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Tuesday, 8 February 2005
Page: 78

Mr PROSSER (7:38 PM) —I rise today in support of the AusLink (National Land Transport) Bill 2004, which will assist national and regional economic and social development and will reform the framework for Commonwealth government funding aimed at improving the performance of land transport infrastructure. This bill gives effect to the Australian government’s national land transport policy set out in the white paper AusLink: building our national transport future. This bill provides for the replacement over time of those arrangements contained in the Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988 and the Roads to Recovery Act 2000.

It is well recorded that Australia’s land transport infrastructure will face major challenges over the next 20 years and beyond. International competitive pressures will demand continuing improvements in the productivity and reliability of logistic chains as domestic freight and passenger volumes will continue to rise. The pattern of land transport use over the last few decades reflects that user requirements will become ultimately more varied and complex. Therefore in order to meet these challenges this government considers fundamental changes are needed in the way that land transport infrastructure is planned and funded in this country.

This bill will assist a change of investment focus to nationally significant roads and rail links and to finding the best solution to transport requirements irrespective of transport mode. This bill also provides a mechanism for approval of projects and funding and for the attachment of conditions to funding under each category. Critical to the funding of AusLink’s national projects will be the national land transport network, which will be the focus of the government’s drive to direct its investment to strategic transport linkages of highest national importance.

The national land transport network will move beyond the separately planned and funded national rail and road networks and ad hoc rail/road developments to a single integrated network. The national land transport network, which this government proposes to establish under this bill, will encompass the former national highway system including its connections through urban areas, the major interstate rail network and other nationally important interstate and interregional transport links as well as links to ports and airports.

This bill establishes arrangements to provide funding for six categories of projects or activities: AusLink national projects that are projects on the national land transport network; AusLink transport development and innovation projects that are also related to the national land transport network; land transport research entities; AusLink strategic regional projects; AusLink black spot projects; and, the AusLink Roads to Recovery program. The bill sets outs eligibility criteria for the different categories of assistance and matters which may be considered in deciding whether projects or activities are to be approved or funding provided. The bill also provides for conditions to be applied to funding.

The government has set out a comprehensive program for addressing Australia’s highest priority national land transport needs. The government will support the program with an unprecedented level of investment. In the five-year period 2008-09 some $8 billion will be provided for investment on national roads and railways on a broad range of strategic priority projects. Some $1.6 billion will be provided to meet transport needs at the regional and local level and $180 million is being provided for the highly efficient Federal Road Safety Black Spot Program, which has saved and continues to save many Australian lives.

The bill will enable the government to build on the substantial support already being provided for local roads under the Roads to Recovery program over the four-year period from 2001 to 2005 and will provide for the extension of the Roads to Recovery program for a further four-year period from 1 July 2005. The provisions in the bill will closely mirror the provisions of the Roads to Recovery Act 2000. Payments under the act will cease on 30 June 2005. Future funding will be governed by the terms of this bill. In all, the government is allocating some $1.45 billion for Roads to Recovery over the five-year period up to 2008-09.

All councils will receive funding allocations for expenditure on the construction and maintenance of local roads on much the same basis as the current program’s formula approach. The funds will be paid directly to each local council, as they are under the current program, and under similar guidelines. This will provide funding certainty and will help all councils to sustain service levels across their local road systems. Local councils will also be the direct beneficiaries of the arrangements which the bill will establish for funding AusLink regional strategic projects. An appropriation for the purposes covered by this bill for the balance of the 2004 year is included in the AusLink (National Land Transport—Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2004. From 2005-06 funding will be provided through annual budget appropriations.

The $8 billion to be provided over five years to 2009 will enable approval to be given to a broad range of strategic priority projects. As announced by the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Hon. John Anderson, when he introduced this bill in the House, these include projects on the Pacific Highway, the Hume Highway, the Sydney to Brisbane and Sydney to Melbourne interstate railways, the Bruce Highway and Brisbane urban road links in Queensland, the Geelong bypass, the Calder Highway in Victoria, the Port River Expressway in South Australia, the Bridgewater Bridge in Tasmania, the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia and, of more importance to the residents of my electorate of Forrest in Western Australia, the Peel deviation project in Western Australia or, as it is more commonly known, the Mandurah bypass.

The Australian government will also contribute to the cost of maintaining road links on the national network. While the national transport network will be the focus of the government’s planning and funding responsibility, this does not mean that it has full financial responsibility for all projects on the network. The network includes links that were previously jointly funded or fully funded by the states. The government has indicated its intention to invest in those projects that are of national priority and have substantial national benefits. The government has a clear expectation that the states and territories will invest in those projects on the national network which provide benefits at the state or territory level. This means that, in many cases, project costs will be shared with state and territory governments.

