungle Mountains near Coonabarabran and the artesian spas in the Moree district. We have a large number of visitors to these areas each year, and often they are grey nomads towing a caravan. It is important that we keep our roads in good condition so that we can continue to attract the tourism dollars.
The third reason for keeping country roads maintained is, to me, the most important, and that is safety. Too many accidents occur on country roads and the condition of the roads is often a factor in accidents in my electorate. Many of the roads in my electorate are gravel and keeping these roads either regularly graded or re-sheeted, or eventually being able to seal them, is a huge priority and can literally mean the difference between life and death. Indeed, many of the roads in the western area of my electorate have reverted to black soil. This is the reality of living in rural Australia in the 21st century. Roads to Recovery is simply an excellent program and it fills some of the gaps that are left by the state Labor government when it comes to road funding. I am delighted that this bill will see it continue.
I have touched on this before, but another important aspect of this bill amends the definition of ‘road’ contained in the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005 so as to put beyond doubt that projects for the development of off-road facilities used by trucks may be funded under the AusLink program. This will mean that future funding under AusLink may be applied to roadside rest stops, parking bays and decoupling facilities. I support this amending legislation as I know that this will make a major difference to many of the major roads in my electorate. I have several major roads going through my electorate, including the Newell Highway, which is one of Australia’s major freight corridors, linking Melbourne to Brisbane.
I have had discussions with many truck drivers in my electorate, including Mr Rod Hannifey of Dubbo, about the conditions of the facilities made available for truck drivers. Incidentally, Mr Hannifey also spent time with the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Nelson, recently, when Dr Nelson and Rod spent 12 hours driving in a truck together from Melbourne to Dubbo. One of the main issues that Rod raised with me, and I know he raised it with the Leader of the Opposition as well, was not only the condition of the highways but the poor design and lack of rest stops available for our truck drivers. Truck drivers have to comply with an enormous number of regulations in order to carry out their day-to-day job, and part of those regulations includes taking regular breaks to ensure not only their safety but the safety of other drivers on our roads. It is very difficult for drivers when there are not adequate roadside stops, and this bill will mean that there will be a greater pool of money available to improve these facilities for truck drivers.
Our nation’s truck drivers provide a vital service to all members of the community as they deliver all of the goods that we use every day. I am proud to support our nation’s truck drivers by supporting this bill, and I know that by doing so I am helping to improve their working conditions and to recognise their worth in our community. I am also putting their safety above politics, but unfortunately those opposite are not giving Australian truck drivers the same consideration.
In the second reading of this bill, the minister outlined the government’s policy on the heavy vehicle safety and productivity package, stating that the safety package is contingent on the passage of the enabling legislation for the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination. The opposition has already rejected the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination in the Senate this year because it would have seen an increase in heavy vehicle registration fees. We can see that our truck drivers are already doing it tough and it is a real shame that the government are trying to blackmail the opposition into increasing the costs for trucking industry. Along with my coalition colleagues, I remain firm on this issue.
Consumers, particularly those in regional areas like my electorate of Parkes, are already facing increased costs. To slap the trucking industry with yet another charge will only increase the cost for the transport of goods. If there was an increase in heavy vehicle fees, the major players in the industry would have no choice but to pass the costs on to the consumer, increasing the prices at our supermarkets and grocery stores. Smaller operators like the many farmers in my electorate who only drive their trucks to the silo during harvest time have not got anyone to pass the costs on to. They would be forced to bear the direct brunt of the costs themselves and this would be yet another financial blow that our farmers do not need.
The government should be putting the safety and financial security of the trucking industry before politics. They should not try to blackmail the opposition into making things tougher for our truck drivers. I join with my coalition colleagues, particularly the Leader of the Nationals, in asking the government to simply adopt the heavy vehicle safety and productivity package without placing conditions on it. The lives of truck drivers and all other drivers on our roads should not be risked in order to play petty politics.
I speak in support of the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. In a seat like mine in rural and regional Queensland—which takes in two-thirds of the city of Ipswich, all the Lockyer Valley and the old Boonah Shire and the now Scenic Rim region—this particular legislation will make an appreciable difference not just to the administration of the council but also to the lives of truck drivers and the citizens in those areas.
The bill has two purposes: to allow funding of heavy vehicle facilities—for example, off-road rest stops—and to extend for a further five years the Roads to Recovery program, funded under the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005. The current funding period expires on 30 June 2009. AusLink is a great thing. The national transport program has a number of elements, including black spot projects, Roads to Recovery, national projects, strategic regional projects and research and technology projects. The bill amends the definition of a road to include heavy vehicle facilities, to ensure that rest stops, parking bays, decoupling facilities and electronic monitoring facilities are included. This will ensure that the federal government will fund the same under a $70 million heavy vehicle safety productivity package.
I do not intend to go through the details of that aspect, but I would urge the coalition to change their minds, because the bill which they have opposed and the determination in the Senate will ensure that the heavy vehicle sector pays its fair and equitable share of road costs incurred by government. It is really a disgrace the coalition have opposed this bill. The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has consulted with stakeholders, including the Australian Trucking Association, and they support our position. I would urge the coalition to change their perspective in relation to the heavy vehicle issue and to support our position.
I want to speak principally on the Roads to Recovery program, the black spot funding and of course the road assistance given to the councils in my particular area. This bill extends the Roads to Recovery program until 30 June 2014. Local government, particularly in my area, is responsible for more than 75 per cent of all the roads. This bill will increase the funding under this program from $300 million to $350 million per annum. The proposed clause 87 in the bill requires the minister to publish lists relating to AusLink Roads to Recovery. There is an additional requirement in the bill under clause 87 to allow an amount of money to be allocated for eligible projects in a state or a part thereof where the entity to receive funds has not yet been determined. This will ensure the funds can be preserved even where there is no local council or entity to finance the infrastructure—for example, bridges and access roads in remote areas. Fortunately in my electorate of Blair that is not the case because I have, as I say, two-thirds of the city of Ipswich, all the Lockyer Valley—and the Lockyer Valley Regional Council has newly been amalgamated—and about a third to a quarter of the Scenic Rim Regional Council.
It has been terrific to see the amount of money that has been poured into my electorate. I noticed that the member for Parkes waxed lyrical about the fact that $10 million will be put into the Ipswich CBD in my electorate. The coalition gave the city of Ipswich nothing in 11½ years. The Rudd Labor government is pouring huge amounts of resources into what has been described accurately as the fastest-growing area in South-East Queensland—the city of Ipswich. We are pleased that the Rudd Labor government is injecting huge amounts of money into Ipswich, after many years of inertia, ignorance, indolence and inactivity by the coalition.
In terms of the Roads to Recovery funding allocations for Queensland councils, the Ipswich City Council will receive $1,211,534 and the Lockyer Valley Regional Council will receive $1,300,247. In addition to that, under the chairpersonship of Bernie Ripoll, the member for Oxley, the Queensland black spots consultative panel has been looking at the black spots on the local roads in Queensland. The Rudd Labor government have announced they will deliver $9.5 million to help fix 64 dangerous black spots on local roads in Queensland. This includes improving roundabouts, improving dangerous intersections, installing speed warnings and traffic signals, and upgrading pedestrian crossings.
In 2009-10, the Rudd government will deliver on its election commitment to increase black spot funding by 33 per cent up to a record $60 million nationally. As the member for Oxley has said recently, for every $1 invested in fixing black spots, around $14 is returned to the community through a reduction in the number and cost of crashes. In my electorate of Blair, the Rudd Labor government will invest $295,000 to fix three dangerous black spots on local roads. These include $205,000 to install traffic signals at the intersection of Whitehill Road and Cascade Street, a notorious intersection in the suburb of Raceview adjacent to my home in Flinders View; $70,000 to upgrade traffic signals at the Jacaranda Street, Norman Street and Chermside Road intersections in East Ipswich, where I actually grew up; and $20,000 to install curve warning signs and upgrade line markings along the Boonah-Fassifern road in Boonah. If you have ever driven on that road, Mr Deputy Speaker, you will know how important that will be.
In addition to that, the councils in my area will receive a record increase in financial assistance through both general purpose grants and road grants. For example, Ipswich City Council will receive $3,551,525 in general purpose grants and $2,005,732 in roads grants, being a total of $5,557,257 in assistance. That is an increase of 4.29 per cent on the previous year. The Lockyer Valley Regional Council will receive in general purpose grants $1,778,881 and in roads grants $988,492, being a total of $2,767,373—an increase of 4.81 per cent. The biggest winner is the Scenic Rim Regional Council, which will receive in general purpose grants $1,816,618 and in roads grants $1,210,302, being a total of $3,026,920—an increase of 7.83 per cent.
Last Saturday night I had the pleasure of being at the Boonah Arts Festival. I am a major sponsor of the Boonah Arts Festival. There are 600 people in the Boonah Arts Collective and it is a small community. I was speaking to the Mayor of the Scenic Rim, John Brent, a well-known National Party figure who thanked me very much for the extra funding that the Scenic Rim received from the Rudd Labor government. I am always pleased to receive plaudits and applause from those on the opposite side of the political divide.
The most important road funding project in my electorate would have to be the Ipswich Motorway. Recently, I met with officials from the Queensland Department of Main Roads who described the Ipswich Motorway as the No. 1 road-funding priority in South-East Queensland. It is interesting, because the previous government, in their ‘2020 Plan for Australia’s Transport Future’ on page 32, actually excluded part of the motorway under their great ‘Go for Growth’ slogan. They actually excluded part of the motorway forever from road funding. We saw 11½ years of denial on the Ipswich Motorway. The Ipswich Motorway is often described by those who live in Ipswich and rural areas outside it as the Ipswich car park because people get stuck in the traffic and cannot move. It is a four-lane national highway and it has been a national highway since 1974. Instead of doing it up like the M1 between Brisbane and the Gold Coast was done up, the Howard coalition government fudged it and flopped around for ages on the Ipswich Motorway. They should have done it, as they were urged to do by all the councils in the local area, by the Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, by the state coalition opposition—I should call them the LNP now—and by the Queensland Labor government. It could have easily been done in four sections and we could be driving along the fully upgraded Ipswich Motorway right now.
It has taken the Rudd Labor government to fix the Ipswich Motorway, and that is what we are doing. The Rudd Labor government is investing $2.2 billion to upgrade the busiest sections of the Ipswich Motorway: $255 million is being put towards the Ipswich Motorway-Logan Motorway interchange, which will be completed by 2009; $700 million is going towards the Wacol to Darra section, which will be completed by 2010; a further $100 million has been set aside for the Wacol to Darra section stage 2; and in excess of $1 billion has been pledged to upgrade the most critical section, the Dinmore to Goodna section, which we committed to during the election campaign.
Yesterday I, along with the member for Oxley, the state members in the local area and the Mayor of Ipswich, Paul Pisasale, had the pleasure to be present when we pressed the go button for the Ipswich Motorway upgrade. The Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, was there with the Queensland Minister for Main Roads and Local Government, Warren Pitt, at a very important announcement which ended years of uncertainty in respect of the Dinmore to Goodna section of the Ipswich Motorway. The minister and the Premier announced the project team which will undertake this major upgrade which will benefit my electorate so marvellously in the future. The project team is known as the Origin Alliance and it includes Abigroup Ltd, Fulton Hogan, Seymour Whyte Constructions, SMEC Australia and Parsons Brinckerhoff Australia. They are all partners in this huge construction: eight kilometres of road, 17 bridges demolished and 31 new bridges built. The Ipswich Motorway upgrade between Dinmore and Goodna will play a key role in the strategy of the federal government and the Queensland government strategy to build South-East Queensland into the fastest-growing and strongest-performing economic base in the country.
Yesterday’s announcement ended forever the uncertainty about the project and the blame game is over. The people of Ipswich are sick and tired of being used as a political football when it comes to road funding. This project will offer relief from congestion for the 70,000 residents who use the motorway every day and the up to 90,000 to 100,000 people who use it at the busiest times of the day.
In addition to the motorway upgrade, cycling and pedestrian facilities will be provided, which will ease traffic congestion and improve safety. It means that the present four lanes will be upgraded to a minimum of six lanes. The area near the Redbank Plaza and the site office will have up to 12 lanes of traffic. The current Ipswich four-lane motorway will become a service road, there will be six lanes adjacent to that and another two-lane service road will be constructed to the south.
This is in contrast to the inactivity we saw on the part of the Howard government. In April 1999, the Howard government said that we should do a study about an upgrade of the Ipswich Motorway. At that stage, the estimated cost of a total upgrade was $600 million. We are doing it now, but if we had done it when it should have been done, a great deal of time, money and effort would not have been wasted because of the previous government’s indolence. It should have been done when it was first mentioned. I get no complaints at my office about the Ipswich Motorway upgrade because the people can see it being done.
In the next four months the project team will undertake detailed design and preconstruction activities. We allocated $5 million in the budget for that purpose. There is no turning back—the Dinmore to Goodna section of the motorway will be upgraded. That section straddles two electorates: Oxley and Blair. I commend the member for Oxley for his many years of agitation, argument and advocacy with me and others about this section of the motorway.
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics states that, if we do not alleviate the congestion in South-East Queensland by investing in new infrastructure, urban congestion will grow and cost the local economy an estimated $3 billion. That is why projects like the Ipswich Motorway upgrade are so important. In fact, it is the biggest single road infrastructure project ever undertaken by the Commonwealth government. It is vital not only for the health and safety of local residents but also for the economic development of Ipswich.
About 400 people will be working at the site at Redbank Plains and up to 1,500 people will be working 24/7 on this project. A new network of service roads will be constructed down the side that will take up to 25 per cent of local traffic off the motorway. That means local residents will no longer have to use the motorway for short, local trips. That will ease congestion on the motorway and improve safety.
I have been advocating for a long time that the students at St Peter Claver College at Riverview, Dinmore should have a proper bridge across the motorway so they do not have to rat-run between the lights in the morning and the afternoon. I am pleased that the design will incorporate that change. I was recently thanked by the principal of the college for my advocacy on this issue. He recognised that I have been pushing this for a long time. Hundreds of kids in the local community go to that school. I am pleased that the federal government has allocated $2.4 million to the school and that the building project is up and running.
When the final design is complete and the community consultation is over, the construction will begin in February 2009. My constituents can contact me now if they wish to see the draft design. I have a copy of it in my electorate office. This project means that the people of Ipswich will have the road which they deserve and which they have needed for so long. It means that, after many years of failure, frustration and fluffing on this issue by the Howard coalition government, the people of Ipswich, in partnership with the Ipswich City Council, the Queensland government and the Rudd Labor government, will have their future provided for in terms of roads and construction.
This is a big-picture initiative. It is a vital link not only for my electorate but also for yours, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, and the electorate of Moreton and others. I commend the Rudd Labor government for the work it has done. I personally thank the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, who have driven on this road many times and who understand the issue. I commend this bill to the House. It is crucial for my electorate that this legislation be passed. I am very pleased to speak on it and to commend the bill to the House.
It gives me a great deal of pleasure to speak on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. This is good news, particularly for regional and rural Australia. It is good news that the Rudd Labor government is continuing a program that was established under the Howard coalition government. The expansion of Roads to Recovery from $300 million a year to $350 million a year is very well received. The fact that it will be carried out to 2014 is again good news.
My electorate has received $20,152,614 from the Roads to Recovery program since its inception. In fact, Maitland City Council—which I share with the member for Hunter and now the member for Newcastle—has received $4,181,570, Port Stephens Council has received $4,134,408, Dungog Shire Council has received $3,216,187, Gloucester Shire Council has received $3,186,116 and Great Lakes Council has received $5,434,333. Each and every one of those councils has major road problems—has had problems in funding roads, has had cost shifting on roads from state governments to local government and has had an inability to fund those roads. That is why this funding program was critically important when it was conceived by the coalition government.
I am glad that the program is being extended, because road safety is critical. You improve safety on roads by improving the condition of roads. That being said, it is important that people do drive to the conditions of the roads upon which they are travelling. Many projects have been achieved under the program. Money has been spent on the Lakes Way by the Great Lakes Council; money has been spent on Bucketts Way by the Gloucester council; and, in Port Stephens, money has been spent on Seahams Road and others and infrastructure, such as roundabouts, have been established.
