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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18631

Mr HARTSUYKER (10:19 AM) —I rise in the chamber today to speak on the National Transport Commission Bill 2003. One of our nation's greatest challenges in the next 20 years is to ensure that our transport infrastructure is best placed to meet the rise in demand. Projections which have been made on freight movements in 20 years time highlight why it is essential that we put in place a transport action plan now. Demand on road, rail and sea infrastructure is going to grow significantly over the next 20 years. Estimates predict, for instance, that the road freight task will double over the next 15 years. This is a significant increase which requires a whole-of-government national response. If we are to ensure that we are prepared for such substantial growth, it is essential that we have a unified approach to ensuring our national transport framework can respond to the challenges ahead.

Transport is vital to our everyday lives and has particular importance in regional areas for regional business and regional communities. Transport and communication links break down the age-old tyranny of distance. The upgrade of the Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane is well advanced and is a result of the hard work and strong representations on this issue by the National Party. At the very least, governments at federal, state and local levels have to make the commitment of cooperation so that the public and private sectors have the opportunity to reform and expand our transport networks. The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services has released a green paper—AusLink—which is the Commonwealth government's response to the challenges that lie ahead for Australia's land transport network.

Mr Martin Ferguson —Mr Deputy Speaker, I am seeking to exercise standing order 84A with respect to a question to the member.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Will the member for Cowper allow the question?

Mr Hartsuyker —I will allow the question.

Mr Martin Ferguson —I turn to the issue of the Pacific Highway. Firstly, isn't it the case that the Pacific Highway agreement was originally formulated by the then Minister for Transport, Mr Brereton, and the New South Wales Labor government? Secondly, is it soon to expire with no commitment from the current government to sign up to finish the Pacific Highway upgrade?

Mr HARTSUYKER —I thank the member for Batman for his question. Certainly I know that he is keenly interested in regional transport. One day he may even visit the electorate and actually see the very fine work that is going on. In fact, the member for Batman is famous in the electorate for his interesting statements on airport security and the fact that there was no security at Coffs Harbour Airport when, in fact, there has been security for quite a long time.

Mr Martin Ferguson —You don't want to answer the question!

Mr HARTSUYKER —I am coming to your question, member for Batman. If one looks at outcomes, the voice that is most heard on the issue of the Pacific Highway is in fact the former member for Cowper and Deputy Speaker of this House Garry Nehl. Garry was a tireless worker for the upgrade of the Pacific Highway. He was known in this House as Mr Pacific Highway, I must say. In answer to the question, lobbying by the National Party—lobbying by the former member for Cowper, Mr Garry Nehl—was a major part in bringing about those changes.

Getting back to the issue of national transport, AusLink is the Commonwealth government's response to the challenges that lie ahead for Australia's land transport network. Its principal objective is sustainable economic growth, development and connectivity at national and regional levels. By the end of this year a white paper will be released, which will detail a strategic approach and direction for transport over the next two decades. AusLink is a very important initiative for the Commonwealth, and I intend to expand on some of the issues raised in the green paper a little later. However, in addition to the need for a strategic plan, it is essential that we have national transport tasks monitored by an independent body. This bill proposes to set up an independent body—an authority responsible for developing, monitoring and maintaining uniform or nationally consistent regulations and operational reforms for road, rail and intermodal transport.

The commission will replace the National Road Transport Commission—or NRTC—which currently has responsibility for progressing road transport regulatory reforms. It is part of the overall strategy that recognises transport systems are integrated. They rely on each other. The new National Transport Commission will work at all levels of government to bring together important road and rail links. The NRTC was established under the National Road Transport Commission Act 1991 and is directly accountable to the Commonwealth, state and territory ministers through the Australian Transport Council, ATC, as will be the commission.

This body is essential to ensuring that all stakeholders work in unison to achieve the best possible transport network across the nation. One of the real challenges that Australia has faced since Federation is that different state governments have different approaches to their transport infrastructure. It is essential to our nation building that we are able to bridge the gaps and get a more national and uniform approach to transport, which converts into a more effective and efficient network. For instance, I know that in my electorate the ongoing upgrading of the Pacific Highway, which the member for Batman has shown some considerable interest in, continues to be an issue. The Commonwealth has shown real commitment to the highway by providing, over 10 years, $750 million to its upgrade, even though this road is the responsibility of the state governments.

I note that a great deal of credit for securing those federal funds has to be given to the former member for Cowper, Mr Garry Nehl, who lobbied long and hard on the issue of upgrading the Pacific Highway. The coalition government has committed significant funds in this year's budget to road funding. This is committed over a number of programs, including the Roads to Recovery program—which empowers local governments to improve their road network and which members opposite voted against—and the Black Spots Roads Program. Since the black spots program was launched in 1996, 2,800 road black spots projects throughout Australia have been approved and have addressed major accident-prone sites. This year, $23 million will be spent in New South Wales as a result of National Party lobbying in the budget to secure important measures for rural and regional New South Wales.

Mr Randall —What about Western Australia?

Mr HARTSUYKER —I will leave the member for Canning to speak on Western Australia later. Exports from regional areas are responsible for one in four jobs in regional Australia. Those export goods start their journeys on a local or regional road. If we could ensure those goods were leaving Australia through sure, effective and efficient transport channels, Australia as a nation would be in a better position to compete for international business and have a much more efficient economy. Those goods provide a tremendous opportunity to create jobs, increase investment and improve living standards in regional areas. As a former tourism operator, I know the Pacific Highway upgrade will make an important contribution to tourism and the development of those regions up and down the east coast of Australia. In commending this legislation to the House, I again note for the record the vital importance of these issues for all Australians, particularly those in regional areas.

The Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, has focused a great deal of attention on AusLink due to the significant transport challenges that Australia faces over the next 20 years. AusLink will improve our national transport network by integrating separate rail and road networks and ad hoc intermodal developments. Under AusLink, we will develop a rolling five-year national transport plan that will identify the future challenges and needs of the network. Under AusLink, the range of organisations able to access Commonwealth government funding will be expanded. For the first time, the private sector, transport user organisations and community organisations will be able to join state governments and local councils in proposing projects for Commonwealth government funding.

The range of solutions eligible for Commonwealth government funding will also be broadened to include new technologies which will reduce congestion, make transport safer and reduce its impact on the environment. AusLink will bring together separate Commonwealth government funding programs for rail and road into a single, flexible funding program. Funding will go to the best solution, regardless of transport mode. We will specifically earmark funding for regional transport infrastructure projects. AusLink will encourage the joint development and funding of projects between the levels of governments and between the public and private sectors. This will increase the level of available funding and ensure everyone is working towards similar goals. AusLink will not involve a reduction in the Commonwealth government's transport—

Mr Martin Ferguson —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Is the member for Cowper willing to give way?


Mr Martin Ferguson —My question is: is it not true that no extra money is provided for under AusLink? There is no extra money for railways, and there is no commitment under AusLink to continue to involve national highway construction and maintenance.

Mr HARTSUYKER —I can only suggest to the member for Batman that he await the release of the white paper and reserve his comments until that time.

Mr Zahra —I thought the National Party was running the government?

Mr HARTSUYKER —The National Party is doing a great job in representing the interests of rural and regional Australia.

Mr Zahra —I see he speaks with confidence.

Mr HARTSUYKER —Absolutely. As I said, AusLink is going to bring together separate funding programs for road and rail into one single program, and we are looking at creating the best solution. AusLink will encourage the joint development and funding of projects between the levels of government and between the public and private sectors. This will increase the level of available funding and ensure everyone in the system is working towards similar goals.

AusLink will not involve a reduction in the Commonwealth government's transport expenditure, so I can put the member for Batman's mind at rest. It will not affect any of the projects currently funded by the federal government or any project where there has been a firm commitment for federal funding. AusLink will develop a higher performing national transport network, which will improve the productivity of the economy and contribute to Australia's international competitiveness and broad economic performance. It will do this primarily by focusing investment and effort on an integrated land transport network made up of links of strategic importance and on projects that can deliver higher benefits. This will make a substantial contribution to improved logistics.

The Commonwealth government will also focus on areas of the land transport network that are likely to yield national and regional benefits. These include national and interregional corridors; links from broader national networks to ports, airports, production and distribution centres; connecting internodal facilities; local routes of regional significance; and links that are critical to national and regional economic growth, development and connectivity. The result will be a more productive transport network and a major contribution to improved freight logistics.

AusLink proposes to expand the range of organisations able to propose projects, as I said before, to include groups such as community groups, rather than just state governments. The private sector will be involved in the development of a plan from an early stage. More extensive and early involvement of the private sector will better integrate privately owned and operated land transport facilities and projects into the planning process. Under AusLink, the Commonwealth government will establish a National Transport Advisory Council, consisting of experts from the private and public sectors, to provide transport ministers with strategic analysis and advice on Australia's transport priorities.

Intelligent transport systems are already being used in Australia, particularly in the major cities. Sydney led the world in the roll-out of first generation ITS technology with the development of the Sydney traffic control system, which coordinates over 3,000 sets of traffic lights. The electronic tolling system on Melbourne's CityLink handles more than 650,000 transactions a day. Satellite navigation systems are now available as an option or standard in almost 30 per cent of Australian vehicles. Technological solutions will become a vital part of the Commonwealth government's approach to transport infrastructure as the cost of technology continues to fall. They will reduce congestion, make transport safer and reduce its impact on environment.

AusLink will promote the effective development and use of new technology by evaluating and using technological solutions to facilitate better management and pricing as alternatives to, or in association with, traditional road construction. AusLink will provide stronger encouragement for national initiatives to develop innovative solutions that meet Australia's needs, such as further development of the intelligent transport systems national strategy and the use of satellite based technology. The Commonwealth government wants to support a more strategic local government approach to identifying and funding regional transport priorities. As well as providing broad funding support to local government, AusLink will contribute to the development of a stronger regional Australia.

AusLink will earmark funds for regional transport infrastructure. A portion of these funds will be used on projects that promote the development of links of regional significance, hence strengthening opportunities for regional trade, industries and tourism. AusLink will offer a framework for local councils and their project partners to address local links of significance on a regional basis. This will offer greater opportunities for local councils to bid for Commonwealth government funding. AusLink aims to foster partnerships, particularly between levels of government and between the public and private sectors, to promote the link between investment in transport and regional growth.

The Commonwealth government will continue the existing roads funding mechanisms that apply under the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1995. AusLink will not affect any of the projects currently funded by the Commonwealth government or any projects for which there has been a firm commitment by the Commonwealth government. It will not affect the Black Spots Roads Program or the Roads to Recovery program. If we are to have an efficient transport system, it is important that it be coordinated. The National Transport Commission will be important in facilitating that sort of coordination. I note the member for Blaxland's support for the NTC; I was certainly pleased to hear that degree of support. I commend the bill to the House.