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Wednesday, 9 February 2005
Page: 141

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (6:58 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

The Roads to Recovery program has been one of the coalition government’s success stories. It is a program that has been applauded by communities, local councils and all levels of government Australia wide. The program began in 2001 and was promoted by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson. While the program provides funding to all local government areas across Australia, it is particularly useful to rural and regional based councils, where good roads are vital for a community’s social and economic wellbeing. It comes in addition to the financial assistance grants from the Australian government to local councils. Every mayor or councillor I have spoken to has asked me to relay to the government just how important the Roads to Recovery program is to their local community. Very often, you can see signs showing that good works are being done by it.

It is a very good program because it delivers funding directly to local councils to fix local roads, and this means councils have access to extra funding to undertake roadworks that would not previously have been able to be started. That applies particularly to a lot of bridges which probably work but need to be repaired. It is a good program. There is never enough money for roads, of course, but this is a start.

Because of the success of the program, the Australian government has decided to extend it. It was to finish in 2004-05. The commitment was made last year to extend it for an extra four years at an additional cost of $1.2 billion. As I understand it, the new program will be incorporated in the AusLink commitment—the integrated land transport and rail commitment that our government made last year—which amounts to around $10 billion worth of new expenditure on land transport and rail over the next few years.

Under the ongoing Roads to Recovery commitment, the government will provide local councils with around $300 million a year. Of this, $200 million will be allocated by a formula, as at present, for their local roads and $100 million will be available for councils to undertake land transport infrastructure projects of regional importance. This is a change from the original four-year proposal. This funding might be, for example, for a road that needs to be upgraded to improve tourism or industry development opportunities. It is a more integrated approach from the Australian federal government to road and rail transport and it lies very much within the sentiment and aims of the AusLink proposal.

The government has also decided to discontinue the Fuel Sales Grants Scheme, which provides grants to fuel retailers of between 1c and 3c per litre of fuel sold outside metropolitan areas. This is another scheme that was working very well and the savings from the wind-up of this program will be put back into the local transport infrastructure. The Australian government’s commitment from 2006 is for around $265 million a year to improve transport infrastructure in rural and regional Australia as part of the AusLink commitment of $10 billion worth of new spending.

This is a very good scheme. It allows the Australian government to make a commitment to road funding in line with its agreed responsibility for funding roads, which has been developed through cooperative federalism over the years. It is in line with the national highways program, which we fund; the Roads of National Importance program, which we fund in cooperation with the states; the national Black Spot program, of which I am one of the consultative chairmen in New South Wales; and Roads to Recovery. They are areas of responsibility which have been taken on by the Australian government over the years. They are examples of good economic management, providing an opportunity for good policy—if you manage the economy and balance the books well then you can spend money on things that need it. Roads are certainly a perfect example.

Question agreed to.