It should be noted—and this should not be forgotten—that it was the coalition that re-established the black spot road funding program that was abolished by the former Labor government. I was able to achieve some $10,768,569 from that program, which led to the upgrading of a lot of terrible, terrible intersections in my electorate—intersections where there had been deaths—and areas of roads where there had been severe accidents. It is amazing that simple things like improving road shoulders reduce the number of accidents and the number of lives that are lost as people drive off the roads into other areas.
There are some concerns that my community has expressed to me. Those concerns go to the fact that, in this House, on the last day of the last sitting, the minister tried to vilify me for putting forward a request on behalf of my community—the community which I am elected to represent—for $20 million worth of road funding, which would have had a major impact in my community. The minister stood up and thought that he would try to belittle me. I said at the time—and I have said subsequently to my community—that I am quite happy for the minister to attack me as long as, while he is attacking me, he is writing the cheque for the road funding in my electorate.
That is what I am elected to do. I am elected to make sure that I put the interests of my community first and foremost. I am their representative in this place, and one of the major issues that has been put forward to me on a consistent basis is road funding. That is why, when I was re-elected in 2001, I put forward a program to the coalition government for $20 million for the Bucketts Way upgrade. The state governments had wound back funding and the councils that share that road did not have sufficient resources to be able to do the work. That $20 million over a period of four years made a substantial difference to the people who travel that route, including those people who travel on it to go earn an income, who need to travel safely because they travel that route on a daily basis.
At the last election, in listening to my community, I put forward a program for passing lanes. The road has been upgraded and, naturally, people are now travelling faster on that road, so I put forward a funding proposal for passing lanes—but, obviously, the coalition did not win. But what the minister has failed to understand is that that is not a Bob Baldwin wish; that is actually what my community wants. I take what my community wants and bring it this House. So when I hear the minister talk about ‘infrastructure spend’ and the need for investment and the improved safety that comes with it, I ask him to listen to the voices of those communities along Bucketts Way, who are sick of losing loved ones in accidents, and install passing lanes. He can do this in conjunction with the state government, who have, by and large, reduced any funding commitment since we made the $20 million available—and I ask them to consider that.
Another important road in my electorate is Lakes Way. Lakes Way joins from Bulahdelah and comes around through the lakes through to Forster and it is a significant tourism road, and it provides an important economic benefit to that area and that region in my electorate. We have invested a large amount of money in that road, including through black spot funding, Roads to Recovery funding, and the $2 million that was committed and spent as part of the 2004 election campaign. There has been over $12 million spent on that road. That was one of the key drivers of the now-retired mayor, John Chadban, and he worked with me to make sure that we did what we could.
Another road that was put forward for planning and funding was a bypass road to link Fingal to the bay. It would have taken so much traffic out of the Nelson Bay area and would have allowed the expansion of tourist numbers that comes with holiday time to access other areas and not congest that small part of town. But, again, in this House the minister decided that he would attack me for putting the interests of my constituency first.
One of the success stories is Dungog council. Over the years I have worked with the former mayor Steve Lowe and, more recently, Mayor Glenn Wall in making sure that their needs were not overlooked. I was able to secure for them $6 million in road funding under AusLink’s strategic regional program. That achieved a massive amount. Dungog is one of those unusual shires that does not actually have a regional state funded road in its entirety. It has a lot of roads that service the Barrington Tops wilderness area that go through national parks, but they receive no funding to support those roads. It has a very low rating base and a large land mass. A typical problem, as you would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, in your role as the representative of the people of Maranoa, is that it is hard to sustain road funding when you have a large land mass, lots of roads and a very small rating base. So we put $6 million into Dungog council. That program has taken a little bit longer to roll out than expected because they did not have the professional expertise to get through the design, planning and tendering as quickly as they would have liked. But that funding is going well and it is actually saving lives on the road.
Safety is critically important. That is why, under Roads to Recovery, the establishment of truck parking bays or rest areas is critically important. A good friend of mine, Mike Almond, who owns Mountain Bulk Haulage, is the former President of the Australian Trucking Association. Over the years, he has been one of the key drivers in improving safety for truck drivers on the roads, particularly in the area of rest so that drivers are not pushed beyond what they are truly capable of or what is lawful for them to do in conducting their passage. It is good to see that the government will be spending $70 million on improving road rest areas. But when they give with one hand, they slap you twice with the other hand. It has become evident that the increase in fuel from 19.633c per litre to 21c a litre will raise around $80 million for the federal government, which is on top of the $89 million that will be raised through the 2007 heavy vehicle charges determination—another tax on the transport industry via the Rudd government. This will hit drivers twice and give back to them once. We are seeing from this government a great pattern of sticking it into people with taxes.
Today, during question time, the Leader of the Opposition produced a jar of strawberry jam and a tin of baked beans, which our pensioners quite often live on. The extra charges that the Rudd Labor government is inflicting on the trucking industry will carry through to these products. Our nation is carried on the back of our truck drivers. All the products in the supermarket shelves come via trucks—the trucks whose operators will pay this fee and the trucks whose operators will pay the increased fuel costs. If the wild fluctuations in the price of oil and diesel that occur downstream are not enough to drive up the cost of produce in the shops, then this additional tax by the Labor government will surely add to the bottom line.
When I think about road safety in the region, I am always reminded of my colleague the member for Hunter. One of the biggest road safety issues in our region has been the F3 link road. The F3 link road is so important to the member for Hunter that, from 1996 through to 2008, he has raised the F3 link road on 28 occasions in this House. He has raised it in speeches, he has raised it in questions and he has raised it in petitions. In fact, in this place, he tabled a petition from nearly 2,500 petitioners. I have the petition here, and it is important that I quote it. On 4 December 2006, on behalf of 2,148 citizens, the member for Hunter tabled a petition, which stated:
The petition of certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House the Howard Government’s failure to provide urgent funding for the construction of the F3 Link Road on the New England Highway between Seahampton and Branxton.
We the undersigned therefore request the House to call on the Howard Government to;
- Fast-track the construction of the F3 Link Road on the New England Highway between Seahampton and Branxton.
- Provide urgent funds to upgrade the New England Highway to a level appropriate given its ever increasing traffic volumes.
It gets even better, because the road is so important that people like Fred Brown, who is one of the more senior gentlemen in the Labor Party in the area, Toby Thomas and others formed the F3 Link or Sink Group. The F3 Link or Sink Group had campaigned long and hard for this roadwork to be done—but not quite as long as the member for Hunter. On 30 May 2006, in a speech to this House, he said:
The F3 link is a 16-kilometre stretch of road between the northern end of the F3 Freeway and the New England Highway just north of Branxton. It is critically needed in the Hunter. I have been fighting for the project for some 17 years. Maybe that makes me an ineffective first councillor and now member, but this is something critical to the region. It has the unanimous support of all the region’s mayors, and all the peak industry bodies nominate it as the No. 1 infrastructure project for the region …
The member for Hunter has raised the issue of the F3 link road 28 times—and that is despite money being spent with the state government. The funding mix was changed to a point where it finally came down to 80 per cent federal and 20 per cent state under the AusLink proposal. Money has been spent on planning, testing, the EIS and acquisitions. The cost of that program has blown out. As the member for Hunter said, he has been campaigning for 17 years, and now the cost has blown out.
Whenever the member for Hunter criticised me for not pushing for funding for the F3, I always maintained that I would prioritise the roads in my electorate. When the Pacific Highway upgrade through my electorate was committed to and underway, I would then push our government at the time for funding for a road outside my electorate. In 1996, we started work on the Pacific Highway with the Raymond Terrace bypass. There was also the roadworks between Bulahdelah and Coolongolook. Work between the areas of Raymond Terrace and Karuah were completed. The Karuah bypass was completed. Roads from Karuah to Tea Gardens and Coolongolook to Possum Brush were completed. The last piece—the area between Tea Gardens and Bulahdelah and the Bulahdelah bypass in my electorate—is now underway. I went to our government and said, ‘I think it is now time that I put my support behind the F3 link road.’ I convinced the then Howard government to commit $870 million in funding for the F3 link road, which was on top of the couple of hundred million dollars that had already been committed by the federal government.
And not a word was said by the member for Hunter. In weeks prior to that in the media he had been calling for funding. Why was there no mention of the funding for the F3 link road? Nothing was said to his constituents prior to the election. But the day after the election there was going to be no funding for the F3 link road—none at all; the costs had blown out and they were not going to fund it. In fact, the new minister has decided to really slap the people in the face by offering a million dollars to find an alternative route. So the hundreds of millions of dollars that have already been spent and committed will now be wasted as we delay further for an alternative route. This is the member who for 17 years campaigned for this road. But I do have to agree now, as he has turned his back on the people, with his quote of 30 May 2006: ‘Maybe that makes me an ineffective first councillor and now member.’ That has become true; he has become an ineffective member for the F3 link road.
The issue was so important for a long-time member of the Labor Party, Fred Brown, that, during the last election, the ‘link group’ put together their own radio ads advising people to vote Liberal if they wanted the F3 link road. I do not agree with Mr Brown’s party politics—that is painfully obvious. But, can I say, for a long-time member of the Labor Party to turn around and publicly endorse, through radio ads, people voting against the party that he has loved so much and worked for for so long shows that he has been let down by his local member. On every one of those 28 occasions that the member for Hunter has come into this place and raised the F3 link road, he has had no genuine commitment. When he has had the opportunity to step up to the treasury bench, the member for Hunter has walked away, has squibbed it, has dived for cover. I do not think the members of his electorate, or the people in the Hunter, are going to forget the fact that he made so much of a song and dance about the F3 link road and has now walked away from it.
We also hear very little from other members in the Hunter. I know that the member for Charlton is only new to the House but, if memory serves me correctly, part of this road runs through his electorate. But there has not been a word from him. Is he listening to his community?
But he has not talked about the F3 link road. He might have spoken on it but he has not committed to the road funding. I would have thought that members opposite would be there supporting safety and moving the heavy traffic flow that goes up the New England Highway away from Maitland. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why at the council elections on the weekend—(Time expired)
I rise to support the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. This bill demonstrates the Rudd government’s commitment to road safety and local road infrastructure. It is a disappointing sign that those opposite have chosen to push road safety onto the back seat without a safety belt. This bill is about road safety. In my home state of Western Australia there were 236 road deaths in 2007. This was up from 201 in 2006 and 163 in 2005. In Western Australia in 2007 there were 15 deaths from crashes involving articulated trucks, up from 11 in 2006. Heavy rigid truck accidents accounted for 10 deaths in 2007 and nine in 2006. That is 25 deaths last year involving heavy vehicles—25 too many.
Let me explain what this means. If you do not support this bill you are voting for more road crashes, more deaths, more misery, more pain, more sadness and more injury. The Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2008, rejected in the other place, would have enabled the 2007 heavy vehicles charge determination to be written into law. Australians have had road user charges since 1995, with bipartisan support from successive governments and six different Labor and Nationals ministers. Laurie Brereton first introduced road user charges in 1995. At the National Trade and Investment Outlook Conference in December of that year, the then minister for transport stated that the road user charges scheme would be ‘an achievement in government-to-government cooperation and would keep Australia at the cutting edge of the global road transport industry.’ John Sharp, Mark Vaile, John Anderson and even the current member for Wide Bay supported these charges when the coalition were in government. In April last year, at an Australian Trucking Association conference in Cairns, the then minister Mark Vaile stated:
Whilst investing in transport infrastructure is critical to meeting our future freight task, it is also important that pricing signals are right in relation to accessing transport infrastructure.
He went on to say that there is:
… a need to update the data used in the current heavy vehicle charges determination and to update the charging system methodology.
That is what we are trying to do here today. Mark Vaile also said:
The trucking industry should recognise … that the Australian government has massively increased its investment in the nation’s transport infrastructure in recent years.
This will have a flow-on effect. As a result the cost recovery principle of heavy vehicle charging, better roads mean greater efficiency and higher charges.
How quickly have members opposite abandoned 13 years of bipartisan support? Members opposite, including the member for Wide Bay, have put $70 million worth of road safety and productivity measures at risk. They have put the lives of our truckies at risk. They have put the lives of passengers in cars and buses at risk. They have put whatever skerrick of integrity they had left at risk. The Australian government has long had a role in funding nationally significant transport infrastructure, and it is unacceptable that members opposite would jeopardise that for petty and opportunistic political purposes.
Section 96 of the Australian Constitution allows the Australian government to allocate funding to any state or territory in line with any terms or conditions it considers appropriate. This section has been used to allocate federal funding to states and territories for the purpose of road construction and maintenance since the 1920s. Over the years, funding has been made available to states and territories as well as local governments in a number of different forms. This has occurred in tied and untied grants, which have included block grants, matching grants, and full funding with deep Australian government involvement.
The Australian government has delivered its road programs since the 1920s via specific road-funding legislation, with each act generally lasting between three and five years. Prior to the mid-1980s, Australian government road funding legislation generally referred to a total funding level to be made available over the period of a particular road act. This effectively provided for a multi-year road program. Following the introduction of the Australian land transport act of 1985 and subsequent legislation, Australian government road funding has tended to be determined largely on an annual basis.
In November of 1997, the Standing Committee on Communications, Transport and Microeconomic Reform concluded an inquiry into federal road funding. It did that at the request of the former government, the Howard government. The committee had been asked to review the Commonwealth’s role in road funding, to assess the adequacy and the extent of the national highway—the major connecting route between our capital cities and major regional centres—and to assess the level of funding required to adequately fulfil the Commonwealth’s role. The committee was also asked to:
Assess the scope to supplement Government funding through innovative arrangements for private sector involvement in the provision and maintenance of roads infrastructure and the scope for pricing of road services to reflect full resource costs.
That was the request that the Howard government made of that inquiry—to reflect full resource costs. The resulting report was called Planning not patching: an inquiry into federal road funding. The report found that:
It is essential that the Commonwealth take a leadership role in developing and publishing a national strategic plan for Australia’s transport network.
It went on to say that:
The Commonwealth role in road funding should focus on achieving national objectives. The committee has identified the need for the Commonwealth to continue to be involved in developing a national road system which is defined in this report as comprising the national highway system and roads of national importance.
In developing the plan, the report recommended that all three levels of government and the community need to participate to ensure success. As the inquiry revealed, Australia’s road system needs to be strategically planned.
The need for an integrated, strategic national transport plan was also raised in several other key reports, including 1998’s Tracking Australia, 1999’s Revitalising rail, and 2000’s Time running out. The reports all called for the Australian government to take a lead role in facilitating a national, coordinated approach to transport infrastructure planning and investment. For example, the first recommendation of the Tracking Australia report was:
… that the Commonwealth assume the leadership role and consult widely in developing an integrated national transport strategic plan …
These reports argued that a national approach would improve investment decisions and transport overall.
In May 2002, the Australian government announced its plan to create a new national land transport policy to be known as AusLink. Under AusLink, separate Australian government funding for road and rail programs would be pooled into a single flexible program. In November of that year, the Australian government released a green paper, AusLink: towards the national land transport plan. It was widely distributed and discussed, and it generated over 500 written submissions. The Australian government followed up with a white paper, AusLink: building our national transport future, in June 2004. I am sure members opposite remember that document. It culminated in the proclamation of the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005 on 28 July 2005. AusLink was the first national land transport plan since Federation, and it was a good plan. The objective of the act was and still is:
… to assist national and regional economic and social development by the provision of Commonwealth funding aimed at improving the performance of land transport infrastructure.
The 2005 act provided for a single funding regime within a five-year rolling plan for the nation’s land transport network. It targeted Australian government funding to national priorities that deliver high levels of national benefit. All of that is good. I am not one to belittle the efforts of those opposite. This was good legislation, put together by serious people.
Now let us look at the history of heavy vehicle charges. Integral to Australia’s land transport network are the heavy vehicle charges introduced in the mid-1990s. The first heavy vehicle duty charges determination was implemented across Australia between July 1995 and October 1996. It sought to recover heavy vehicles’ share of road construction and maintenance costs. In effect, heavy vehicle charges cover the cost of fixing the damage that heavy vehicles do to our roads through two components: a basic fuel based charge, now referred to as a road user charge, and an annual registration charge.
