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Monday, 20 May 1985
Page: 2207

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(10.28) —I move:

That the 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 am honoured to introduce this Bill to the Senate. I regard it and related legislation as one of the most significant transport initiatives to come before the Parliament since Federation.

It represents the start in establishing a truly national transport strategy for Australia because it deals not only with roads but also with railways, research and road safety. It is the first time a Federal Government has adopted a comprehensive approach to land transport funding.

I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance that efficient transport systems have to the economic well-being of all Australians. About one dollar in every seven spent in this country is on transport. Transport impacts on every facet of our economic and social activity. Yet for too long inaction by Federal Governments has allowed our transport systems to flounder without a national sense of direction or priority.

Since this Government has assumed office we have devoted considerable effort and resources to addressing the shortcomings of Australia's transport system in a cohesive and coherent way. We have made substantial progress which is due in large part to this Government's policy of working in consultation with other Governments, industry and employees.

The Bill now before the Senate will be the foundation upon which our overall approach to transport will be based. It provides a use related basis for determining Federal expenditure on land transport systems. Furthermore the arrangements incorporate an automatic adjustment to match future inflationary movements as measured by the Consumer Price Index.

It guarantees the continuity of the greatest road building program in Australia's history, which has been progressively implemented during our two years of Government. Together with the Australian Bicentennial Road Development (ABRD) Program, Federal expenditure on roads will total $1245 million in 1985/86.

The Federal road safety promotion and research program undertaken by the Federal Office of Road Safety is incorporated into these arrangements as it is reasonable for road users to fund this area of Federal roads involvement.

The Australian Land Transport Program, or ALTP as it will no doubt be known, also maintains our support for research into land transport undertaken through the Australian Road Research Board and the Australian Railway Research and Development Organisation.

Assistance is extended under the Bill to the interstate mainline railway network. Together with the establishment of the Railway Industry Council this assistance will contribute to the development of a cohesive program to revive the Australian rail system.

The Bill establishes a Trust Fund which will operate on a similar basis to the ABRD Trust Fund. It provides that an indexed share of the existing excise charge on motor spirit and diesel fuel will be paid into the ALTP Trust Fund based on collections from 1 July 1985 until 30 June 1990. The initial rate has been set at 3.66 cents per litre.

Recognising the value in providing a transitional arrangement, rather than immediately switching to the new funding method, we have provided an assurance that ALTP funding will be $810 million in the first year. Section 14 provides for an adjustment to the excise rate to that which would have precisely raised $810 million in the first year. Thus the States, Local Government and road interest groups have the type of funding they sought, with the additional protection of a transitional arrangement involving a guaranteed funding level for year one.

The future level of expenditure under ALTP will depend upon the following two factors:

the rate of consumption of motor spirit and diesel which is the best measure of road use

and the rate of movements in the Consumer Price Index to maintain the ALTP excise component in real terms.

As I have noted earlier, together with the $440 million to be provided under the ABRD program the Federal Government's road building program in 1985/86 will total $1245 million, an increase of 82 per cent on 1981/82, the last full year of the Fraser Government.

The legislation provides that specified maximum proportions of payments into the ALTP Trust Fund shall be allocated to the four roads categories and to road safety and to land transport research.

These allocations have been decided after careful consideration.

The Federal Government has full financial responsibility for the construction and maintenance of national roads with the State Road Authorities acting as design and construction agents. Accordingly funding for national roads has been determined on the basis of maintaining, in real terms, this year's national roads expenditure under the Roads Grants Act.

The Federal Government is committed to achieving an upgraded national highway system by 1988. The distribution among States of moneys allocated for national roads is not specified in the legislation, but will be determined on the basis of meeting that objective. This approach follows the arrangements adopted for national roads under the ABRD program.

Our Government also recognises the major responsibilities of local government for the development and upkeep of the local roads system. As a result funding for the local roads category in 1985-86 will also be maintained at the Roads Grants Act 1984-85 level in real terms.

Accordingly there has been an adjustment to Federal funding for arterial roads. These roads are primarily a State responsibility and the States have always provided the bulk of the funding for their development. The Federal Government, for its part, has provided a major boost in assistance for these roads in recent years.

Total Federal funding for arterial roads in 1985-86 will be 93 per cent more than the amount provided in 1981-82-the last full year of the Fraser Government. This means Federal expenditure on arterial roads has grown at a faster rate than for national or local roads.

Funding for road safety and for land transport research will be limited to $5m in 1985-86, a marginal increase on the level of funding provided in the current year.

Under the legislation there is also provision to fund the upgrading of the interstate mainline rail network. Funding will be conditional on the development of appropriate measures to improve the capacity of the network and the operational and commercial practices of the rail systems. Funding will be available as an option under the national roads category at the Federal Minister's discretion, or on request of the State Minister as an alternative under that State's rural arterial roads category.

Overall, funding for railways will not exceed the contribution that railways make through their diesel excise payments to the ALTP Trust Fund.

Sections 17 and 18 of the Bill separate funding arrangements into two periods covering the initial two years and the subsequent three years. This provision has been included in order to allow a review of the State relativities in respect to arterial and local roads categories. Allocations to these categories in the second period are limited to 90 per cent of their initial share.

The Federal Minister is required by Section 19 to allocate the balance between these categories by 31 March 1987. Given that this program continues until 1990 and that existing relativities are substantially unchanged from those determined on the basis of a 1975 Bureau of Roads Report it is desirable that such a review be undertaken. The Minister for Transport expects to appoint shortly a panel to carry out an independent review of State shares.

