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Government responds to land transport reports.



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13 April 2000 A62/2000

GOVERNMENT RESPONDS TO LAND TRANSPORT REPORTS

The Federal Government highlighted its impatience today with pace of rail reform with the tabling of the Government response to four inquiries into land transport issues.

The Government’s response deals with the findings of:

the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Transport and Microeconomic Reform inquiries into the Commonwealth’s role in the nation’s road system, Planning Not Patching, and rail reform, Tracking Australia;

●

the Rail Projects Taskforce, a private sector investigation of Australia’s rail system headed by Mr Jack Smorgon AM, called Revitalising Rail; and ●

a Productivity Commission examination of rail industry performance and administration, Progress in Rail Reform. ●

Each of the rail reports strongly supports the Commonwealth’s approach to rail reform.

The Productivity Commission report, also released today, concludes that investing government money in rail infrastructure without structural and operational reforms first will not be sufficient to ensure sustainability and the greater competitiveness of rail.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, John Anderson welcomed the scrutiny these reports bought to land transport.

"Through the direction being mapped out today, all levels of government and the private sector can plan with greater certainty and make long-term commitments to developing the national transport network," Mr Anderson said.

"Our response signals the Federal Government’s resolve to pursue a nationally uniform framework for railway track access arrangements and regulatory and safety regimes for interstate rail transport.

"The cooperation of the states is crucial to the rail reform process. Some of them are well down the path of privatising operations and achieving improved productivity. Most have separated track management from rail operations. But there is still a long way to go. If the rate of reform does not pick up, there is danger that rail will drop so far behind the road freight industry that it will never be able to attract the necessary level of investment funds."

Mr Anderson said that if a national rail access regime was not working effectively by mid-2001, the

Government would consider further options, including Commonwealth legislation.

"The Federal Government will work with the States to see that reform progresses at an acceptable rate. But it is not prepared to consider additional funds for the sector until it is clear that the States are delivering reforms allowing the benefits of existing infrastructure investment to be harvested."

Mr Anderson also noted that increased flexibility for States and Territories to finance infrastructure projects will be available under changed taxation arrangements from 1 July.

"I strongly believe that the new tax system will greatly enhance the capacity of the States to invest in transport infrastructure."

Mr Anderson said the Commonwealth would continue to make strategic investment in infrastructure and was committed to increasing its investment as budgetary circumstances allowed.

Mr Anderson said rail safety is a priority and the Government will legislate to enable the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to independently investigate accidents and incidents on the interstate rail system. The reports of such systemic, ‘no-blame’ investigations will be publicly released by the ATSB to allow the rail industry to benefit from the lessons learned.

"Should industry co-regulation and implementation of national rail operational codes not be working effectively by mid-2001, the Commonwealth will seek agreement of other jurisdictions to establish a new institutional framework for the rail industry, similar to the National Road Transport Commission."

On roads, the Commonwealth is cooperating with the States and Territories to work through the criteria that would identify nationally significant roads other than the National Highway. This will help direct available road funds to where they are needed most.

"The Government has not, however, been convinced there is a need to move away from the current budgetary approach to road funding which is identified on a four-year cycle."

The new tax arrangements under the GST will provide the States and Territories with substantial and growing revenues. While the Commonwealth will continue to play its part, the community and industry should also look to the States and Territories for increased infrastructure funding.

Mr Anderson said the Government had accepted the underlying objective of recommendations for the creation of a "national transport plan" and will work with the States and Territories to establish a coherent national planning process for strategic land transport infrastructure.

Media Contact: Paul Chamberlin: (02) 6277 7680 / (0419) 233 989

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© Commonwealth of Australia 2000 Last updated:  Thursday, 13 April 2000