In 2007 the Productivity Commission conducted an inquiry into road and rail freight infrastructure pricing. The report was released on 13 April 2007, and it confirmed that it was unlikely that heavy vehicle charges were sufficient to cover heavy vehicles’ share of road costs. The commission determined that this under-recovery was due to a significant and disproportionate increase in Commonwealth, state and territory road expenditure—around 33 per cent—since the last time the road user charges were set. It also said that there had been a significant increase in the number of B-doubles, which currently do not pay their way. It also said that there had been an erosion of the road user charge, which remained unchanged for the eight-year duration of the second determination. The former government simply refused to address the issue. In addition to the under-recovery, the Productivity Commission found that the charges applied to some classes of heavy vehicle were set in order to subsidise the costs of other—mainly larger, heavier—vehicles. What happened to the importance of pricing signals being sent and received?
In order to address the funding deficiency, in April 2007 the Council of Australian Governments, COAG, led by the former Prime Minister, John Howard, asked that a new road user charge determination be developed. This determination was to ensure that heavy vehicle charges deliver and continue to deliver full recovery of heavy vehicles’ share of road construction and maintenance costs, in aggregate, as well as remove the cross-subsidisation across heavy vehicle classes.
The recommended charges would address under-recovery, create a more even playing field between road and rail and stop smaller trucks from paying too much while the largest trucks pay too little. While the heavy vehicle industry raise some concerns about particular aspects of the methodology used to calculate the costs to be recovered from heavy vehicle operators, they are on record as supporting the principle that heavy vehicles should pay their way.
COAG’s request had bipartisan support. In a speech given in June 2007, entitled ‘The coalition government’s transport reform agenda’, the then federal Minister for Transport and Regional Development and Leader of the Nationals said:
The National Transport Commission will develop a new heavy vehicle charges determination to be implemented from 1 July 2008. The new determination will aim to recover the heavy vehicles’ allocated infrastructure costs in total and will also aim to remove cross-subsidisation across heavy vehicle classes.
Those are the words of the Leader of the National Party.
In July of last year, the NTC released a draft regulatory impact statement. This outlined a range of options for heavy vehicle charges. A comprehensive public consultation on the draft regulatory impact statement then followed. Industry and government stakeholders and other interested parties were invited to make written submissions and participate in public focus group sessions, held all over the country. Twenty-two written submissions were received, and focus groups were held in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Darwin. Michael Deegan, the then chairman of the National Transport Commission, said in the final statement’s foreword:
Australia must maintain a world-class road and rail transport network to service the growing freight task, to reduce road trauma, and to ensure Australian businesses can compete cost-effectively in the global marketplace. The trucking industry has long supported the principle of paying its way. The NTC’s recommendations will ensure that this happens, and continues to do so between determinations.
This is a report commissioned by, for and to the former federal government, endorsed by the Leader of the National Party and then minister for roads. That report went on to say:
The Productivity Commission’s Road and Rail Infrastructure Pricing Inquiry, and the direction outlined by heads of government on 13 April 2007, clearly set out an agenda for pricing reform to unlock more productivity from the road network.
The report also said:
… the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination … will be the ‘building block’ for pricing reform. It will sustain the revenue base needed for governments to invest in better and safer roads, including the infrastructure upgrades needed for improved heavy vehicle access.
All states and the Northern Territory have now implemented their new heavy vehicle registration charges. The ACT has yet to implement the new charges, as the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Repeal Bill was rejected in the other place by those opposite. Only at the federal level have these new charges not been implemented. The other place blocked bills to give effect to new heavy vehicle registration charges for federal interstate registration scheme vehicles and heavy vehicles registered in the ACT in March 2008. The other place also disallowed a legislative instrument declaring a new rate of the heavy vehicle road user charge from 1 January 2009. It is disappointing to see the safety of Australian road users hindered by politics.
The purpose of this amendment bill that we are debating today is threefold. The first is to ensure funding of all projects in the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity program from 1 January 2009. The second is to allow for the continuation of the Roads to Recovery program beyond 30 June 2009. Everyone loves the Roads to Recovery program. It is a good program. It works well. Local governments like it. And we in this place can be proud of the process that built the Roads to Recovery program. The third purpose is to allow better management of the Roads to Recovery funding list, which sets out all funding recipients in Australia and the amount that they receive, and which is currently not able to be amended except in very limited circumstances.
This bill amends the definition of a ‘road’ to include heavy vehicle facilities such as rest stops, parking bays and decoupling facilities. We have heard that many times in this debate. This will enable the government to provide funding for these facilities under our $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity package. According to the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government’s monthly road deaths series reports, more than 200 people are killed in road crashes involving heavy trucks every year. They represent 15 to 20 per cent of all road deaths. I am sure members remember the tragic crash at Kerang in Victoria which caused the deaths of 11 people when a truck smashed into a passenger train. Not all accidents receive such press coverage, but all accidents result in some degree of misery and pain for families.
Most of the people killed in crashes involving an articulated truck are occupants of the other vehicle—64 per cent. One in five people killed are truck occupants—mostly the drivers. Since 1989, single vehicle crashes have accounted for around 15 per cent of deaths in articulated truck crashes. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s statistics show that more than 800 serious injuries occur in road crashes involving heavy trucks or buses each year. This represents three per cent of all road crash serious injuries. Over the last decade, from 1998 to 2007, deaths from crashes involving articulated trucks decreased by four per cent, despite a 25 per cent increase in vehicle kilometres travelled by articulated trucks. In the same period, the number of all road crash deaths decreased by eight per cent, while total vehicle kilometres travelled grew by 17 per cent.
The minister has been consulting extensively with the states and territories and with stakeholders, such as the Australian Trucking Association, the Australian Livestock Transport Association, the Australian Transport Workers Union and NatRoad, to identify the most urgently needed works. The facilities that will be delivered under the $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity package will improve road safety and provide a better deal for truckies. It has been said before in this place: everything in Australia is delivered on the back of a truck. Our prosperity depends upon our trucks and our truckies. Governments need to ensure that international best practice is implemented to foster this productivity.
Local governments are key stakeholders in our national transport network. The Australian government first provided tied funding to local governments in 1974-75. This continued until 1990-91. Since 1991-92, funding to local governments for local roads has been untied and provided as a component of the Australian government’s financial assistance grants. The Roads to Recovery program began on 1 January 2001 and is additional to the untied financial assistance grants funding provided to councils. The Roads to Recovery program provides Australian government funding direct to local governments for both rural and urban roads in all parts of Australia. It is a good program, and local government likes it. It works. The program was implemented by the former government because much local road infrastructure in Australia was about to reach the end of its useful life and replacement was beyond the capacity of councils. It is a good program and it should be supported. This legislation creates measures that will ensure that good programs continue, road safety is enhanced and, most importantly, a vital principle of price signals being sent to truck users, truck owners and transport infrastructure operators is adhered to. The term ‘parliamentary opposition’ does not automatically imply obstructionism. It is disappointing that members opposite cannot differentiate between these two terms. I commend the bill to the House.
There are three objectives in the amendments proposed in the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. The first deals with the extension of the Roads to Recovery program to 2014, and I give my support. The second, confirming the arrangements under which these funds are supplied to the unincorporated council areas through the existing state authorities, I also support. My electorate of Grey covers almost all of the unincorporated areas of South Australia. The Roads to Recovery program was one of the great dividends provided by the previous government as a result of paying off the $98 billion of debt left by the Keating Labor government. When we no longer had to pay $8 billion a year in interest, the government had the funds to begin the nation-building programs. The Roads to Recovery project will by July have delivered $10.79 million to the outback areas of South Australia. The improvements to the Strzelecki Track, which will eventually link up, as the member for Maranoa said earlier, with the bitumen road coming down to Innamincka from Queensland, the Maree-Lyndhurst road and the Wilpena-Blinman road will help unlock tourism and mining potential in this vast area. Much more is needed.
Australia is becoming increasingly reliant on the mining surge. In South Australia, the boom has been a little slower to occur than in the west and in Queensland, but we are getting there. The royalties and the tax receipts from Roxby Downs are rolling in and there are more to come. Adding to the established industries in uranium, iron ore and gas are a large group of new prospects in mineral sands, base metals and more iron and uranium. Almost all of this expansion will happen in rural and outback areas. If the riches are to come from these areas, it is only right that a significant part of that resource should be returned to the regions from where it came. The Roads to Recovery program is just one method of achieving this. This investment will be needed to stimulate the expansion of primary industries that will carry Australia into the next generation. For much of the last 200 years, Australia’s vast inland has been largely neglected, seen as inhospitable desert, somewhere for a few hardy pastoralists to try to eke out a living. We are only just beginning to explore the vast wealth which lies beyond the green fringe of the continent. Australians and the rest of the world are beginning to flock to the middle of the nation to explore its natural beauty and history. The tourism surge will only get bigger. Unfortunately, the tourists and those who seek to exploit their wealth are bouncing around on an inland road network which often looks more like a dry creek bed than a road. Gutters, rocks, loose stones which act as ball bearings, potholes which threaten to swallow vehicles, and unbelievable corrugations and rocky reefs which threaten to launch cars into a low orbit are a fact of life. They are roads which need the kiss of life from a Roads to Recovery program.
During the winter recess I spent some time driving around my electorate. I covered around 18,000 kilometres in that time and travelled several of these tracks. Conditions were generally poor and, in many cases, dangerous. Much of the responsibility for these roads lies with the state government, which has actually reduced its commitment to maintenance. In the first budget of the Rann Labor government, it axed two road construction gangs in the north of the state. We are now paying the costs.
Some of these roads stand out as worthy of far greater attention from both federal and state governments. The bitumen strip on the Lyndhurst to Maree road is currently being extended under the last rounds of Roads to Recovery. This route should be extended to William Creek, then across to Coober Pedy, which would open up a new tourist route for the grey nomads and make conditions safer for local road users. The Oodnadatta Track north of William Creek is in a dangerous condition and desperately needs resheeting. The Wirrulla to Kingoonya road is a goat track with increasing traffic loads. I have been informed there is a pothole so bad that an iron dropper has been put in the middle of it to force motorists to drive around the hole. This is an absolute disgrace. Much of this track is as much as a metre below the surrounding land surface. You can imagine what that is like after a rain. Locals tell me they expect a rollover a week, and many a tourist has left their suspension in a crater somewhere between Wirrulla and Skull Tanks—which is something of a landmark in that part of the world.
This road, if upgraded, would impart major economic benefits to a number of stakeholders. It would cut 300 kilometres off the heavy transport route moving mining equipment from Western Australia to South Australia’s far north, including operations such as Oz Minerals’s Prominent Hill copper mine, due to start exporting in February, and the Western Plains Resources iron ore prospects in the regions. It would connect the Eyre Peninsula with an economical route to Roxby Downs for miners living in the beautiful coastal towns, helping these communities to grow and flourish by reducing the pressure on expansion in Adelaide, which includes urban encroachment on productive rural land and extra infrastructure requirements. Decentralisation holds many benefits for all of Australia.
An all-weather surface would, like the improvements to the Maree-Coober Pedy road, open up a new tourist route, cutting 300 kilometres off the journey of those linking Western Australia to the north-south corridor of the Stuart Highway. These are nation-building projects. If Australia is to fully utilise the riches that have been bestowed upon us, we need vision and the commitment of both state and federal governments to achieve this. I call on the state government to make a commitment to building regional infrastructure. With just one country based member of parliament, its ignorance of the needs and opportunities of most of our state is appalling.
I call on the federal government to support regional infrastructure through the Roads to Recovery program; to commit to returning to the regions more of the massive surge in tax receipts generated by the resources boom; to make sure the new Infrastructure Australia fund is used not just to prop up Labor votes in the cities but to actually build Australia’s capacity; and to address the opening up of the nation away from the coastal fringe. I call on the federal government to show the kind of vision the previous government showed in completing the north-south rail connection to Darwin.
Returning to the specifics of the amendments, the third part of these changes concerns the long-haul transport industry in Australia—and that industry is in serious trouble. The freight task in this nation is set to double in the next 10 to 15 years but, rather than increasing capacity to meet that demand, the industry is in decline. Rising costs—some influenced by government—an ageing workforce, ever-increasing compliance costs, stringent and ever-increasing OH&S requirements and tightening environmental targets all contribute to a burden which has become too much for many small to medium sized operators in the field.
The industry has no choice but to pass on these costs, but at the moment it seems we have a form of market failure as desperate operators accept less than the real operating costs just so they can stay in business. Truck owners, with payments to be made on very expensive prime movers and trailers, are trying to pass on their cost increases. But they are being told: ‘Thanks, but no thanks. We’ll find someone else’—and there is always someone who is desperate enough to make a payment that they will take the job. It is only a matter of time before they either give in—to achieve cash flow—or go out of business. Ultimately the market will respond, but it will not come before we have a freight crisis where we see large parts of the Australian economy stranded. The government talk about the bottlenecks in our economy, but I do not believe they understand just how close to collapse the transport industry is—nor do they even begin to understand just how dependent on the transport industry Australia is.
During the first six months of this year there have been 3,600 truck repossessions in Australia. That has slowed a little in the last couple of months because finance companies are finding they have no market for the repossessed trucks, thus encouraging these operators to keep going and being vulnerable to accepting any price contract to keep the wheels turning. The old slogan ‘Truckies carry the country’ is truer today than it has ever been.
Australia is often said to suffer from the ‘tyranny of distance’, so it stands to reason that we should encourage, not penalise, the sectors which allow us to operate against that disadvantage. For instance, it is often said that Australia has low fuel taxation in comparison with the rest of the world. That may be true in the broader sense but, if we have a look at a selection of countries around the globe who also share our ‘tyranny of distance’, the conclusions can be quite different. The average rate of tax on diesel in the United States of America is around 13c a litre. In Brazil it is about lc. In Canada it is 18.5c, which is near the Australian rate of 20c a litre. There are no systematic moves in these individual nations to tax to their own disadvantage relative to the rest of the world. The countries that tax at higher rates, and many do, are by and large those who do not have huge distances to contend with. It is all very well for them to tax at a higher rate for all kinds of social engineering reasons, but it simply does not make sense in Australia to punish this sector. We are penalising our productive capacity.
We have just heard the member for Brand say that the previous government did not take the chance to put up road user charges. That is darn right, and I think we should be proud of that decision. We decided not to put extra costs on road transport users because we knew the implications of those extra costs. It would have meant transport operators closing up and having to pass on costs to the rest of industry. In the end, it means jobs.
How does all this reflect on these amendments? The amendment which will change the definition of a ‘road’ so that Auslink funds can be spent on the development of rest areas is in itself quite acceptable. It is the big stick approach that the government takes to its implementation which is lamentable. The government has threatened that, if the Senate continues to block the fuel tax and registration fee rises, it will not fund the establishment of the new rest stops. The necessity for the new rest stops has been brought about by the advent of the new heavy driver fatigue laws—more government-led compliance costs. The new regulations will lead to a whole raft of extra costs to the industry—not just new taxes but higher staffing rates, longer down times and a lack of qualified drivers. We all want safe roads but it appears that the government, having taxed this industry to within an inch of its life, is not prepared to wear any of the costs of implementation.
A couple of weeks ago at a function in my electorate, I was speaking to a fair sized regional freight operator. He uses about 100 trailers. He said that he was really only operating as a community service at this stage and that he had never worked harder in his life for less return. He said that, at every turn, government was making it more difficult to operate—never helping. He was considering winding back his operation. He said, ‘When we get a good agricultural season again, the industry won’t be able to meet the freight challenge because we’re losing too much capacity.’ That is the problem—all stick and no carrot. How about, instead of continually making it harder to move freight around the country, the government invests in good operators and partners them and Australian industry in raising our productive capacity? It would be logical to sponsor schemes that would deliver advantages to accredited operators and their drivers—so that we encourage those who do not overload, or use badly trained staff, or run substandard equipment—and give the industry encouragement to raise standards and efficiency and not penalise them. Instead, what do we get? We get new compliance costs and no help in meeting the challenge—just the government getting deeper into our pockets with higher registration and fuel taxes.
If the productive sectors of our economy are to survive, all these costs must eventually be passed on to the consumer; otherwise, in the end, there will be no way of moving the freight. The consumer, in the case of exporters, is ‘the exporter’; you cannot pass on these costs to an international market. These new taxes—which up to now, thankfully, the Senate has been able to defer—if implemented will increase the cost of doing business in rural and regional Australia. Every small community will become just that bit more unviable. At a time when our traditional industries in rural and regional Australia are struggling to survive, this out-of-touch government is insisting on new taxes to meet the costs of implementing new government regulation. New driver fatigue rest stops are a good idea, and funding them out of the AusLink package is fine, but making them conditional on new taxes at a time when the freight industry is in decline will impede our productive capacity. It is blackmail and it should be exposed as such.