In June 2004, Senator the Hon. Ian Campbell, the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, announced a significant project relevant to my electorate of Forrest—that being $126 million to complete the dual carriageway effectively from Perth all the way through to Bunbury. That will bypass Mandurah. I have been pushing for this project for many years for my constituents of Forrest. I carried out numerous surveys over the years asking for feedback from south-west residents as to what they considered to be of high priority in the region. At the top of the list was the Busselton bypass road—which, I am happy to inform the House, has been completed. There was also unanimous support for the Peel deviation. I am delighted to report that the Peel deviation, or Mandurah bypass, will commence in 2006. It brings the south-west closer to the capital centre of Perth and will shorten the drive time by some 20 to 30 minutes, providing an opportunity for expansion of all industries—be it mining, agriculture, commerce or tourism—by providing a more direct link to the main metropolitan centres.

The development of this high-performing national land transport system cannot be achieved without well-focused research and the encouragement of the application of innovative technology and practices. It will be necessary to identify deficiencies on the national network, formulate corridor strategies, and devise and demonstrate innovative transport solutions. The bill therefore provides for the funding of transport development and innovation projects that would potentially improve the efficiency and safety of transport operations on the AusLink national network. Projects eligible for funding under this category include planning and research and the development of new technology or practices. This bill also includes provisions to enable funding to be directed to organisations whose activities are connected with land transport planning and research. This particularly includes organisations which are jointly funded by the Australian, state and territory governments.

The bill will provide for the continuation of another significant program: the AusLink Federal Road Safety Black Spot Program. This is a critically important part of the government’s road safety strategy. The government has committed $180 million to continue the black spot program in the period up to 2008-09. In many cases, state, territory and local governments and local business organisations contribute to black spot projects. I am fully supportive of this government providing funding directly to local councils and shires so they can implement such road repairs and maintenance. The black spot program has proven highly cost-effective in targeting those road locations where crashes are occurring. Road crashes cost the Australian economy some $15 billion each year. Black spot projects save the community many times the cost of the relatively minor road improvements that are undertaken. The raw figures say nothing of the human trauma involved in serious road accidents.

Increased tourism activity within my electorate has resulted in an increased number of visitors driving to the region who expect the same type of road conditions as back home in the city—roads which are well maintained and enhance traffic flow. This is not the case in rural and regional areas, where the increase in tourist traffic has outpaced the carrying capacity of many local roads. Who better to know local road black spots than constituents who travel them every day and have experienced the increased traffic on local roads. Once again I asked my constituents for feedback to identify what they considered to be black spots on local roads. From meeting with constituents, we were able to identify stretches of roads, intersections and other hot spots that required remedial attention to enhance safety. In this regard I was able to support the community’s voice by reporting my findings to the local shires in identifying road black spots.

In fact last month a constituent called my office to thank me for providing residents with the opportunity of identifying local black spots. He rang to let me know that the local shire was completing the widening and sealing of Metricup Road in Margaret River. He and his family live on Metricup Road and use the road every day for school and work. Due to the increased number of tourist destinations in the area as well as an increased residential population, traffic flow had increased to an extent that he believed the road was no longer safe because it was narrow and in most parts only a single lane with very soft edges. It may have only taken a visitor to take a corner incorrectly for a collision to occur.

The bill proposes that to be eligible for approval as an AusLink black spot project the project must improve the road safety characteristics of a site where serious motor vehicle crashes, involving death or personal injury, have occurred or are likely to occur. The site can be a particular location or a considerable length of road. The considerations include: the accident history of the site; an assessment of the safety benefits and the costs of the project; the results of any safety audit of the site; and the extent of funding contributions to the project from sources other than the Commonwealth. The funding recipient will also be required to maintain records relating to crashes involving death or personal injury at the site of the funded project for a period of five years so the effectiveness of measures taken at black spots can be assessed and various types of measures compared.

I should also like to see an expansion of these considerations to include black spot areas that have been identified as accidents likely to occur, before any accidents do occur. I know of a school bus driver in the Manjimup area who drives every day along a narrow road in that area—the same road that is being used by logging trucks. It would take only one accident in this area to accrue the quota of injury or death statistics to make the area a priority. However, the main thrust should not be to wait until a death has occurred before identifying such black spots, and here the emphasis on the safety audit and benefits of a proposed site for remedial work should take priority before a death occurs.

Under the arrangements for which this bill provides, we will do the following: drive the development of our key road and rail links and ensure they are forged into a single high-performing and safe national network; move beyond the entrenched arrangements for separate road and rail funding; recognise the critical importance of links to our ports and airports in supporting a globally competitive transport system; and maintain support for the maintenance and upgrade of local roads networks and the development of key regional links. This bill proposes to deliver a much better outcome for taxpayers, transport users and indeed all of us who are dependent one way or another on an efficient transport network in this country. I commend the bill to the House.