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Tuesday, 27 March 2001
Page: 25698


Mr FORREST (2:07 PM) —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Would the minister inform the House of new developments in the federal government's delivery of the Roads to Recovery program? How will these developments assist the eight local councils in Mallee with the development of their road network?


Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Mallee for his question. Last night, I attended the Rural Roads Congress in Mildura, in his electorate, and I was reminded down there not only of the very high esteem in which he is held but also that, as far as I am aware, he is the only civil engineer in this House. As such, he has been a vociferous advocate of the need for better roads in rural and regional communities. He is therefore, of course, a strong supporter not only of his own community in Mildura, who are wanting us to consider a bypass—which I have undertaken to look at seriously—but also of the Roads to Recovery program.

Last night at the congress, I was struck by the overwhelming support of local councils from right across Australia for the federal government's grants through the Roads to Recovery program. Many things about the program delighted people at the congress—particularly its flexibility and the way in which the Commonwealth government is interacting directly with local government. There are no intermediaries in the middle; there are no state governments to interfere, to overlay their priorities, to attempt to cost shift and to do all those things that unfortunately sometimes state governments do try to do.

We listened to local councils when we were devising the Roads to Recovery program. We are continuing to listen now. Last night I announced that the federal government will speed up Roads to Recovery payments to local councils wanting to get on with projects that involve large up-front costs. Certainly the money has been flowing quite well. Indeed, having announced the program only at the end of November last year, the first money started to flow on the last day of last month—the last day of February. Since then, some councils—in fact, quite a few—have been saying they want to complete several major projects under Roads to Recovery as early as possible. They have asked if it is possible to bring forward Roads to Recovery money to this financial year. The government are receptive to this. We want to help councils that would benefit from accelerated payments of their grants. I am currently looking at mechanisms by which we might be able to do that, possibly as early as next month.

We are also looking at ways of speeding up payments of the Roads to Recovery grant to councils that have quite small entitlements and have projects they want to progress, so that perhaps they can put it all together in one hit. These developments again are reflective of us seeking to act on what local government wants to do. It means that valuable road projects, bringing jobs and other economic and social benefits together in a coordinated way, can be completed as soon as possible and in a more cost-effective way.

Of course, these benefits would never have been possible if the ALP was in control of the federal government's roads program. The point was made to me repeatedly last night, by councils that I met and talked to, that, under Labor, as it was put to me, local roads were forgotten roads—right across Australia. Everyone remembers that. In case the Leader of the Opposition forgets, local roads are the roads right across this nation where virtually all of our exports, all of the things we value add, all of the things that create Australian jobs, begin their lives. They are also the roads that people depend upon to take their kids to school, to get to the doctor and to enjoy a normal social life. As such, they are incredibly important both socially and economically. It is not only federal Labor that has a poor record on local road funding. It has to be said that some state governments are almost as bad.

Government member—Queensland.


Mr ANDERSON —I hear someone saying, `Queensland.' Indeed, that is quite correct. A recent report undertaken by the Bureau of Transport Economics points the finger at both Victoria and Queensland. They provide almost no assistance to local government for their local road network. One of the things we have been calling for is for state governments to demonstrate a commitment to local government of the same order that we have. We have not had that message reinforced once by those opposite, those new found champions of the interests of rural Australia.