As I stand before you here today, the road toll in my home state of Tasmania stands at 31—31 deaths, 31 shattered families. Also as I stand before you, the Rudd government is the only Commonwealth government in recent memory with a real commitment to doing what it can to reduce that carnage. The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Mr Albanese, has introduced the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008, and I am proud today to add my voice in support of this nation-building legislation. It is legislation which allows local councils to plan with confidence how they intend to improve their road networks. Local government is responsible for more than three-quarters of the country’s roads, and it is vital that it be funded adequately to provide for the communities that it services. These communities make up the backbone of our great nation. To survive and prosper they must be supported through adequate and responsive infrastructure. They must be connected through sustainable and maintained road and rail services. The Rudd government is acting now for the long-term future of our economy and our local communities.
This legislation acknowledges the integral role which infrastructure plays in the growth and wellbeing of communities across Australia. Over the next five years, $1.75 billion will be invested through local councils to fix local transport issues. In Bass that translates to more than $1.5 million. Launceston City Council will receive more than $504,000, Dorset Council will receive more than $491,000, George Town Council will receive almost $367,000 and Flinders Island will receive more than $162,600. This money will be spent on funding urgent safety upgrades.
Often when we think of black spot funding we think of highways and rural roads; however, there are urban areas which have proven to be just as dangerous. That is why I, along with the infrastructure minister, was pleased to announce recently funding for a number of black spots in urban areas of Launceston. There was $200,000 to remove median parking along Invermay Road from Forster Street to Lindsay Street in Invermay, $80,000 to improve the median along Penquite Road from Hoblers Bridge Road to Amy Road in Newstead, $35,000 to improve the median along George Town Road from Newnham Drive to Parklands Parade at Newnham and $30,000 to build a right turn lane and splitter island at the intersection of Vermont Road and Clare Street in Mowbray. So, while those opposite continue to squabble among themselves and present nothing in terms of long-term leadership, the Rudd government is working in partnership with local councils and local communities to improve infrastructure and safety. As a government not only have we spoken of nation building but we are acting. The previous government failed to do either.
Over five years we will increase by $50 million a year the Roads to Recovery program spending. I am proud to be part of a government which is set to embark on the single largest nation-building program in our proud Commonwealth’s history—$76 billion focused on our most critical infrastructure. Our roads, rail, ports, communications and the like will benefit from the Rudd government’s Infrastructure Investment Program. This is about working with local communities and councils in an unprecedented approach to secure our nation’s future in a way those opposite failed to do, despite 12 years of unmatched economic prosperity.
The annual economic cost of road accidents in loss of life, injury and damage to public and private infrastructure is estimated at $18 billion and rising—but it is much more than that. Untold pain and suffering are inflicted by road accidents. Not for a second is anyone on this side of the House suggesting that simply through responsible spending on infrastructure we can stop all road deaths. What we are suggesting, however, is that communities across the country, across electorates such as my electorate of Bass in Northern Tasmania, are entitled to safe roads. They are entitled to have confidence in the fact that their national government is listening and acting, that it is funding targeted responses to local safety issues.
Those opposite took a hands-off approach to infrastructure, an approach, as Minister Albanese suggested, which spoke of an attitude which simply said the market will look after it by itself. Well, the market did not and nor, quite clearly, did those opposite. They squandered the proceeds of the mining boom and sat back and watched helplessly as inflation rose—and interest rates along with it. The Rudd government, on the other hand, is committed to an economically responsible program which secures our future prosperity. We are implementing a budget strategy which is putting downward pressure on interest rates and inflation while at the same time setting aside funds for long-term investment opportunities. As I said at the outset, the road toll in my home state of Tasmania stands at 31. One thousand, six hundred and sixteen people perished on our nation’s roads last year, 47 of those in Tasmania.
The need for a greater focus on infrastructure goes beyond road funding, and those opposite need to understand the importance of adequate rail and port infrastructure. The neglect suffered under the previous government has consequences at a national level, at a local level and everywhere in between. Industry and productivity are held back because of poor infrastructure creating bottlenecks at major ports all around the country. There are bottlenecks too in towns and cities all over Australia, as parents and carers attempt to drop children at school of a morning and collect them in the afternoon.
We face massive transport challenges, from congestion to carbon emissions. As a country and as a government we need to look to areas such as rail to ease the pressure on our roads. All this requires commitment and vision, and the Rudd government has demonstrated both, as we embark on a $76 billion nation-building program. Yet again, it needs to be pointed out that this ambitious and necessary investment in infrastructure is being jeopardised by the actions of those opposite. Their first act in the Senate was to punch a $550 million hole in the budget surplus. Those opposite appear to have not heard the Australian people at the last election. They appear unable to accept the Rudd government’s right to govern. So, as we embark on this nation-building program, in the context of a fiscally responsible budget, we are being hampered as those opposite play for popularity and headlines.
I would like to echo the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, who, quite rightly, pointed out that each and every time those opposite vote no in the Senate they are really saying no to a whole range of things. Chief among them are solutions to traffic congestions and funds for public transport. They are saying no to investment in critical infrastructure. We know they resisted such investment for almost 12 years, so it should come as no surprise that they should continue to resist.
The legacy which was left to the incoming government was one of disgrace. However, we are committed to rectifying it. That, however, is only possible through a long-term infrastructure investment plan and a commitment to finding solutions because, as I said, this affects everyone, from the parent or carer trying to get their children to school on time to our largest companies struggling to import and export. I commend this bill to the House, proud that it indeed forms part of the Rudd government’s policy which builds and prepares Australia for the challenges of the 21st century and works with local councils to achieve safe and reliable infrastructure.
I rise to also speak to the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. Nothing is more important in Australia, given our extraordinarily large continent and our tyranny of distance, than ensuring we have an efficient transport system. It is ironic that the legislation is entitled in part ‘National Land Transport’, because looking at the continent you would think that we would also have a coastal shipping business that was thriving and was currently being seen as offering potential for us to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But currently there is a whole range of very serious issues affecting Australian coastal shipping which is the subject of a report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government that will soon be released.
My electorate of Murray is in fact the transport hub of Victoria. It currently serves what we call the food bowl of the Murray-Darling Basin. It has extraordinary production in the form of dairy and fruit. All of that product is shifted from central Victoria or inland Victoria to the ports for export or to local manufacturers and then that finished product goes right around Australia. If we do not have extensive and efficient hubs of transport, such as rail systems and road systems, and a dispersal of product that is efficient, then we cannot continue to be acknowledged as having world’s best practice when it comes to the most cost-efficient food and fibre production.
I am very concerned about one of the key initiatives that occurred under the coalition government: the duplication and upgrading of the Goulburn Valley Highway, which was federally funded in 1996. That was at a time when we had, if you like, a strict division of labour between the states and the federal government in highway funding. The Goulburn Valley Highway comes off the Hume Highway and goes via Tocumwal to become part of the Newell Highway. Under the coalition government this highway was made virtually a dual freeway from the off-take at Hume, near Seymour, right through to Shepparton. But, sadly, there were still two major tasks to go—one was bypassing Nagambie, the other bypassing the city of Shepparton itself. Nagambie is only a small town but has an enormous amount of transport going right through the middle of that town—B-doubles, smaller freight vehicles and significant domestic transport. Those trucks and cars have to slow down to 40 kilometres an hour at school times and then to 50 kilometres an hour, causing major problems such as noise, carbon emissions and safety. The Goulburn Valley Highway goes down to a single lane at that point. It is also about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Melbourne. That means people are already tired from their long trip. Deaths occur when the road goes from a double-lane freeway down to a single lane just before Nagambie. I am sad to say that deaths are occurring there regularly because people are not concentrating and they think they are still on a dual freeway. Then you go through Nagambie, having slowed down to 40 kilometres an hour, with numerous traffic lights and so on, and back on to a section of freeway through to what is called the Arcadia section—and, gloriously, that was opened just a few months ago.
I was sad not to have been invited to the opening, since it was 100 per cent federally funded. The opening was conducted by VicRoads, the Victorian state road authority. I would have thought it polite to have invited the local federal members, being me, the member for McEwen and indeed the member for Indi, but that did not occur. The good news is that at least the local community understood that it was the coalition Commonwealth government which had funded all of that work to bring the freeway right up to the outskirts of Shepparton.
You can imagine that coming up to last year’s federal election the northern Victorian communities were most concerned to see that the bypassing of Nagambie and Shepparton were top of mind for both the coalition and what was then the opposition, now the Rudd government. The opposition put on the table a commitment that they would in fact fund the Nagambie bypass to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, as did the coalition. Of course, being fairly simple folk, we then assumed, having that commitment in writing, announced by the shadow minister of the day, that when the Rudd Labor government won office there would be—in this last budget—an announcement or a commitment in writing to that funding for the Nagambie bypass. It was a shock when only $5 million in fact appeared in the budget, not the $350 million or so needed. When investigated, the feedback from the government was: ‘We said we’d fund it, but we didn’t say when’ and basically, ‘Watch this space.’ It was a terrible shock because VicRoads, which is the managing contractor for all federally funded roads in the state, was ready to march on with its contractors to the next section. The Arcadia section had been completed; it would have been more efficient to go on immediately and do that Nagambie bypass work. The planning had been completed; it was all ready to go. But, no, we discovered that in the budget there was only $5 million.
We do hope that, in light of the extraordinary transport use of the Goulburn Valley Highway—its significance for food and fibre transport—and the deaths that are occurring in those unfinished sections, the Commonwealth government in its national transport planning will look kindly at future funding that includes completing the Goulburn Valley Highway. It is extremely important, under our national land transport task, that we understand that in rural and regional Australia some local government bodies are actually returning bitumen to gravel because they cannot afford to do essential road making. As I have often said in this place, we have tomato growers who cannot get their product to factories in time to be processed because there has been a light sprinkling of rain and the dirt roads bog their B-doubles. That is extraordinary in the 21st century in a developed nation like ours.
I strongly commend to the government the transport task of doing a job that is efficient and effective for the whole of the nation. The coalition understood the significance. We understood the importance of—for the first time in Australia—decent funding to make sure the transport effort in this country was more efficient and to make sure that our domestic and export activity was not impeded by poor transport. We also know that, with the greenhouse challenges, better transport will mean fewer emissions.
So I ask that this government, in addition to the other things I have been saying, looks a little harder at completing the Goulburn Valley Highway. I support the other speakers from the coalition in saying that there are many unfinished tasks. I request that this government goes and looks at what we were doing. It could not do better than to continue the job we set out to do.
I rise to speak on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. The bill is intended to make technical amendments to the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005. The changes seek to achieve a number of objectives. The first change, as you would know, Mr Deputy Speaker, extends the successful Roads to Recovery program for another five years until 30 June 2014. Roads to Recovery was one element of the former coalition government’s AusLink land transport funding program. It delivered road funding directly to local communities that were in need of assistance to fund transport infrastructure. The success of the Roads to Recovery program was achieved by bypassing the states and providing Commonwealth funding directly to local councils. Local government authorities were then in a position to nominate projects within their own communities based on local needs. The Australian Local Government Association has acknowledged the Roads to Recovery program as being an outstanding example of a partnership between national and local government to provide direct funding to local communities.
I looked forward to the opportunity to speak on this bill today because in the Roads to Recovery program we saw a genuine operation where tiers of government, particularly local and federal tiers of government, were working together. There is one tier of government that I believe is totally undervalued in this country, and that is the tier of local government. The way forward with local government is not just to provide some form of superficial recognition of its role but, more significantly, to look genuinely at the role of local government within our system of federalism and at the way in which real responsibilities and real revenue accountability can be attached to local government.
What we are seeing at the moment is a debate about federalism that focuses on federal and state government. We hear about the blame game and all these other issues that the government has raised in a bid to disperse accountability rather than actually assign accountability. But all the discussion of federalism tends to focus on these top two tiers of government: state and federal. The discussion about the transfer of responsibilities has not been about getting service delivery closer to where services are actually used and relied upon, at the local level; it has been all about trying to take it further up the chain. We talk about schools being transferred to federal responsibility; we talk about hospitals being transferred to federal responsibility; we talk about all of these critical social and public services being taken further up the chain, further away from the people who actually use them.
I am currently not filled with confidence in the ability of the government in my home state of New South Wales to deliver these services for my constituents in the Sutherland shire, but I do not think the answer in any of these areas is simply to transfer that power to the federal government so that a bureaucracy in Canberra, as opposed to a bureaucracy at the state level, can take it over. The discussion about many of these services needs to look at to what extent these services can be delivered locally. What we have in the Roads to Recovery program is a rolled gold example of what actually works—we have funding provided to local councils to fund roads that are necessary, funding that does not have to go through a whole other tier of bureaucracy, in terms of assessment, planning and processing, at the state level. It is a functional relationship.
What I like about this relationship is that it sees local, state and federal government sitting as three legs to a stool. In my maiden speech in this place I talked about the three legs to the stool of Federation. At the moment, I think, it is more commonly understood as being like a three-legged dog, because it is not working effectively. One of the reasons it is not working effectively is that we are not assigning responsibilities to these tiers of government and we are not resourcing these tiers of government to do the jobs with the appropriate accountability and then holding them to account. It is no good just to look the other way and to have fingers pointing every which way to avoid what should be competitive conflict, accountable conflict in ensuring value for taxpayers’ dollars.
I would very much commend the idea of our understanding the role that local government can play. On the weekend in my state of New South Wales people turned out and voted at local council elections. Those opposite, particularly in New South Wales, would be well aware of how the vast majority of them voted. A very common theme, while standing at polling booths on the weekend, was that people had very little understanding of what was done at a local council level. It seems to me that there needs to be a greater awareness of the accountabilities of local government. In some cases there were many things that they expected of local governments that were beyond their remit or that they were not funded to do. There is a need to clarify these things for local government. I think the Roads to Recovery program enabled us to go down this path and to start looking at alternatives to just simply saying, ‘Well, states can’t do it; we’ll hand it all the way up to Canberra.’ I think that is a very short-sighted view and not one that will serve our local communities well because, at the end of the day, the best accountability that you can have is for the person to sit across the desk or across the bed or in the schoolroom from someone who is consuming those services. Parents deal with principals all the time. Parents deal with their doctors in hospitals. Far too much attention is given to what is said by those who sit behind bureaucratic desks in our public services rather than to those who are actually working on the ground. Of course there is a need for bureaucracies, proper accountability and funding mechanisms, review processes and benchmarking, but none of that is a substitute for enabling local communities to have a greater say over how local money is spent on local services.
I think there are some improvements that can be made with Roads to Recovery. It is not only the federal government or the local government that spends money on roads but also the state government, which contributes the lion’s share. In our communities I would like to see our local councils having a better understanding of what the local road priorities are. Local governments own and maintain the overwhelming majority of local roads. The cost of maintaining and upgrading these roads is an enormous financial burden to them. The funding available to local government to allocate to their road budget has not kept pace with the ever-increasing costs associated with maintaining and upgrading roads. Like most infrastructure, roads have a finite economic life and, in many areas, road infrastructure is nearing this point and is in dire need of replacement. The former coalition established the Roads to Recovery program in recognition of the road-funding dilemma facing local government. It was initially a four-year program involving a funding package of $1.2 billion. It was extended for a further four years from 1 July 2005 until 30 June 2009. This provided a further $1.23 billion investment in local road funding—funding for local roads that was delivered directly to local communities.
In my own electorate of Cook, I am sure through the good stewardship and advocacy of the former member for Cook, the Hon. Bruce Baird, from 1 July 2005 the Sutherland Shire Council was the recipient of a significant amount of Roads to Recovery funding. The program delivered more than $3.4 million to the electorate of Cook specifically for fixing roads in the Sutherland shire. Roads to Recovery enabled the Sutherland Shire Council to carry out road projects including Captain Cook Drive between Gannons Road and Woolooware Road at Caringbah—which I note for members is opposite the Sharks’ Toyota Stadium. Not far from there on the weekend was the scene of a great victory which has given us next weekend off before I suspect we will ultimately once again enter the grand final to do battle with Manly. That project cost $1.6 million. This project provided new kerbs, guttering, pedestrian pathways and signals, a bicycle lane and new drainage works. During 2005, $260,000 was provided for Parraweena Road, Taren Point to repair potholes and cracked road surfaces. A project costing $151,000 at the critical intersection of The Kingsway and Gerrale Street, Cronulla, affected by heavy traffic in summer months, provided improved pedestrian safety at this location.
