Shaping regional road funding with practical measures

The purpose of the Land Transport Infrastructure Amendment Bill 2014 is to amend the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Act 2009, to rename the act the National Land Transport Act 2014 and to enable the continuation of what we all know is a very important program, the Roads to Recovery program, beyond 30 June 2014. There are very practical measures in this bill. We in rural and regional Australia well understand the importance of having practical measures to deliver critical infrastructure in regional areas right throughout Australia.

The bill also amends the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Act 2009 to combine parts 3 and 6 into one part for investment, to streamline the act—again, a very practical measure—and to add a new eligible project type into part 4 to allow funding of research and investigations of projects funded under the act or submitted for consideration for funding under the act. As we know, such research will inform advice to government and enhance the management of projects. Also, it will add two new eligible funding recipients—partnerships for parts 4 and 5 and funding for land transport research entities and non-corporate Commonwealth entities for part 5—to expand the types of organisations that can be funded to undertake research, investigations, studies and analysis under the act. Again, these are practical measures. The bill also repeals the Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988, the Roads to Recovery Act 2000 and the Railway Standardization (New South Wales and Victoria) Agreement Act 1958, as these are all spent legislation.

Amendments to the Nation Building Program are necessary to allow the government to proceed with what is an ambitious infrastructure agenda. I am very proud to be part of an infrastructure government under an infrastructure Prime Minister. The key function of the bill is to enable the continuation of what is unconditionally known as a very successful and critical program—the Roads to Recovery program. This provides desperately needed funding to local governments for the maintenance of the nation’s local road infrastructure. What connects people and communities, and all of the economic multipliers in regional areas, is mostly because of roads. It is very, very important funding for local governments. When I talk to my local governments, each one of them always tells me how important this funding is for them to be able to deliver what is needed in their particular areas.

The current program stalls on 30 June and it specifies funding to that date. The bill removes the definition and specification of the funding period and places it in the Roads to Recovery list. In practical terms, this removes the need to introduce a new bill to the parliament every time the Roads to Recovery funding period changes, and ensures that this critical program will continue. This is a very, very good measure contained in this bill. It will ensure that that real delivery on the ground in rural, regional and remote areas of Australia will continue.

As we know, and we have heard repeatedly in this place, local councils would struggle to be able to deliver their roads programs, if at all, without this funding. The bill also allows the minister to determine a Roads to Recovery list. This will be exempt from disallowance under the Legislative Instruments Act 2003. Again, this provides certainty, which is so important to local governments. It provides certainty to local government funding recipients of the program.

The bill combines part 3 of the original National Building Program act with part 6, or off-network projects, into one part for all investment projects. This is a unification and streamlining and, for practical purposes, will enhance the operation of the act. The existing parts 3 and 6 contain a significant number of identical provisions and combining them will remove the unnecessary duplication of provisions. The new part 3 for investment projects also includes a new requirement that states and territories notify the minister as soon as possible after the sale or disposal of land that was acquired using Australian government funding. That will ensure that proper accountability is maintained and that there is a timely response to land sales or disposals from both the states and territories and the Australian government. Then the proceeds of the sale or disposal should be allocated to new infrastructure projects that enhance the Australian economy and continue to remove the existing bottlenecks, which we know in regional areas are really important and affect how products get to market. They are things that affect the economies in regional and rural areas.

The bill also alters the value of work that can currently be exempted from public tender requirements. Currently, the amount is prescribed by regulations; however, this will be altered to determination instead by legislative instrument. That will reduce the regulatory delays. It introduces a new type of project that can receive funding under part 4 for transport, development and innovation projects. Projects that involve research investigation studies or analysis of the important black spot projects, previously funded off-network projects and works funded under the Roads to Recovery program will be eligible for part 4 funding. It could also be used for projects submitted for consideration for funding as investment or black spot projects, again to help form advice to government.

