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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 8529

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (11:26 AM) —in reply—I thank all members for their comments and contribution to the debate on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008. This bill demonstrates the government’s ongoing commitment to infrastructure investment. The bill makes amendments that support the delivery of two important initiatives: the Roads to Recovery program, which it extends for a further five years and, which we will be increasing spending on, and the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, which is conditional upon the passage of changes to the road user charge that will be the subject of other legislation. The extension of the Roads to Recovery program to 30 June 2014 provides much needed funding for Australia’s local councils to maintain and construct their roads.

From the contribution that members have made to this debate, it is clear that Roads to Recovery is making a real difference to local roads in local communities. Over 50 members—one-third of the House—have spoken on this bill and about how important this funding is to their community. Indeed, so far this year, this is the second highest number of speakers from the opposition on any bill, changes or debate before the parliament. The only issue on which they had more speakers was, of course, the first debate about their amendments to standing orders to stop the parliament sitting on Friday. This clearly vindicates the Rudd government’s decision to increase the annual funding for Roads to Recovery from $300 million per year to $350 million per year. This will enable even more funding to be provided directly to local governments for use on their roads at their discretion. The particular amendments contained in the bill will also remove any doubt that projects providing off-road facilities for heavy vehicles, like rest areas and parking areas, heavy vehicle bays, decoupling bays, weigh stations and facilities that are associated with or similar to any of these, can be funded under the AusLink act.

In his contribution to the debate, the Leader of the Nationals stated that electronic monitoring can already be funded under the AusLink act. This is correct. New technology projects under the safety and productivity program could be funded under existing provisions of the AusLink act, but the amendments in this bill go one step further and remove any remaining doubt that all likely projects under the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program will be able to be funded under the AusLink act.

The Leader of the Nationals notes that my media release of 29 February 2008 states:

Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Plan will fund:

Trials of technologies that electronically monitor a truck driver’s work hours and vehicle speed - one using an onboard ‘black box’ or electronic log, and one which makes use of the Global Positioning System (GPS);

The construction of more heavy vehicle rest stops and parking areas along our highways and on the outskirts of our major cities; and

Upgrades to freight routes so they can carry bigger loads.

The Leader of the Nationals asked me for an assurance that there will not be any changes to electronic monitoring as a result of this legislation. This bill will not change arrangements that apply to electronic monitoring. The safety package which is supported by this bill will provide additional funding for new technology.

However, the Leader of the Nationals went on to pursue the opposition’s cynical and hypocritical approach to the heavy vehicle charges determination. He claimed that no-one on this side opposes safety programs. I urge the Nationals and those opposite to turn this rhetoric on safety into reality. If the opposition were serious about safety, they would not be blocking the funding needed for safety works. The passage of the legislation enabling the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination needs to be finalised before the funding for this important program can become a reality.

That charges determination ensures that heavy vehicles pay their fair share for their impact on the road network. As I have said before, it was the Howard government that commenced the work on a new heavy vehicle charges determination. In a speech given in June 2007, entitled ‘The coalition government’s transport reform agenda’, the then federal transport minister and Leader of the Nationals said:

The National Transport Commission will develop a new heavy vehicle charges determination to be implemented from 1 July 2008.

The new determination will aim to recover the heavy vehicles’ allocated infrastructure costs in total and will also aim to remove cross-subsidisation across heavy vehicle classes.

The charges determination simply delivers on this stated coalition policy.

The Leader of the Nationals also conveniently failed to mention that registration charges for small two- and three-axle trucks will fall. That is because we are getting rid of the practice which was introduced by the previous government whereby mum and dad operators of small trucks subsidised 60-tonne B-doubles to drive on our roads. I again urge the opposition to reconsider their position on this issue. Passing the new determination—the determination that they initiated when in government—will enable the government to commit $70 million to the heavy vehicle safety and productivity package. The only thing standing between more rest areas, more parking bays, more decoupling areas and more safety upgrades is the opposition blocking the necessary funding. However, I note that the opposition is supporting this bill.

With regard to the issue of the heavy vehicles determination, I also note that I have had ongoing discussions with the Australian Trucking Association, as well as the livestock transporters. It is a very mature industry indeed. They do not want to be publicly subsidised. They want to pay their way. That is what legislation that will be coming to the House will provide for.

I also want to address the comments that were made by the member for Calare in his address just prior to my summing up on this bill. The member for Calare suggested in his contribution that the government would be discriminating against funding in coalition seats. He raised the fact that I had spoken in question time about the number of representations—indeed, I have received over 100—from coalition members for infrastructure funding, including funding from the Building Australia Fund.

What I have raised is simply the position that, if you have a fund that has been established from the budget surplus and then you diminish the budget surplus by irresponsible economic policy in the Senate in blocking the government’s budget measures, then there will be less money to invest in long-term infrastructure funds. It is that simple. So, for those opposite who in their own electorates would acknowledge that there is a significant infrastructure deficit, the funding has to come from somewhere, and that is why it is so irresponsible for the opposition to be arguing for spending on particular projects at the same time as they are prepared to diminish the funding pool from which those projects can be funded. I make that point.

I also make the point that the government has, just in the last fortnight, made a number of initiatives that are certainly not in Labor held seats. Just in the last fortnight we have seen the first sod turned on the Townsville port access road, which impacts on Dawson and on Herbert—a necessary project of some $180 million funded jointly by the Commonwealth and the state government. That will make a significant contribution to improvements in productivity as well as improvements in safety and lifestyle for the residents of South Townsville.

Less than two weeks ago we opened the Bonville bypass in the electorate of Cowper. Just yesterday we took the next step towards achieving the Coffs Harbour bypass in the electorate of Cowper. This Friday, if parliament is not sitting at that time, the member for Riverina and I intend to be near Wagga Wagga inspecting the works that will complete the duplication of the Hume Highway from Sydney to Melbourne—just as when I visited the works at Port Macquarie and Taree I attended with the new member for Lyne, an outstanding person who will make a real contribution as a member of the House of Representatives, as he did as a member of the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales. Just last week we announced the preferred route, which, in each of three cases on the Hume Highway in terms of bypassing towns, will be the western route for Tarcutta, Holbrook and Woomargama. On Friday I will also be in regional Victoria, once again inspecting part of our nation-building program.

The fact is that we have a total of $76 billion for infrastructure funding, much of which is being put in place right now. This government has increased funding for both regional areas as well as urban areas in our transport and infrastructure sectors. The passing of the government’s budget is critical if we are going to be able to maximise our nation-building agenda. I note the endorsement today of the government strategy by the International Monetary Fund, an important statement from the IMF endorsing the budgetary strategy of producing a large surplus but putting that surplus aside in terms of long-term infrastructure investment funds.

I say to the opposition that they should pass the budget and keep the surplus intact because it is absolutely critical at a time of global financial uncertainty that Australia have the certainty of a large budget surplus if we are to be able to move forward. Specifically, when it comes to transport issues, I say to the opposition that they will have no economic credibility if they are prepared to establish a process for a heavy vehicles determination and then walk away from the outcome of that in an opportunistic fashion. They should be listening to industry and making sure that they take a responsible position, which I must say the former Leader of the Nationals did by initiating this determination. On that note I thank all members for their contribution to this debate and I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.