When thinking particularly of my own electorate, like those who have electorates on the coast which are visited by many thousands of people from within the state and right across the country and, indeed, international visitors as well, local services in beachside suburbs come under heavy utilisation. Like many tourism areas, and even in your own electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker Shultz, I am sure, a heavy burden of tourists draw on infrastructure, and we need to recognise that. Not only is the cost of maintaining this infrastructure in critical tourism areas maintained at a local level but also there is a recognition of the responsibility further up the chain to make sure these wonderful assets for our community are at their best and are providing a wonderful experience for locals and for visitors to the area. In 2005, at Gymea Bay Road in Gymea Bay, at a cost of $95,000, the council carried out a construction project to improve pedestrian safety with raised thresholds and new indented on-road parking bays. In 2000, at Carvers Road in Oyster Bay, at a cost of $392,000, the Sutherland Shire Council carried out improvements to road pavement and a repair to the road base. In 2005, across Port Hacking to Maianbar Road in the national park, at a cost of $711,000, the Sutherland Shire Council carried out major repairs to numerous failures in the road pavement—dangerous edges to the road surface.
I note there is much more work to be done in the national park, too. Not only is this an area which is frequented by many visitors but also, for the communities of Bundeena and Maianbar, this is their point of access to services, hospitals, shopping facilities and government services. This single-road gives them access to a range of different services. This is a dangerous road. I drive it regularly when I am visiting the communities in Maianbar and Bundeena. Many young families live in that area, and they need safe roads. There are many winds and bends, and it can be a very dangerous road, particularly in wet conditions. There are many elderly residents in both of those villages, in those communities, and they often have to travel to get specialist attention or to make visits to family. There are many more bends and stretches on the road through the national park which require great attention.
As the new member for Cook, I am working with the community to find an agreed list of local road priorities to guide the investment of the Commonwealth, state and local governments for local roads in the Sutherland shire. I am aware of the good work that the Sutherland Shire Council does in seeking to examine the risk factors and needs issues relating to various roads right across the Sutherland shire. But that process must include a dialogue with the community to understand what it believes the great needs are. The community is well aware of many risk areas right across our community; whether they be traffic lights, roundabouts, improved surfaces with skid resistant works or whatever they may be. If the only guide is that there has not been a fatal accident, or enough fatal accidents, on a particular stretch of road, I frankly cannot go along with that line of reasoning.
The community’s view about what constitutes a safe area of road must be taken into account in any evaluation process. Members right across this House will be aware of the frustrations of their constituents when they raise local road issues with them. They are very unhappy with the response that sometimes we have to give—that we have raised this matter with the council, and, after consideration by their engineers or whoever it might be, the decision is that there is not a high enough risk profile on that particular road. It is of cold comfort to people as they put their children in the car and take them through that intersection as they make their way to football on a Saturday morning after it has been raining that it is not risky enough yet because there have not been enough accidents. They really do not want to be the pre-requisite for that road actually getting the funding to be fixed.
While we have these measures to determine safety, we need to look at them further as we construct this program. When we provide funding to local councils to spend on local roads, we need to ensure that councils actually consult with their communities about what they believe the priorities are. That is a process that I am working through with the good officers of the NRMA in New South Wales and, in particular, the local director representative of the NRMA in the Sutherland shire—shire legend and businessmen, Michael Tynan, who has a deep commitment to these issues. If it is not this, it is the F6, or any number of other great road issues that Michael works on. We will work together with the NRMA to come up with an even better defined list of community priorities on local roads.
So far, this consultation has already highlighted the need to look at a number of projects, and I will mention them briefly. The first is the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Bates Drive and Alpita Street in Kareela. Second is the installation of right-turn bays on The Boulevarde to Kareena Rd—not far from Port Hacking High School—which is a notorious local black spot. Third is a skid-resistant surface to improve traction on the Dents Creek bends on North West Arm Road at Grays Point.
To use The Boulevarde project as an example of these road projects, a large gymnastic club is in Kareena Rd, and there are many families who take their children there after school—during peak times—and they have been looking for a right-turn bay there for some time. Similarly, there are the Dents Creek bends, on the roadway out to the Swallow Rock Reserve. Many families, kayakers, boaters or others go down that winding road on a weekend. They are always at risk of skidding off the road and causing damage either to their vehicle or to themselves.
Fourthly is the erection of a noise abatement barrier on Captain Cook Drive near Murrami Avenue at Caringbah—also not far from Shark Park—to provide local residents with relief from worsening traffic noise. These residents have been enduring high levels of road noise caused by trucks speeding down Captain Cook Drive not more than 20 metres from the back of their houses. There are construction trucks travelling to and from the Labor government’s desalination plant at Kurnell. Residents have noticed that, as the construction has gone on, the ill-considered project has caused suffering to them and there has been increased traffic going up and down these roads, with heavy trucks and vehicles increasing the propensity of smog and various vehicle emissions. Frankly, these residents have had enough. We have petitioned for residents, and I think we had to write to the then Minister for Roads, Minister Roozendahl, on eight occasions or thereabouts before he agreed to undertake some new noise monitoring on the site to see whether it would qualify for abatement.
What we are finding on all of these issues is that, as residents raise their voices, particularly at a state level, they are falling on deaf ears. That is why I am encouraged by things like the Roads to Recovery program, because if the state government will not listen in these areas then there is an opportunity for local councils to react to local needs, supported by the measures first introduced by the Howard government.
Fifthly is the widening of the Gannons Road rail bridge at Caringbah. This is a very worthy local project ignored by the New South Wales Labor government when it began duplication of the Sutherland to Cronulla railway line. Despite a new bridge being built for the new railway line, the existing bridge was left in place with a single lane in each direction—a very nearsighted decision. The state member for Cronulla, Mr Malcolm Kerr, has been a keen advocate of this project for many years. There have been improvements to pedestrian safety around local school zones, and there is a litany of those in terms of signage, speed barriers and various other things to protect our children near schools.
The final one that I would like to note, which goes beyond Roads to Recovery, is the F6 extension, with a tunnel to be built underneath the Sutherland shire to create the missing link in Sydney’s road system. This is an item that I have spoken on many times in this place. The F6 is the missing link. We hear a lot from those opposite about their commitment to infrastructure and, for me, the F6 extension is the litmus test of whether they are serious or not. This is a project that has had its corridor reserved since 1951. The government in New South Wales—and this is something I would commend them for—has been very encouraging with the development of Port Kembla and the promotion of local economic opportunities in the Port Kembla area. They have been successful in securing the transfer of a lot of port activities to that area. But that means the roads that service Port Kembla going back into the major metropolitan market of Sydney have to be up to scratch and so, for that matter, do the rail links to that area in order to carry the goods.
The F6 extension now becomes not just a matter of creating safer roads in the Sutherland shire and shorter commuter times for the residents of the Sutherland shire but all about connecting Sydney to the booming Illawarra. The F6 extension is something that simply must be on the Infrastructure Australia audit, and I trust that it is well in hand and that it is being looked at as part of the Infrastructure Australia audit process. I know that the former Premier of New South Wales has made representations to see that the building fund established by the government would be looking to provide some support to the F6. I would be calling on those members from the Illawarra and St George to join the members in the Sutherland shire—the member for Hughes and me—in banding together in a serious effort to ensure that we get the F6 built.
These are the road priorities in the Sutherland shire. The process of having a Roads to Recovery program is one that gives power to local councils to act on local needs with the support of the federal government. I am pleased that the new government has recognised what is, essentially, a very sound and very successful policy. (Time expired)
I rise to speak in support of the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. I am very pleased to be talking about infrastructure in this chamber. I have spoken before, in the Main Committee, about the importance of investment in infrastructure in my electorate of Petrie. Investing in Australia’s infrastructure is one of the most important investments we can make in this country. The Rudd Labor government is in the job of nation building. You cannot build a nation without investing in infrastructure. But internationally we face a global slowing of the economy. Many countries, including Japan, Germany, France and the US, have recorded negative growth in recent quarters, and other countries are experiencing zero growth. Domestically, the Howard government left Australia with inflation at a 16-year high. After 10 consecutive interest rate rises, Australia had the second highest interest rates in the developed world, and Australia faces severe capacity restraints due to the lack of investment in health, education, training and infrastructure.
All of this has resulted in pressure on businesses to maintain their competitive advantage and to grow. It has also, importantly, resulted in the average family suffering increasing financial pressures. The Howard government and its Treasurer, the member for Higgins, imposed an average of $400 per month on the average family through increased mortgage repayments as a result of the consecutive interest rate rises. The Howard government did nothing to put downward pressure on inflation and consequently on interest rates. Quite simply, it failed to invest in Australia’s future.
In addition, Australia is facing a serious skills shortage in many occupations across a large number of industries. Our schools are crying out for teachers in maths and science. Our health system is crying out for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. Our blue-collar industries—manufacturing, construction, mechanical, electrical and plumbing—are all in need of more skilled workers. And many other professional occupations, including engineers, are in need of more trained people. This is a snapshot of what we are currently dealing with—domestically, as part of the global economy and as a country seeking to maintain itself as a country with vision and as a nation builder.
For the past 12 years, Australia has experienced an influx of revenue from the resources boom, yet the Howard government failed to take advantage of this additional wealth in our country to ensure that investment in the future occurred. It failed to invest in health, education and transport infrastructure and failed to address the need for investment in training to ensure the best skilled workforce for a growing economy.
As a country, we need to look to the future with long-term strategies to ensure we can compete on the global stage. Australia needs to invest in human capital: in education, from early childhood through to tertiary, and in training for both young people and adults, to ensure portability of skills and the multiskilling of Australia’s workforce. This needs to occur to ensure that we can deal with the rapid change of occupations and the skills needed—the fact that many people have a number of careers in their lifetime—and to ensure that we can provide the highest level of skilled workers to grow productivity and thus grow the economy. In investing in human capital, we need to ensure that we look after that capital. We need to invest in fair workplace laws for the future, laws that provide for wages and conditions for workers and appropriate flexibility for businesses. We need to get the balance right.
Of course, we also need to invest in infrastructure. In the area of roads, as a federal government we are responsible for our national highways across this country. Our responsibility should not stop there. We need to work in partnership with the states and local governments to ensure adequate investment in improving our state and local roads as well. In the area of rail, in a country the size of Australia we cannot leave it to the states to simply run their own rail systems without ensuring that we have a national gauge system that can transport freight and people around our country. And much more needs to be done in the area of investing in public transport, for not only cost but also environmental reasons.
In the area of broadband, as a country we cannot compete internationally if we are not able to respond at the speed needed and with the technology needed in today’s society. Australia’s broadband system is behind those of most developed countries. The economic impact of outdated IT is obvious. Businesses both small and large rely heavily on accessing fast broadband. Those companies wanting to compete on the national and international stage cannot do so with a broadband system that does not allow rapid response to the needs of business. This affects productivity within businesses and their ability to compete.
At a much more basic level, the lack of more fast broadband access is preventing many people in normal households from making life that little bit easier. The fact is, by having fast broadband at home, people can get access to information at their fingertips, opening the door for people to further their education through remote learning courses, for schoolchildren to get access to important research for assignments or for people to simply pay their bills quickly and easily. This may not sound like much, but, if you are a person with a disability or mobility problems, the ability to do many day-to-day activities via the internet can make your life that little bit easier.
The Howard government, in relation to roads, simply tinkered around the edges, ignored our national highways and did not adequately enter into partnerships with our states to build new roads and road infrastructure. We have just heard from the member for Cook, who is asking this government to help, through Infrastructure Australia, to finally build the F6 expansion, an expansion that apparently has been on the books since 1951. This is further evidence that the Howard government sat back for 12 years doing nothing on this project—no long-term strategy. The Howard government, through its inaction, let down the business community and individuals both nationally and at a local level. It failed to invest in rail to link our cities and regions, and it failed to invest in broadband.
Why is investment in infrastructure so important? As I have already stated, it builds a nation and it strengthens an economy. In south-east Queensland the Queensland government is currently investing $1.9 million to upgrade the Gateway Motorway—the only north-south bypass of Brisbane—to six and eight lanes. Up until November 2007 the federal government had not committed any funding towards this important road project. There remained a missing link between the Bruce Highway and the Pacific Motorway; with the current link only four lanes, motorists would be stuck in traffic jams. Already up to 70,000 motorists use these sections of road every day—and certainly many in my electorate do. If we do nothing, by 2012 over 94,000 commuters will be sitting in daily traffic jams. Without an upgraded link to the Bruce Highway and Pacific Motorway, truckies from the port and airport—the fastest-growing industry and trade precinct in Australia—will struggle to meet their schedules, pushing up costs for consumers.
The Rudd Labor government has immediately provided $10 million to kick-start urgent planning on the Gateway Motorway’s two missing links—the second link being the 4.5 kilometre Mount Gravatt-Capalaba Road to the Pacific Highway link. The construction of the missing links will mean that Queensland motorists will have a first-class arterial road linking the Pacific Motorway to the Bruce Highway. The Rudd government made a commitment in the federal budget to reduce the traffic congestion on this busy highway once and for all. For 12 long years the Howard government refused to commit to building the two missing links—leaving Queenslanders with a road that was half built. The investment by the Rudd Labor government will fund critical pre-construction activities, such as community consultation, geotechnical surveys, design, environmental assessments and land acquisition—and consultation has already commenced. From 2009-10, an additional $195 million will be invested in pre-construction funding for these links under the AusLink 2 investment program. Kick-starting this critical planning work means that the construction of the missing links could be ready to begin as soon as 2011.
As we know, the Ipswich Motorway and the Bruce Highway through Central and Northern Queensland have also been neglected for far too long. The Australian community and the Queensland community now have a federal government that is willing to act on these issues, and in the first nine months of government the Rudd Labor government has commenced that action.
Back at a local level, in my electorate of Petrie, the Queensland government has commenced the construction of the Houghton Highway Bridge duplication. Of course, with this new bridge, further improvements in road infrastructure from the bridge to the Gateway Motorway on the Houghton Highway will need to be assessed. And I look forward to having discussions with the three levels of government on the need for improved infrastructure.
Another issue that is extremely important in my electorate, as with other growth areas around Brisbane, is public transport and the need for all levels of government to invest in this area. What the outer northern metropolitan areas of Brisbane need is a fully integrated public transport system. The Howard government made improvements to the Bruce Highway from Carseldine up through Pine Rivers and further to Caboolture. The problem is that the previous federal government failed to work with the state and local governments to plan for dedicated bus lanes or an improved rail system for the area. Infrastructure like this is not just beneficial for business but also essential to ensure mobility of people in our community for training and employment opportunities. It is also an important investment in the challenge of reducing carbon emissions through the reduction of vehicles on our roads. With the growth in areas suh as Pine Rivers, Mango Hill and North Lakes and with the lack of adequate public transport on the Redcliffe Peninsula, public transport infrastructure such as new rail lines and dedicated bus lanes is critical to the future sustainability of the area.
That is why investing in infrastructure for our future is so important. The bill now before the House is another step forward in building this nation. This bill has two important elements: amending the definition of ‘road’ so as to put beyond doubt that projects for the development of off-road facilities used by heavy vehicles in connection with travel on the road may be funded, and extending the Roads to Recovery program until 30 June 2014. The first of these elements will increase safety for heavy vehicle drivers, making it safer for those people performing the important task of moving products around this country. It will also make our roads safer for the broader community. Too many lives have been lost to heavy vehicle accidents. As a federal government we must do whatever we can to save lives on our roads.
On the extension of the Roads to Recovery funding, I welcome—as do my local councils—the additional funding to go into our local roads. I was pleased to see in the most recent announcements of the budget figures for 2008-09 for Roads to Recovery that one of my councils in the electorate of Petrie, the Moreton Bay Regional Council, will receive $3.6 million in Roads to Recovery funding. As one of the new amalgamated councils, with over 300,000 constituents in it, I am sure that funding will be well received by the council. I certainly look forward to working closely with the consultant group that the council has engaged on road safety issues. They have already come to meet with me to talk about important safety initiatives on our local roads.
