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Tuesday, 5 December 2000
Page: 20678


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (4:00 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows

I have great pleasure in introducing the Roads to Recovery Bill 2000. This bill appropriates a total of $1.2 billion over five financial years for grants to local government for the purpose of construction, upgrading and maintenance of local roads.

It is fitting that on the eve of Australia celebrating its Centenary of Federation we have placed firmly on the agenda the task of rebuilding the transport network that is so essential to our economic and social wellbeing. The Roads to Recovery Programme will greatly strengthen the grassroots of our road system and in doing so create job opportunities for a great many Australians.

For too long local roads have been Australia's forgotten roads - the Government's Roads to Recovery Programme changes this. This bill demonstrates that the Government is serious about the renewal of local roads, and recognises they are an essential element of the economic and social infrastructure of Australia's communities - rural, regional and metropolitan.

The Government is aware that councils, particularly those in rural and regional Australia, are faced with significant problems of maintaining local roads from within existing funding. The condition of local roads was a key issue discussed at the Regional Australia Summit, and was also a problem frequently raised with the Prime Minister during his fact-finding tour of regional Australia earlier this year. It is an issue raised with me on a daily basis. The Moree Rural Roads Congress in March 2000 also highlighted the need for additional funding for road and bridge infrastructure in rural and regional areas.

Approximately $850 million of the funding will be allocated to councils in rural and regional Australia, and around $350 million to councils in greater metropolitan areas, including urban fringe local government areas, that have extensive rural road networks.

The funds appropriated by this bill are, in their entirety, additional to the local roads funding already provided by the Commonwealth and represent a 75% increase in the current level of those grants.

The programme will commence immediately.

The Government is concerned that this substantial injection of funds is not dissipated. The bill ensures that funding is tied to ensure every dollar is spent on local roads. The bill also requires local government bodies to maintain their own spending on local roads. Local government bodies must also provide the Minister with a proposal for the expenditure of their grant and there will be a requirement for appropriate audit arrangements. Additionally, the Prime Minister has written to all Premiers and Chief Ministers seeking their assurance that they will not reduce their own expenditure on local roads. Today I indicate that the Government strongly believes the States and Territories must go further. They must commit to matching the Commonwealth's historic local road funding programme. They must not just pay lip service to the needs of local government authorities across the nation. The Government urges the Opposition to support it in this call.

I urge the Parliament to pass this bill without delay so the funds can be paid directly and quickly to local councils, as soon as administrative arrangements are in place. This will mean road works can start as soon as possible in the New Year, and on priorities nominated by councils. This is good news for local communities and local industry.

The Government has been listening to regional and rural Australia - to local communities - and to local industry. They have made a cogent case for improved funding for local roads as a long-term investment in the future of this country.

The economic and social importance of local roads is increasing with the expansion and emergence of new rural industries - with higher transport demands, including higher mass limits - and with frequent lack of transport alternatives. Local roads are an essential feeder to other parts of the transport system and between rural, regional and urban areas. They are vital to the sustainability and recovery of rural and regional Australia. Access to education, health care, shops, amenities, as well as markets, overwhelmingly depends on local roads. Like capillaries that carry blood throughout a healthy body, our local roads are the essential network that must be sustained if we are to ensure the health and vitality of our local communities and industries.

A substantial proportion of the local road network was constructed in the 1950s and 1960s and has reached the end of its economic life, resulting in deteriorating levels of service, in the face of increasing demand and need for higher road standards. The capacity of many rural and regional local councils to meet increasing road needs is also limited, and often compounded by declining population and a falling rating base.

The local roads funding of the Roads to Recovery Programme will help address these needs and concerns. Councils will now have the capacity to improve access to social amenities, to improve safety on local roads, and to address infrastructure impediments impacting on industry development, such as upgrading substandard roads and bridges.

In keeping with the Coalition's social policy of empowerment and partnering, it will be directed at devising local solutions to a national challenge. The three spheres of Government represent the same electors and should serve them not on the basis of some assumed hierarchy of importance, but rather who is capable of best delivering services for people.

Local Government will be a key player in developing priorities and service delivery under this programme. We are tackling a national challenge with a local solution. And we acknowledge the intimacy of interaction citizens have with their local councils when it comes to local service delivery.

It is estimated the Programme will create directly up to 5000 new jobs in rural and regional Australia, as well as many other jobs from industry expansion, as a result of improved road access.

The Federal Government is signalling its intent to end the tyranny of distance in Australia and to develop an integrated transport system. This involves greater connectivity between places of manufacture and agribusiness to markets, inland ports, railheads and the sea highways so vital to our export income. Roads to Recovery also supports broad Commonwealth policy objectives such as the Supermarket to Asia strategy, and its Regional Solutions Programme.

The underlying principles of the Roads to Recovery Programme is development of a redefined network of rural roads that will spearhead a regional economic growth recovery and create better transport synergies.

We must do this if Australia is to make a quantum leap in planning, building and maintaining roads that will serve the nation beyond 2020, and not just rely on an existing network that might not be adequate to future requirements. Given their life-span of 20 to 30 years, the roads we plan and build now must take account of the infrastructure needs of industries that may themselves only be in their infancy.

In the Roads to Recovery Programme the Government has recognized that the historical methodology for allocating funding between State and Territories contains inherent anomalies. Therefore we have rectified this by establishing a fairer allocation based on historical precedents, length of local roads and population. Allocations between councils within each State are strictly in accordance with formulae adopted by State Grants Commissions, established and applied under the previous government.

Any claims that suggest allocations to councils have been manipulated to favour the electorates of Government Members, are therefore, completely scurrilous. I suppose it is inevitable, however, that when confronted with a sound, economically and socially responsible Programme of benefit to local communities, the only avenue of criticism left will be to make petty jibes about allocations.

The Explanatory Memorandum includes the full listing of local councils and their allocation under the Programme. The Minister will only have the power to vary allocations within a State, where there are variations to council boundaries.

The Roads to Recovery Programme has been made possible by the Federal Government's sound economic management. Our stronger budgetary position allows the Government to return a dividend to the whole community through this substantial investment in local roads infrastructure. This Programme is good news for local communities, for local councils, for motorists, for local industries. It is good news for Australia.

Farmer organizations, local government authorities, representative organizations, rural communities, industry groups, and road transport operators have welcomed the Government's far sighted initiative.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Brien) adjourned.