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Tuesday, 15 October 2002
Page: 5190

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (7:07 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Roads to Recovery program provides funding for roads in rural, regional and metropolitan areas. The funds are provided in the form of grants directly to local governments. The focus of the program is the renewal of local roads as an essential element of Australia's social and economic infrastructure. This program was announced in December 2000 by the government and began operation in February 2001. Some 8,500 projects were registered for funding under the program by 1 September 2002 and only five councils out of 721 are still to register for the program. It has got almost universal support from local government, and for good reason.

The government will meet its commitment to provide $1.2 billion through Roads to Recovery by 30 June 2005. The amount of $450 million has already been provided to local councils and every council in Australia will receive every cent of the money promised to them. The total allocations to each council are guaranteed by the legislation. There has been some publicity about the rephasing of the budget allocation, which was done to meet budget priorities. The amount of $200 million will be available under Roads to Recovery this year while the $100 million rephased will be available in the 2004-05 financial year. Eighty-two councils have already received the whole of their four-year allocation and are not affected at all by the rephasing. The 90 councils due to receive less than $600,000 over the life of the program will also not have their allocation affected.

Applications for hardship consideration closed on 16 August 2002. All councils affected by the rephase were eligible to apply, and 41 councils did so. Minister Anderson has already approved 18 of these applications and has considered a further group of applications and he hopes that he will be able to announce the results of this assessment shortly. This will enable councils to go forward with certainty.

On the question of the continuation of the Roads to Recovery program, which, as I said, has been universally accepted by local councils right around the nation, the extension of the program beyond the expiry date of 30 June 2002 is being considered by the government. I understand the government has contributed a sum of money—$150,000, I think—towards a joint Commonwealth-Australian Local Government Association review of the Roads to Recovery program now under way. This review will investigate the benefits gained by this program. The findings of this review will be considered in developing the new federal land transport infrastructure program, which was announced recently, called Auslink. I would urge interested parties, particularly local government, to put their views on future road funding arrangements to the federal government as part of this proposed modernisation of Australian transport systems.

I think, as the report points out, this is a very well-received government program. The government have many requests and obligations for funding, but one of the positive outcomes of balancing the books and managing the economy well is that we have been able to spend money in areas which are essential. Local roads that remain the responsibility of local governments need this money and they need money for the future. As I have often said, we never spend enough money on roads, but this program has been a particularly good start and I commend the government for it.

Question agreed to.