I have to say that I am very, very passionate about making sure that the roads outside of our schools are made as safe as possible to ensure that our children can go to school safely, and I look forward to talking with my local councils about ensuring that we achieve that. I also have many constituents coming to meet with me to talk about the need for traffic calming around their suburban streets. This is another issue that I look forward to talking with my council representatives about, and I look forward to seeing the Roads to Recovery funding really delivering for the local community. Having federal government and local government working directly with each other to build on our infrastructure is an important obligation that we must continue to support. That is why I am so pleased to see as part of this bill an extension of the Roads to Recovery funding to 2014. I acknowledge all of the projects that have been funded in my electorate since the implementation of this program in November 2000 and look forward to working with my councils, through the mayors and local councillors, to see the improvements in our local roads over the coming years. Building a nation requires investment. This bill works towards that aim, and I commend it to the House.
I rise this evening to continue the debate on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. To do the mandatory summary of the bill is relatively simple—important, but simple. The bill extends that wonderful program called Roads to Recovery through until 2014. I might add that Roads to Recovery is considered by every member of local government across my huge electorate as the finest program to ever come out of federal government. So it is very wise of this government today to consider extending it. I congratulate them for having the common sense and for showing it on this rare occasion.
The second thing that this bill will achieve is to allow in cases where we still have unincorporated areas funds to be preserved for a particular state or territory whilst a determination is made as to which particular local government area those funds will be spent in. Thirdly, the bill amends the definition of ‘road’ to include adjacent areas directly associated with roadways, and the classic example is of course heavy transport parking bays. Having achieved all of those things, what it means in short is that we are going to have a continuation of this wonderful AusLink program—the umbrella over the Roads to Recovery program.
I said already that the Roads to Recovery program is the finest thing that has emanated from federal government in recent times. There is a particular strategic funding section of Roads to Recovery that I wish to discuss in further detail this evening. One of the great highway initiatives that has developed in the last decade in this nation is the Outback Way. The Outback Way is a road that links Winton in Queensland through to Laverton in Western Australia in the north-eastern goldfields. We set out aiming to promote the ‘Outback Highway’. Some took issue with the term ‘Highway’. We heard on good authority that some overseas visitors wanted to bring their Lamborghini and do the run on the ‘Outback Highway’ and we felt that we may be criticised if our roadmap showed that particular set of roadways as a highway because it may not handle the low chassis of the Lamborghini. So we modified our terminology and accepted that it may be referred to as the Outback Way.
What is the Outback Way, what does it do and why is it important to all Australians? To take the last part first, unfortunately it is not presently important to all Australians. Surprisingly, it is not apparently important to even Northern Territorians, because it has taken since 2004, when I secured $10 million worth of funding on a dollar for dollar basis for the Outback Way, for still nothing to be done on the Docker River to the Olgas section of the road. This is the third national link that joins north-eastern Australia with south-western Australia. There are only two others—one goes north-south and the other goes around the outside. When it comes to Central Australia, we are not big on road infrastructure. It has taken until now and still nothing has been done with that Docker River to Olgas section.
A road train attempted to get through there some weeks ago only to find that it needed to be in diff lock for 120 of 192 kilometres. When you are burning diesel and hauling a big load, that is a damned expensive exercise. Were there any apologies from the Northern Territory government? Not on your Nelly! They blame things like negotiation—they had to negotiate heritage titles with the Central Land Council, with the Northern Territory government and with the federal government. I know that that process can be laborious but it is not meant to be that laborious. We have a wonderful Australian adage that says, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ But where there is no will it is often, ‘No way.’ I hope that they will honour their last promise—that by the end of September there will be some start made on repairing and bringing up to a reasonable condition that dreadful section of road. They tell me that they are going to achieve all clearances by that date and get the job under way.
There is in excess of $2 million waiting to be spent on that section of road and that will be the last of the $10 million worth of funding. We need more funding for the Outback Way. As I said, it is the third link. Why is it necessary? Well, believe it or not there is something in the Red Heart. There is a thriving pastoral industry, there is a thriving mining industry and there are communities of Indigenous people that are supposed to be very important to the Northern Territory government and to the current federal government. I cast about constantly trying to find evidence of that. Those industries and those people are being neglected because there is no decent road infrastructure through the centre.
The Outback Way should be upgraded to an all-weather condition at least. Think of the grey nomads, of whom we are all very proud and for whom we would like to get a decent pension. When grey nomads plan their trip to see Australia, it is often their once-in-a-lifetime trip. They want surety. They are already saddled with the highest petrol prices this nation has ever seen. They are already trying to survive on the smell of a greasy rag, with jam and baked beans for dinner. They want to be able to plan a trip into Central Australia with some surety. They cannot afford to get stuck on the side of the road for three weeks waiting for the water to go down because the road has not been designed to deal with localised, short-term flooding.
I am not asking for a bitumen highway, nor are my supporters in Central Australia, but we would like a road that is engineered to make it safe and well drained so when we get that localised flooding the road is passable. It is not too much to ask, surely, in 2008. It is not too much to ask the Northern Territory to cooperate along with Queensland and Western Australia. Queensland and Western Australia cooperated and they contributed to analysing the 10 worst locations on the Outback Way and prioritising them from one to 10. Queensland got on with the job on a dollar-for-dollar basis; so did Western Australia. What about the Northern Territory? ‘We are very sorry. We’ve got things like native title, heritage clearances and federal government environmental issues to deal with.’ Everyone else could do it but the Territory sat on their hands.
When they finally do this stretch of road from Docker River, we need more funds so that the grey nomads and others who wish to tour the inland can plan their trip, and not be caught on the side of the road waiting for a waterway to go down or waiting for a mud surface to dry out sufficiently to get a vehicle across it. The road will be engineered in a manner that is well sheeted and well drained. People will be able to plan a trip into Central Australia and then execute that trip on the basis of just having to pay through the nose for fuel and having to deal with the lack of facilities in outback Australia, but at least the road will get them through—and that will be a wonderful change.
I fought very hard back in 2004 to get that funding. It disappoints me so much that (a) it has been unspent for such a long period of time and (b) the Outback Highway Development Council today in its constant interaction with government is not getting much traction. We are enjoying such an upbeat environment right now with the knowledge that minerals are making a lot of money for this nation. In the next five years, the Outback Highway Development Council is seeking to again do as they have done in the last four years but on the basis of a $10 million contribution in each of those five years. They are looking for $50 million from this federal government to support on a dollar-for-dollar basis the upgrading of some 2,800 kilometres of road. There is a lot of upgrading to do. But there is a lot of mining gear to shift through Central Australia, there are a lot of cattle to shift through Central Australia and there are a lot of opportunities to be created by Indigenous populations in communities so the travelling public can call in—to check out an art gallery possibly or to take a tour with local Indigenous persons who have so much to contribute to the touring experience in Central Australia. Their art is becoming internationally famous but they cannot get people to their front door. People will not come because they cannot plan with any surety because the road is in such a tragic condition. No-one in their right mind, save the outback explorer, would tackle the trip.
The Outback Way is the name of it, colleagues. It needs funding to the tune of just $10 million a year on a dollar-for-dollar basis from Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. I recommend it to you as a highway that in the future will become an icon. Instead of having to go all the way around, you will be able to drive up to Winton on the bitumen, head south-west basically, go through the Red Heart, see the Rock, go to the Olgas, go through Giles and into the goldfields of Western Australia and then whip back across the Nullarbor. It would take a fraction of the time and expense and you could experience the Red Heart, see something of real Australia and be richer for the experience. Fifty million dollars over five years is not a lot to ask.
The achievements of Roads to Recovery under AusLink so far have been enormous. I have cited one truly national situation that if funded correctly would be a great boon to all travelling Australians. But there is another issue, a little tiny issue, that I would like to cite because it is a classic case of doing the right thing in the right place at the right time. The Howard led government came up with Roads to Recovery. It was the first time that direct funding was available for local government to fix problems that had never been able to be budgeted for and had never previously attracted funding from the states. A little place called Kookynie would have been a ghost town except for the existence of the Kookynie grand hotel—a wonderful pioneer structure. It was served always by dirt streets. Those streets were wide enough to turn camel trains in. When the gold ran out in Kookynie, corrugated iron houses were pulled down, thrown on the backs of camels and moved to the next strike. But the Kookynie grand hotel was a stone structure and it stayed there. Ever since, it has served as a little watering hole in the desert for travellers coming down from the north on the Goldfields Highway to get petrol and a cold beer. Now goldfielders living in Kalgoorlie like to go up and spend a weekend there. However, every time somebody came into town on the dirt streets, they were peppered with dust. Roads to Recovery funding paved the streets of Kookynie for the first time in over 100 years. The experience of going to Kookynie now is a pleasant thing to do on a Saturday or a Sunday afternoon. You can have a quiet beer in the beer garden at the grand hotel in Kookynie simply because the previous federal government was on the ground, knew the problems and funded programs that created solutions for local people in local situations.
I sincerely hope that this program will go a long way into the future, that it will be sustained past 2014, because apart from the little jobs like paving the roads in Kookynie this will link the ports, the rails and the roads of this nation. It will produce the arteries so vital for our export industries. Right now, within the archives of this parliament, sits a report from the Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services. The Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services did an investigation into the connectivity of road, rail and port facilities in this nation. Towards the end of 2007, those deliberations were concluded. This standing committee recommended, amongst other things, that additional funds be allocated to improve that road-rail-port connectivity. Our investigations around the nation found that the majority of the major ports had a flaw in their linkage that was creating a genuine bottleneck. That committee made a recommendation either that substantial additional funding be found, such as a contribution to AusLink for the purpose, or that a separate fund be created to improve that connectivity to stop those bottlenecks, to increase the smooth and efficient flow of exports out of this country that earn us such valuable dollars and to allow the efficient handling of imports into this country in the form of consumer goods. I do not know what has happened to that report. Thus far, I have seen none of those recommendations accepted by this government. Prior to the election, it told us how the blame game was certainly going to be solved and that there would be a great concentration on rebuilding the nation’s necessary infrastructure.
There is nothing more necessary than a decent, effective and efficient connectivity between road, rail and port. It has been done by private enterprise in Western Australia. Some of the most efficient railways in the world service the iron ore industry of the Pilbara and take that product to port for export overseas. That infrastructure was installed and paid for by shareholders of corporations. We have heard so much about, as I say, the ending of the blame game and the fascination with and importance of infrastructure, but it is a long time since this government was elected and I still wait for any announcement that goods will actually be delivered. It seems there is a great deal of difference between the rhetoric pre-election and the practical delivery afterwards. We wait with bated breath.
We have seen a great deal happening in legislation that is going to improve the lot of drivers and their safety on the road. Tied in with this bill is the issue of the heavy vehicle safety and productivity plan. There is connectivity in the acceptance of the heavy vehicle safety and productivity plan, because the changes proposed in that plan are going to be funded by the registration fees known as the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination. For the minute remaining, I refer to that heavy vehicle safety and productivity plan. It is going to introduce a European transport style monitoring system to Australia. Even though I applaud anything to do with improved safety for the public and drivers, I wonder whether more research ought to be done when it comes to introducing a European plan to Australia. There are not a lot of stops between Port Hedland and Broome, and to impose a system that makes a comparison between that stretch and Berlin to Magdeburg is stretching it a little too far.
I rise to speak in support of the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. The main provisions of this bill amend the definition of ‘road’ contained in the act so that it puts beyond doubt that projects for the development of off-road facilities used by heavy vehicles in connection with travel on the road may be funded and extend the Roads to Recovery program until 30 June 2014. The legislation also makes it clear that funds can be allocated under the Roads to Recovery program for use in a particular state whilst the most appropriate entity to finally receive the allocation is determined. This will allow funds to be preserved whilst, for example, arrangements are put in place to provide funds for roads in unincorporated areas where there is no local council or to provide bridges and access roads in remote areas. The bill broadens the definition of ‘road’ to allow funds to be used for the funding of rest areas, parking areas, heavy vehicle bays, decoupling areas, weigh stations and facilities that are associated with or similar to any of these as additional items in the definition. It is not intended that the funding of any commercial developments such as motels, food or fuel outlets would be covered by this addition to the definition.
The heavy vehicle safety and productivity program was announced in the May 2008 budget, subject to the Senate allowing the increase to the road user charge. The program will provide (a) additional heavy vehicle rest areas on key interstate routes, (b) heavy vehicle parking and decoupling areas and facilities in outer urban and regional centres, (c) new technology and vehicle electronic systems and (d) road capacity enhancement to allow access by higher productivity vehicles to more of the road network.
This amendment will enable the government to provide funding for these facilities under the government’s $70 million heavy vehicle safety and productivity package. Funding for the package is contingent on the passage of the enabling legislation for the 2007 heavy vehicle charges determination which was unanimously endorsed by the Australian Transport Council, composed of Commonwealth, state and territory transport ministers, in February this year.
This legislation has been blocked by the coalition in the Senate, even though the determination and policy was proposed by the former government. One in five road deaths involve heavy vehicles, with speed and fatigue being significant contributing factors. In 2007, there were over 200 road deaths in Australia involving heavy vehicles. The facilities that will be delivered under the heavy vehicle safety and productivity package will improve road safety and provide a better deal for truckies.
This bill also extends the Roads to Recovery program. Under the current act, the program will end on 30 June 2009. This bill will continue the program until 30 June 2014. The Roads to Recovery program was implemented in November 2000 to provide Australian government funding to local government for both urban and rural roads in all parts of Australia. The Roads to Recovery program provides some $350 million a year to local councils around Australia so they can make urgent repairs and upgrades to their roads. The bill extends the life of the Roads to Recovery program until 30 June 2014 by enabling a new list of funding recipients and their allocations to be determined from 1 July 2009 to 30 June 2014.
The continuation of this program means that local government can confidently plan for the continued improvements of the roads for which they are responsible. The bill allows the minister to allocate funding for special projects of a state or territory and then reallocate that funding to the local government authorities which will be responsible for the special projects, by having the list determine allocations for funding recipients while at the same time preserving an amount, where appropriate, which will be allocated to particular funding recipients at a later date. It does this by allowing the minister to allocate funds under the program for use in a particular state where those funds are intended—and, in due course, for special projects—and correspondingly increase the allocations of funding to the local government authorities which the minister decides will be responsible for the special projects.
In my electorate of Dawson, under the 2008-09 allocation of funding for Roads to Recovery, this totals more that $4.5 million and includes $417,796 for the Burdekin Shire Council, $1,719,121 for Mackay Regional Council, $1,070,659 for Whitsunday Regional Council and $1,301,715 for Townsville City Council. This funding comes on top of local government grant allocations for roads which total $6.3 million for my electorate in 2008-09. That consists of $700,025 for the Burdekin Shire, $2,199,761 for Mackay Regional Council, $1,130,327 for Whitsunday Regional Council and $2,296,588 for Townsville City Council.
The AusLink Black Spot Program has also provided $271,000 in funding for dangerous black spots in the Burdekin, including $121,000 to build a roundabout at the intersection of Young and Burke Streets and erect give-way signs along Young Street, between Hoey Street and Wickham Street in Ayr; $120,000 to build a roundabout at the Young Street and Graham Street intersection in Ayr; and $30,000 to remove the kerb and improve the roundabout at the Chippendale Street and Cox Street intersection in Ayr. Add to this funding under AusLink in 2008-09 which includes $20 million of the government’s $95 million commitment to the Townsville port access road, $1.73 million for upgrades to Connors Road in Paget and $4 million of the government’s $25 million commitment to the Burdekin River bridge.
The government will contribute $95 million in matching funds for the $190 million Townsville port access road project. The funding will provide a highway link to the Port of Townsville. This will support continuing economic growth—in particular, in agricultural and mineral imports and exports through the port. The existing route to the port has operational constraints, due to adjacent residential development, and has significant safety and amenity—noise and vibration—problems. The port access road provides for the import, export and supply chain for North Queensland and, importantly, the north-western mineral province around Mount Isa and Cloncurry, which will enable quicker, more reliable and cheaper access to the port. The road will enhance important economic benefits to the national economy from existing industry and provide for the expected growth from within the northern growth triangle of Bowen to Townsville and inland to Mount Isa.