The provisions of Sections 18 and 19 allow that review to be undertaken in a manner which minimises disruption to the road construction and maintenance programs of the States and Local Government.

In order to provide some flexibility Sections 20 to 22 allow transfers between the various categories. I should emphasize that the transfer of funds from the urban arterial, rural arterial and local roads categories could only be undertaken at the request of, or with the agreement of, the relevant State Minister.

Payments to the States or approved organisations or authorities are to be conditional upon the funds being expended for purposes approved by the Minister for Transport. The degree of Federal administrative involvement will vary from category to category.

Federal approval will be required for construction projects and maintenance programs under the national, urban arterial and rural arterial roads categories.

Federal Administrative controls with respect to the national roads program will follow those currently applying under the ABRD legislation. They include provision for the setting of standards and the requirement for construction works to go to tender.

In respect of the arterial roads categories a number of changes have been made. These include a provision to allow maintenance work to be eligible for Federal assistance and requirement for approval of construction projects to enable the Federal Government to have a say in where its funds are used.

As with the Roads Grants Act there is no requirement for arterial construction projects to be subject to tender. The States have recently emphasised to the Minister for Transport the serious consequences that such a requirement, had it been included, would have had on their day labour work forces, particularly in provincial areas.

Recognising our acceptance of the State argument that arterial roads are primarily their responsibility it would have been unreasonable to include such a requirement in this legislation.

The Minister for Transport has assured State Ministers that the controls in respect to the arterial roads categories will operate in a manner that achieves administrative simplicity. Accordingly, he has indicated that project approvals will be based on relatively generalised descriptions to identify the location of project, the type of works to be undertaken and the project cost.

State co-operation will be sought to direct Federal funds to a relatively few major projects on the more significant sections of the arterial roads networks.

Over time we expect to work together with the States to more clearly identify the network of major arterial roads which are of greater national significance and therefore to be accorded some priority in the allocation of Federal funds. This may at a latter stage involve the identification of a formal primary arterial road network.

Assistance for local roads will again be distributed amongst States and local government authorities in each State in accordance with approved principles. No project approval arrangements will be involved and thus the overall arrangements are substantially in line with those applying to local roads under the Roads Grants Act. The arrangements also incorporate a new provision to allow bike paths to be funded under this category.

Federal approval of interstate mainline railway projects is required to ensure that the projects will upgrade the network and be related to improvements in operational and commercial practices of the rail systems. Provision is also made for appropriate construction works to go to tender. This arrangement mirrors a similar requirement in respect to urban public transport projects applying under the ABRD program.

The administrative provisions of the Bill will be substantially in accordance with those contained in the ABRD legislation. There are, however, a number of significant exceptions which I would bring to honourable senators' attention.

Section 32 of the Bill contains a number of provisions relating to obligations imposed upon the States and approved railway authorities. A number of these require appropriate recognition of the Federal road building effort which constitutes over 35% of total road expenditure. Similarly, Federal representatives are entitled to recognition of the efforts they make on behalf of their constituency.

As national highways are 100% funded by the Federal Government provision is included to allow the Minister to exercise some control over the display of signs on that network.

Simplified administrative arrangements in respect to the standards of national roads construction are provided. Previously there were provisions for extensive Federal involvement to determine whether the construction of national roads had been carried out to approved standards. Under ALTP all that will be required is a certificate from a suitable person, obviously the head of the relevant State Road Authority, that construction has been carried out in accordance with applicable standards.

Provision is also made for the proceeds of the sale of any land acquired by the State with Federal road funds provided since 1977 to be either repaid to the Federal Government or applied to road construction and maintenance purposes. This provision formalises an arrangement that was negotiated in 1977 by the then Federal Transport Minister with his State colleagues. It is desirable that it be given legislative basis particularly as the sums involved could be quite significant. This provision ensures that the proceeds of sale of land are applied to the original purpose for which they were provided.

The areas where the Federal Minister may delegate his powers have been marginally curtailed. Section 37 requires that Ministerial declarations and directions be published in the Gazette.

Over the life of the ALTP we will be able to make major progress along the path which has been the vision of a number of dedicated transport people since Australia's Federation. It is appropriate that I conclude by listing in simple form the objectives that the Government expects to achieve during the life of the legislation. These are:

Establish arrangements which identify clearly for motorists and taxpayers the contribution users make to the maintenance and upgrading of our road and other transport systems.

In accordance with national priorities, assist the development and maintenance of Australia's land transport systems to facilitate the safe, reliable and efficient carriage of passengers and freight.

Develop the national highway system to standards appropriate to meet the growing needs for safe transport between the major centres of population.

Assist the development of urban arterial and rural arterial roads, in particular those which are of major national, commercial or industrial significance.

Enable State and local governments to develop and maintain local road systems.

Improve the capacity, quality, and efficiency of the interstate mainline railway network.

Assist activities which will enhance the safety of road users, including motor cyclists, pedestrians and cyclists.

Assist national research and development activities related to land transport.

In just 26 months we have done more than any other Government to develop a coherent approach to our national transport system. Major investigations have been undertaken in virtually all areas of Federal responsibility to establish the basis on which to implement vital programs like ALTP.

Specifically in this Bill we have the fulfillment of this Government's long standing policy commitment to the improvement of our nation's road system-a system which under conservative governments was starved of essential investment funds.

Roads are the arteries which carry the life blood of Australia. They represent a major public investment in the infrastructure upon which the health and livelihood of our national economy depends.

We are building better roads for Australia and this Bill will ensure that we continue to do so.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Kilgariff) adjourned.