The port access road also provides a more efficient connection between rural and remote communities to the port and, from there, to interstate and international product markets. There will be an upgrade to Connors Road, Mackay, for a length of 1.23 kilometres between Boundary Road and Farrellys Lane, in the Paget industrial area, and improvements to the intersection between Farrellys Lane and Connors Road and the adjacent rail crossing. The establishment of the Paget industrial area means that Connors Road will need to have pavement of a standard that is suitable for heavy vehicles. The upgrade of the road will assist in the development of the industrial area as a site for heavy industry servicing Mackay and the region’s mining and related industries.
The Burdekin River bridge is a 50-year-old steel structure crossing the Burdekin River. This bridge is a vital link between the towns of Ayr and Home Hill. It is of strategic significance to Queensland as it provides the only safe and reliable connection for road and rail traffic between North Queensland and all points south. This project involves continued structural rehabilitation and patch-painting. The continued maintenance and rehabilitation of this bridge maintains economic productivity and access to the region through reduced travel time and improved route reliability.
I would just like to thank the LNP member for Burdekin, Rosemary Menkens, for her kind words. She said that I did well to secure the funding. Indeed, she is correct—just look at the previous member for Dawson’s record on delivering funding for the bridge. The previous government neglected roads in Dawson, and this government is delivering for the people of Dawson. If you add together all of the funding committed by this government in 2008-09 for roads in Dawson, you will get the figure of $36,800,000. Now, that is delivering for the people of Dawson. I would challenge anybody to compare the record of this government in delivering basic road infrastructure for the people of Dawson against the record of the previous government. The previous government and the previous member completely and utterly failed in delivering basic road infrastructure for the people of Dawson. This government will commit a total figure of $36,800,000 in 2008-09—in one financial year. Now, that is what I call delivering for the people of Dawson. I commend the bill to the House.
I will have to put out a press release in Dawson to remind them that a couple of years ago the electorate of O’Connor got $100 million out of Commonwealth funding and, I think, about $50 million out of Roads to Recovery. I was always able to boast that it was the highest allocation for any electorate in Australia. But I did not boast too loudly, because it was all provided on a formula anyway. Whilst the member for Dawson is entitled to self-congratulation, the fact of life is that most decisions on roadworks, including those in my electorate, are made by the state roads departments and are based upon the funds made available to the various states by the Commonwealth as part of its program of funding.
But isn’t it amazing when people start to talk about doing the right thing? We have just seen retribution taken upon the Carpenter government in Western Australia—or, as I used to call it, the McGinty-MacTiernan government—based on road funding. The growth south of Perth to places like Bunbury and areas south of that—Busselton and the Margaret River—has been exponential. The road system was a disgrace. There was a significant lack of passing lanes. As I speak, there is an ongoing high level of fatalities from crashes on that road.
The good offices of two members—the then member for Forrest, Geoff Prosser, and the incumbent member for Canning, Don Randall—campaigned to our leadership for a significant contribution over and above that funding to extend what is known as the Kwinana Freeway so that it could pass through Bunbury with an appropriate two-lane freeway system. Consequently, and to his credit, the then minister approached the WA government—the WA roads minister was Alannah MacTiernan—and offered 50 per cent of the costs. Alannah MacTiernan replied that she did not want the money. To be honest, I think we went the other way around. We asked how much the road would cost, and she said $300 million. We said, ‘We’ll give you half.’ She said that was not enough. We said, ‘How much more do you want?’ We eventually offered her $170 million, which, on her estimate, was half the cost. She said again that she did not want the money because she could not find the other half—too bad that people were getting killed on virtually a weekly basis.
As Western Australian Liberals, we had to get together and insist that the federal minister withhold the typical annual grant of some hundreds of millions dollars until Alannah MacTiernan accepted the money and did the job. The minister was subjected to abuse and advertisements in the paper and everything—and we insisted that he hold the line. In the end, that Western Australian minister took the money and commenced the work. In fact, that work is now well advanced. As I have read in the papers, this government has continued its contribution of half the cost, for which it can be congratulated because, as is typical in the present-day environment, the costs keep escalating at a fairly rapid rate. Of all the initiatives that governments can take, building better roads is the one that saves lives. That is where lives get saved—on the road.
In referring to legislation I always look at the explanatory memorandum. Included in the explanatory memorandum to the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008 is a financial impact statement, and the money that we are authorising to be spent will be available only subject to the Senate allowing the increase to the road user charge. We have truckies selling their trucks. The Leader of the Opposition drew to our attention the other day that there have been 3,000 repossessions. The price of diesel has gone through the roof. Many subcontract drivers find it extremely difficult to get their contracts altered. I think that is unfortunate. The rise and fall clauses in many areas—including, I might add, with Australia Post’s subcontractors—are delayed to a point when it gets very painful. And we have the government proposing to increase the road user charge. Why would you do that? Why would you increase the road user charge?
There is a quote in the second reading speech about what our minister said on one occasion. I would like to know the context in which it was said, because every time the Australian Transport Council recommended an increase in these charges we opposed it. The recommendation would come through to the minister, and the backbench on this side of the House always opposed it. One reason for that is that any charge you put onto an intermediate service means the cost is passed on to the consumer. The member for Kalgoorlie was just speaking. If you go into the member for Kalgoorlie’s electorate, you have a great choice of transport for all areas north of Geraldton, which is in my electorate—that is, road transport. There is no rail. There is airfreight, if you think you can afford to pay for that. There is no state shipping service, as there once was—notwithstanding that that was run by a government under the auspices of the Seamens Union. It was so expensive that trucks going down dirt roads could be cheaper.
We are being told that these sums—$10 million in 2008-09, $20 million in 2009-10 and thereafter to 2011-12—will only be expended if the road user charge goes up. So the purpose of this legislation is to tell the truckies: ‘If you want improved off-road areas in which to take a rest and you want them to be in reasonable condition to drive your truck onto, you are going to have to pay for it.’ Yet the industry is in grave distress at the moment due primarily to the cost of fuel—and as we know, as the price of crude oil is falling so is the Australian dollar, and the actual cost is not changing very much.
If you want truckies to take more rest, I think there is a hint in this. There is a suggestion that some of this money might be spent on electronic surveillance and that that would be a better way of achieving an outcome than a logbook. We have never had logbooks in Western Australia, and I do not think the incidence of crashes over there is any greater than anywhere else. By the way, I had better declare an interest. I still hold a heavy haulage truck driver’s licence and in the early years I was a significant trucking operator around the town of Carnarvon. We formed a co-op to cart freight into our town and the produce of that region back to Perth. It was I who first convinced the then Liberal state Minister for Transport that two-trailer double-bottom road trains were not some invention of the devil that religiously and continuously drove over the top of motorists. He agreed with me and gave us a trial because we were trying to cart produce at a competitive price to Perth, a 600-mile journey. It was a trial with four road trains. It was so successful he opened up the road out of Perth to all such vehicles. They now have three trailers and still they do not run over any more people than a single trailer. As far as I am concerned, when I am on the road I would rather pass one road train with three trailers than three semitrailers all tailgating—though legally they should not do that.
Furthermore, even though that approval was given, originally the breakdown area was 30 kilometres out of Perth. The Richard Court government ran a trial and brought those sorts of vehicles into the city. Everybody said that would be the end of the earth and that people would get run over, but they have been operating like that since then. In the Labor state government, Alannah MacTiernan did everything in her power to try and stop them. The fact is that they improve efficiency. They run around the city on designated routes—and that is quite sensible—but they do not make any trouble.
I have watched the eastern states, and South Australia in particular, come up with all sorts of draconian measures that seem to have a lot more to do with collecting revenue than with road safety. I have never been able to understand why somebody driving out of Western Australia with a perfectly legal vehicle is fined up to $1,000, because the specification of that vehicle changes as they cross the WA-South Australian border. To be honest, I would not mind it if they were to put the money into their roads, because those roads are typically pretty lousy.
I know quite a lot about trucks and I know this: every time you increase a truck driver’s costs he will attempt to drive further to recover the losses. While people are preaching road safety and want to put electronic measurement on the trucks to ensure that truckies only drive given distances, if you increase their costs then they will go out of business.
Let me refer, in this financial impact statement, to the fact that after 2009-2010 the Commonwealth is going to add an extra $50 million to the Roads to Recovery program. It is one of the few programs implemented over the term of the Howard government that the Rudd government has retained. All of the others, such as the Investing in Our Schools Program and Regional Partnerships—all funding programs aimed at the smaller, regional and remote areas of Australia—were scrubbed. Nevertheless, I welcome that extra $50 million a year. When the Liberal government introduced the Roads to Recovery program it was based on the fact that it was known that at that time the local government sector was getting $600 million a year behind in the maintenance of its road network, which the minister reminds me in his second reading speech, was 810,000 kilometres. We put up half of the funding.
In Western Australia, the then Gallop government took back some of the money they were putting in, notwithstanding that Prime Minister Howard had entreated all premiers not to back off on their commitment to roads. As a minister some years ago, on a visit to Birdsville I was taken out, with great pride, on a state government road on which they had spent their Roads to Recovery money. There was some sense in that—inasmuch as most of their so-called road network was on pastoral properties and, when they had previously approached the Labor government in Queensland to get some work done on this road, they were told, ‘You might get it within 50 years.’ They probably did the right thing but, on the other hand, that was not the intention of the funding. I note that this legislation better defines the opportunity for those sorts of things to happen.
In reality the message here is: we will upgrade your off-road parking and do things of that nature, but you are going to pay for it. I do not think the truckies want it that badly. In the present environment they cannot afford to have additional fuel taxes, which is what the road user charge is, placed upon them. And until there is a highly sophisticated electronic management system installed across all Australia, they will cheat on their logbooks and they will drive excessively long hours to try to save their trucks and probably the house they have mortgaged in the process of buying it. That is not smart; it is silly. I do not believe that, typically, these roads are built for trucks. They are built for motorists because there is a large number of them. And it does not matter which side of parliament you are on, you take notice of those people.
I do not agree with the argument that the railways put forward, that they do not get that degree of assistance. The railway system of Australia was constantly protected from open competition from the trucking industry, more particularly on the east coast, and for many years truck configurations were restricted to semitrailers to guarantee that the bloated and unionised rail system could compete. The moment you started to make a B-double or chuck a couple of trailers behind, amazingly, rail could not compete. As we know, in general goods transport there is only one bit of the rail system that is profitable today and that is the bit between Port Augusta, in particular Port Pirie, and Perth. That is partly because of the length of the journey and of course the large volumes of freight that come out of the Eastern States to WA because of the prosperity we have in that state.
The last election, in the electorate of Hasluck, was fought on the opposition by the elected member to a new brickworks in Perth, which happened to be built in that area as the state government would not allocate any land for it anywhere, because they did not like Len Buckeridge, the bloke who was going to build the brickworks, because he does not force his workers to join a union. He does not stop them. Part of that freight coming across the Nullarbor was bricks to the brick and tile state. Why would you do that? In the end, the Commonwealth had to allocate land in not the best locality in Perth so this bloke could build a brickworks to maintain supply to the homeowners in Western Australia and to prevent the necessary carting of bricks right across Australia. And you wonder why the price of houses goes up. Yet the then McGinty-MacTiernan government, otherwise headed by Gallop or Carpenter, were not prepared to allocate any land. The machinery to be operated in that brickworks stayed in storage for three years, while a bloke who was trying to do no more than provide more bricks, typically at a more competitive price, was stopped from building a new brickworks anywhere.
Might I add, while we are on transport, I am writing to the new Premier of Western Australia to get him to complete an agreement that the Richard Court government made to let this same fellow build a private port. He has had an agreement with the parliament of Western Australia and for two terms of office—or a little less than that, as the public of Western Australia have decided—the previous WA government have prevented that construction. Why would you do that other than to prop up your inefficient government port authority?
In that regard, there is an absolute need for additional capacity. Ships carrying live sheep have come into Western Australia from the Eastern States half loaded. They have had to anchor out at sea because they could not get alongside to pick up the rest of the load. And people talk about cruelty to animals in this form of transport! Why would you do that? If the previous government, specifically McGinty and MacTiernan, had allowed this fellow to go ahead immediately upon getting the contract and the environmental approvals, that port would be operating today to the benefit of business and it would have taken a lot of trucks away from the Fremantle port and those road systems. (Time expired)
I rise today to make my contribution to this debate on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. The bill has two main purposes: to allow funding of heavy vehicle facilities and to extend the Roads to Recovery program for another five years. The bill amends the definition of a road so that it includes heavy vehicle facilities such as rest stops, parking bays, decoupling facilities and electronic monitoring systems. This will enable the government to provide funding for these facilities under its $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity package.
In my electorate of Solomon, this AusLink funding is very welcome. It delivers on a Rudd Labor commitment of ending the blame game, in this case between the Territory and federal governments of the past, and moves forward a major piece of infrastructure for the Northern Territory, particularly for Darwin and the Palmerston area. The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has worked closely with me, the member for Lingiari and Senator Crossin in sorting out the problems we have with the Tiger Brennan Drive extension. In this financial year, $11.2 million has been committed to the first stage of the Tiger Brennan Drive extension, and I can inform the House that the work is going along quite nicely at the moment. We are making some real progress. The wet season is starting to come towards us, and I hope that that progress will continue until it starts to rain.
A further $74 million will be committed by the federal government over the course of the next four years to complete the Tiger Brennan Drive extension, which will link our growing rural regions and the expanding Darwin and Palmerston areas. Being a Palmerston citizen, I often drive into work on that road, and it is gridlock. Believe it or not, in the Northern Territory we do occasionally have gridlock. Hopefully, the extension of Tiger Brennan Drive will relieve some of the problems we experience on our roads in peak periods. It is also about safety. We have a lot of near misses and other incidents in the current climate, and a lot of that is born of the frustration of motorists trying to get to work and finding it very difficult. That part of the project is very important to the people of Palmerston, of whom I am one. Hopefully, this will relieve the problem of gridlock.
A more national focus of the Tiger Brennan Drive extension is the improvement for business, industry and community. For instance, the industries which utilise the East Arm port and the trade development zone will have far better access. They will be able to go about their daily business in a safe, economical way, relieved of the infrastructure bottlenecks that they have been experiencing. The flyover, which will be the final stage of this, linking Tiger Brennan Drive to the Stuart Highway and replacing the current set-up of a very intense intersection with a constant flow of traffic, will be something that the people of the rural areas, as well as the truck drivers coming up the Stuart Highway, will greatly appreciate.
There is a vast expanse of land in the Northern Territory, and the Northern Territory is growing. In recent times we would not have thought this sort of money would need to be spent in the north of the country. But, as we have grown, roads and rail have become the lifeblood of the NT. We need to have seamless access from Adelaide to the East Arm port facility.
The Roads to Recovery program has been a good program. I know that those opposite are very proud of it. Some of their other initiatives, like Work Choices, have not been as well received by the Australian public. The Roads to Recovery program will continue for another five years. The $1.75 billion in new money to improve local roads around Australia, including those in the Northern Territory, will be welcomed. There will be an increase of $50 million a year, or $250 million over five years. These funds are urgently needed to upgrade and repair local roads.
We have heard from all speakers about the issues facing them in their electorates. I am sure that the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government has become a very popular man among all the 149 other members. We heard a couple of weeks ago how popular he has become. We will all be competing for that money because we all believe in the areas that we represent. I believe in Solomon and I know that the member for Lingiari believes in his electorate. These urgent works in the Northern Territory will get about $4.6 million in 2008-09 alone, which will be well received. It is money that is urgently needed to upgrade and repair the local roads.
Three of the councils in my electorate in the Northern Territory will receive funds. Palmerston City Council will receive some $200,000. Coomalie council will receive some $136,000 and Belyuen council will receive around $43,000. Local roads are critical for efficient and safe freight movements. Often the last kilometres from the highway to the port are on roads controlled by local government. The Rudd Labor government is working in partnership with local councils in order to deliver safer roads.
I am the Chair of the Northern Territory Black Spot Consultative Panel. This year we were fortunate enough to have $672,000 committed to two dangerous intersections in Stuart Park in my electorate. Only a month ago Minister Albanese and I said that we were committed to reducing crashes on Top End roads. Unfortunately, our current road toll is high. Black spot funding, as well as repairing the roads, is one way to try to reduce our road toll. I know that the Northern Territory government is very frustrated and is working closely with the Northern Territory Police to try to educate drivers not to take unnecessary risks. Unfortunately, at the moment our road toll is extremely high and is something that we as a community need to address because the accidents are taking a huge toll on families and on the community. As well as family losses, they are a cost to our economy. It is something that we need to look at very seriously. The Black Spot Program complements funding I have already secured for Tiger Brennan Drive and the Stuart Highway. We are looking at trying to improve road safety at both the national and the local level.
Next year black spot funding will increase by 33 per cent, which will be $60 million nationally. When you travel through cities the number of flowers and floral tributes to people who have died on our roads you see is quite staggering. Any money that can be channelled into trying to turn this around would be well received. We have discussed roads a lot, but I think it is a case of consultation as much as anything. With regard to the black spot funding, we are consulting with the Australian Trucking Association, local government associations, the Automobile Association of the Northern Territory, the Office of Indigenous Policy and the Department of Planning and Infrastructure.
I know that the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, the member for Lingiari, is a very staunch supporter of bush roads and of the communities that he represents. I look at it as a tag team effort between him and me in securing funding for the Northern Territory. Obviously I am in Solomon and he is in the community areas of Lingiari. He was very happy with the road funding that he was able to secure in the current round of funding. He represents a large electorate and covers a lot of kilometres on the roads. He hears stories about deteriorating roads and the ones that need help. The Victoria Highway at the Victoria River bridge gets cut regularly during the wet season and often trucks can be sidelined for weeks. We have committed $10.7 million for a bridge replacement and upgrades to reduce the impact of the flooding. Other areas that will benefit from the funding are the Alice Springs Town Council, $657,000; the Barclay Shire Council, nearly $100,000; the Central Desert Shire Council, over $300,000; the East Arnhem Shire Council, nearly a quarter of a million dollars; Katherine Town Council, $270,000; Roper Gulf Shire Council, $632,000; and the Tiwi Islands Shire Council, $683,000. They are significant amounts of money. That will bring the total spent in the Roads to Recovery program in the seat of Lingiari to $6.8 million, which is a significant amount. Territorians have a problem with the distances that they have to travel. A lot of Territorians move around. They need to be moving around in a safe environment. The cattlemen, fishermen, women, police, teachers, nurses, tourists and mining and gas industry workers rely on the roads for the simple things as well as for going fishing, camping, having fun and spending time with relatives. We need the roads to be in good condition.
We welcome the effort that has been put into this bill by the minister. The minister understands, as does the Prime Minister, who has been to my electorate on four occasions already. I think there is a significant commitment from the Prime Minister as well as from the minister for infrastructure to helping areas such as the Northern Territory and the electorate of Solomon to improve what we already have and to build on a growing area. The people up there appreciate the time and effort that is being put in. This investment in our roads will promote economic growth and benefit not only the Territory but the nation as a whole. These initiatives are great examples of the federal and Territory governments working together to deliver vital pieces of infrastructure for the people of Solomon and the Territory. I think this bill demonstrates our ongoing commitment to road safety and local road infrastructure. It also confirms our commitment as a federal government to nation building. That cannot be underestimated. There has been a fair bit said in the first part of this new parliament by those opposite about infrastructure. Without dwelling on that, I think a very positive note to finish on is to say that there is a commitment to infrastructure and nation building. It is not something that we on this side of the House say flippantly. I think we have the best minister in that position to deliver it. I really believe that he is committed to making sure that we build all 150 electorates and that we do not just single out ones that we want to secure. The member for O’Connor mentioned the $100-odd million that he was allocated and said that was probably just to make sure that the Prime Minister had a henchman in the party room. We are committed to delivering this. We are fully committed to continuing what has been a good program. I commend the bill to the House.
I am pleased to be able to speak on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008 tonight, and I see my colleague the member for Leichhardt may well be speaking next. You did not need to dress up, Member for Leichhardt.
In God’s country—I thank the member for Lowe. The member for Leichhardt and I are trying to ensure that we get the best roads we can for our people in the north. Last year the mayors alliance did a lot of good work in trying to convince the federal government that we should be putting more resources into North Queensland. In fact, we were successful, and we will certainly be doing a lot of work on the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Cairns.
In supporting the AusLink amendment bill tonight I want to observe that the bill does extend the Howard government’s commitments to delivering real benefits to the people of Australia, especially in North Queensland. The bill is going to amend the definition of ‘road’ contained in the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005. This puts beyond doubt that projects for the development of off-road facilities used by heavy vehicles in connection with travel on the road may be funded, and it extends the Roads to Recovery program until 30 June 2014. That is a terrific outcome. Local councils all across this great land of ours have warmly welcomed the Roads to Recovery program, and they have done great things with it.
As was foreseen by the Howard government, the beauty of it is that the money is delivered directly from the Commonwealth to the local government, and we do not get money being hived off by those inefficient states along the way, as they do in so many other areas of federal funding. I am particularly thinking of health at this stage, in the way that bureaucracies in the states take a good percentage of the money that the federal government gives the states for health and use it to prop up the bureaucracies. In Queensland, of course, we have more bureaucrats in health than we have hospital beds. There is something wrong when you get to that sort of situation—but that takes me away from the bill.
I certainly welcome the extension to the Roads to Recovery program, but I am alarmed that the bill links funding for roadsides to the introduction of a new tax. Why am I surprised? For how many years did this country see no new taxes? There was budget after budget after budget with no new taxes. In fact, what we saw was tax cut after tax cut after tax cut for many years in a row. Suddenly, the government of Australia changes, and there are all these new taxes—$20 billion worth of new taxes. Surely the Australian people must realise that these new taxes were not talked about at the time of the last election. What was talked about was: ‘We are going to reduce your grocery prices, your fuel prices, your mortgage rates and all of that sort of stuff.’ People clearly saw that in the brochure that was distributed by the Prime Minister. They did not see—because it was not there—‘Oh and, by the way, we are going to increase taxes by $20 billion.’
People are waking up to that, and they are getting angry—and so they should. We are seeing one of those taxes in this bill tonight. I guess the government is embarking on a situation where they are endangering the lives of Australia’s truckies and road users by insisting that funding for the maintenance of roadsides be linked to the introduction of increased heavy vehicle registration fees—in other words, making the safety of Australia’s road users hostage to the introduction of a new tax. As a matter of public principle, that is shameful. The coalition will support the changes that this bill is making in the hope that the $70 million for roadside safety areas will eventually be decoupled from the new tax by the government. It may well attract the attention of colleagues in the Senate. I am particularly pleased, however, to support the extension of the Roads to Recovery program, and what a great program it is. Many great projects have been funded across my electorate, as they have in other members’ electorates. They have improved the safety of Townsville streets, and I am pleased to support the extension of the program.
I would like to draw the parliament’s attention to money that has come out of the existing AusLink program for very valuable projects. I know that a number of colleagues will speak about projects in their electorates. In my electorate, and in areas surrounding my electorate, we have probably got about $300 million worth of projects, which is a terrific result. We have got $120 million being spent in the Tully area on the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Cairns. There is more money being spent in the Gordonvale area, and north of Townsville we have got the $40 million that I secured for the Woodlands to Veales Road extension. This is going to four-lane the Bruce Highway in that location, and it is going to fix up the dreaded Mount Low Parkway and Bruce Highway T-junction.
I am particularly pleased that we will see the opening of the Townsville Ring Road, probably in November. It is well on track. We just need to lay the asphalt now. The earthworks have all been done. A bit of tidying up needs to be done on one or two bridges, then the asphalt will be laid and we should see that opened in November. It is going to complete the Douglas Arterial Road through to the northern beaches. It will allow heavy vehicle traffic to bypass the city of Townsville. It will take a tremendous load off Nathan Street and Woolcock Street and out of the suburbs of Heatley, Vincent, Aitkenvale, Cranbrook, Mount Louisa and so on, and those trucks will have a high-speed, motorway-standard bypass of the city of Townsville.
More than that, because it connects the northern areas of the city to the hospital, the university and Lavarack Barracks—which you are well familiar with, Madam Deputy Speaker Vale; they are very large employers in the city of Townsville—the high-speed connection will enable many more people to have different living choices. They will be able to live in the northern beaches and the emerging Stockland development up on the Bohle Plains and in the Bohle area. There are some 5,000 new house lots being proposed in that area, and people will be able to have very high-speed connections to their place of work and the hospital—although I might observe, with the way the state government has been going, if they go to hospital they will not get a bed. We had a code yellow last week—24 people could not get a bed in the Townsville Hospital. We had one cancer patient dying on a trolley in emergency—very sad indeed. It is such a pity that the Townsville Hospital should be in that perilous condition.
Opening up the Townsville Ring Road—a project of mine that I committed to the electorate that I would deliver—will bring a lot more traffic into the Douglas Arterial Road, and that raises the prospect of four-laning the Douglas Arterial Road, doubling it in size. That will proceed as soon as the Townsville Ring Road opens. I understand we are going to proceed with the duplication of the Douglas Arterial Road to four lanes. Again, that will be warmly welcomed.
The member of Dawson alluded, in his speech earlier in the evening, to the Townsville Port Access Road. That was a commitment of both sides of politics—
Yes. It was always going to happen. I was a bit disappointed with the member for Dawson. Normally, although we sit on opposite sides of the House, we have good relationships across the chamber and we are colleagues first and members of political parties later. Many people do not understand that, but that is how it is. But I was a bit disappointed with the member for Dawson. I wanted to make an observation to him about what I felt was an error in the first sod-turning at the Townsville Port Access Road, which opened last Wednesday. But he turned his back on me and would not listen. I had not had a colleague do that to me previously. It was quite sad because I wanted to tell him that he had forgotten to invite the port authority, who started all of this and had lobbied very hard, and he had forgotten to invite Townsville Enterprise, the peak development body in the city, who also lobbied long and hard to everybody and sundry. I do not think it was a wilful oversight, but he needs to build bridges with those people because currently they are very angry. I wanted to tell him quietly, but he turned his back on me so I have told the parliament and he can take it from there.
It was inappropriate, yes. So we are looking forward to the Townsville Port Access Road being built. Then of course we will move on to the $107 million four-laning of the Bruce Highway south of Townsville from Cluden out to beyond the meatworks, along that area which is now becoming overloaded. That will be a good outcome as well.
This bill is a step in the right direction. I do remain concerned, as my colleagues do, with the linking to the new tax by the Rudd Labor government. This government has made a number of promises in relation to road funding in North Queensland, many of which were copied from the announcements that I made on behalf of the coalition. But, if the current government takes up announcements that I made, that is great. It is a good outcome for my community and I certainly strongly support that. But my community expects these commitments to be met. I think there is goodwill on the part of the Rudd government to meet those commitments, and of course they should be met regardless of who is in power.
I close with the observation that, among the many issues that we face as members of parliament, particularly in regional areas, roads is right up there in lights. It is important that we recognise that, and this bill is recognising that. AusLink also recognises the link to rail, and in North Queensland the Townsville-Mount Isa corridor, which has been recognised as an AusLink corridor, does not yet have any money. It is a lifeline. Heavy freight coming from the west should be on rail; it should not be on road. I think we see that in many instances. There is even a case to be made now for the reintroduction of local shipping services to move heavy freight around this country. AusLink needs a lot of thought, but we neeed support to get the Townsville-Mount Isa rail corridor upgraded, because currently it is in such a parlous state that trains have to move at grasshopper speed to be safe on that line. I conclude now with the observation that this is a step in the right direction. I thank the Rudd government for continuing the AusLink programs that were introduced by the former government.
The Rudd government is committed to enhancing the safety of all Australians on our roads. We have an expansive road network that covers many thousands of kilometres throughout every state and territory. There are many thousands of kilometres in my great electorate of Leichhardt, which spans from Cairns through Cape York Peninsula to the Torres Strait. The bill being introduced to parliament by the government, the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008, is firm evidence of our strong commitment to investing in land transport infrastructure and enhancing its safety for all users. Too often we read in our local papers about another person killed on the roads. Too often there are families all across the country who sadly lose uncles, aunts, children and grandchildren to road deaths.
According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, in the state of Queensland in the 12-month period ending July 2008 there were 334 road deaths. Across Australia this figure topped more than 1,500. Too many people die on our roads. This issue is at the forefront of many people’s lives. Despite your location, whether you are in the big smoke or in a rural outback community, improving our road network has far-reaching benefits. The AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill is an important part of our effort to enhance safety for roads users and thereby hopefully reduce this frightening toll.
The passing of this bill will have two major benefits. Firstly, the bill amends the definition of ‘road’ contained in the act. This amendment means a tremendous amount for the heavy vehicle operators on our roads. Given that one in five road deaths involves a heavy vehicle, this bill has important repercussions for the safety of heavy vehicle drivers as well as for other road users and the general travelling public. The changes proposed by the government to the definition of ‘road’ will mean that projects for the development of off-road facilities used by heavy vehicles in connection with travel on the road may be funded. This includes rest stops, parking areas, heavy vehicle bays, decoupling areas, weigh stations, electronic monitoring systems and associated facilities. Funding these types of facilities is part of the heavy vehicle safety and productivity package, a measure being introduced by the government to help reduce the incidence of driver fatigue, a problem that exists in the heavy transport industry and threatens the safety of many Australians. With the passing of the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill we are enabling the funding of projects that address heavy vehicle safety from 1 January 2009.
As I said, I am the member for Leichhardt. I live in Cairns. The Bruce Highway winds down the east coast of Australia to Brisbane and further south to Sydney. This bill will enable us to improve safety on the Bruce Highway. Too many people die on the Bruce Highway, and we need to be able to upgrade rest stops, truck driver stops and locations where people can pull up and have a rest to ensure that they are not putting at risk not only their own lives but the lives of many other Australians.
The second major feature resulting from the introduction of this bill is the extension of the Roads to Recovery program for a further five years, through to 2014. The Roads to Recovery program provides local councils across the country substantial funding to undertake upgrades and repairs to local roads. The Rudd government’s decision to continue this program will ensure local government authorities have certainty and direction moving forward, enabling them to plan and budget confidently for improvements to the roads for which they are responsible.
The Roads to Recovery program was due to run out on 30 June 2009. Recently Minister Albanese announced that the Rudd Labor government is set to deliver a record $1.75 billion in new money to councils to improve local roads by securing this program for another five years. This is an increase of $50 million a year, or $250 million over five years. For the electorate of Leichhardt, in the tropical north, this means over $7.67 million for local councils. The projects include over $2.5 million for the Cairns Regional Council, $600,000 for the Cook Shire Council, $400,000 for the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council and $200,00 for the Torres Strait Island Regional Council. We must remember that regional Australia, including my electorate, very much fits this description. Councils are often the lifeblood of communities, particularly those in rural and remote areas. Federal government grants make up a significant portion of the councils’ revenue. The Rudd government recognises the value of Roads to Recovery and how important a role our local councils play in the ongoing maintenance of our national road network. After all, local governments are responsible for more than three-quarters of all Australian roads—over 810,000 kilometres.
In addition to servicing their local constituents by providing and maintaining roads, libraries, parks, pools and rubbish collection, these councils generate numerous employment and training opportunities, contributing significantly to the local economy. The Australian Local Government Association has acknowledged the value of programs like Roads to Recovery, citing it as ‘an essential element in local government’s ability to maintain and upgrade the local roads network’.
The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government also recently announced that local councils in the tropical north are set to share over $34.9 million in financial assistance grants from the Rudd Labor government. Cook Shire Council, which is represented by Peter Scott as the mayor, encompasses towns like Cooktown and Coen and runs up to the northern peninsula council area in the very top of Cape York, the top of Australia. It will receive the third highest increase in total grants in Queensland in 2008-09. Again, this is a clear illustration of the Rudd government’s commitment to regional Australia and to our counterparts at the local level. We are delivering for regional Australia. We are delivering for regional Queensland. Roads funding is a very important part of our commitment.
The Rudd government have a long-term plan for this nation. We have a long-term commitment, whether it is in roads, whether it is in rail or whether it is in other infrastructure. We have established through the budget process the Building Australia Fund. We also have long-term commitments with the Health and Hospitals Fund and an education fund. This legislation is part of our longer term and overall plan for this nation. I am pleased and proud to be a member of the Rudd Labor government, a government that is working hard for local communities in my electorate and all across the country. We stand ready to deliver on our election commitments.