This amendment enhances the management of projects and the infrastructure investment program. The bill also adds two new types of eligible funding recipient into the act. Partnerships have been added for funding recipients in parts 4 and 5. This change simplifies funding arrangements for firms without a body corporate structure. Non-corporate Commonwealth entities whose functions include research related to land transport research operations will now be able to receive funding under part 5, which is funding for land transport research entities.

The government has committed, importantly, to continuation of the Black Spot Programme, which provides funding to address road sites that are high-risk areas for serious crashes. There are many of these around Australia, and it is a program that is essential for state and local governments to be able to fulfil their local road safety commitments. Black spot projects are administered under part 7 and remain largely unchanged. The bill makes no amendments to the national land transport network. The network contains the key road and rail links connecting Australia and is a vital component of the government’s infrastructure investment program.

Like many in this place, it would not surprise the House that, in discussions about transport infrastructure, the needs of my electorate of Forrest should also be considered. The bill before the House today repeals the Roads to Recovery Act 2000, which instigated the Roads to Recovery Program. It was moved into the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005 and then the nation-building program of 2009. AusLink was a defining national network that superseded the former national highway system and included important road and rail infrastructure links and their intermodal connections. It was first proposed in a green paper issued in 2002. AusLink connected many of the major economic and population centres of Australia; but, when it came to the south-west of Western Australia, this actually stopped at Bunbury in my electorate.

In the intervening years the south-west has grown significantly. It is now one of the fastest-growing regional areas in Australia. I well understand the budget challenges created by the former Labor government; however, I will continue to work towards having some of the major arterial roads in the south and east of Bunbury recognised by the federal government as roads of national significance. This is important because in the south-west we produce seven per cent of WA’s total gross state product and in recent years there has been a 10 per cent growth rate in the south-west. As we know, Western Australia produces 46 per cent of Australia’s export wealth. In time, as soon as the budget allows, I would hope that all levels of government would contribute to road infrastructure in the south-west given the continuous growth that we are seeing. Only then will the region be able to grow and develop to its full potential.

As I have said, the south-west is a jewel in the grown of the state’s economic and cultural development. It is an environmental icon as well, listed as one of the world’s international biodiversity hot spots. The region is also a tourism and holiday destination of choice. The fact that we have major infrastructure through the port is often overlooked. We also have significant exports; over 10 million tonnes is exported through the port of Bunbury on an annual basis. Mining and resource manufacturing are a major part of my electorate, and that is why transport links are so important. It is another reason the tax on diesel fuel—the carbon tax that Labor were to impose in July this year—would have a critical impact right throughout Western Australia and throughout my electorate.

The wide range of activity in the south-west, coupled with the significant regional population growth of over 2.1 per cent a year compared with the state’s average of 1.8 per cent and the nation’s 1.4, continues to put significant pressure on the transport infrastructure of the region. Frequently I look at the waste and mismanagement in the previous government and think what some of those funds—and even what is currently being paid in interest on the debt that has been acquired—would do to deliver infrastructure in my region.

With this in mind, the Bunbury Outer Ring Road project is an essential and urgent piece of infrastructure. This is a project that has been expanded in stages. I was at the opening of stage 1 of the port access road in 2010. Stages 1 and 2 of Bunbury Outer Ring Road were completed last year. The remaining stage of the Bunbury Outer Ring Road is estimated to cost over $700 million, and that is why I can understand the challenges facing the budget and why, if it were not for some of the waste and mismanagement, these are the types of projects we would be able to fund. I look forward to a very responsible government looking seriously at these types of road transport projects in the future.

In the longer term I can see throughout the south-west that dual lanes from Perth to Margaret River will be essential. It is one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia and will continue to be so. It is part of my long-term transport vision for the south west, and of course this is also about the economic development of my part of the world. It is a major economic driver for Western Australia and for the Australian economy. As I say, frequently it is not well-understood that not only do we have mining resources but also we have agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism. I have one of the most diverse electorates in Australia. Of course that brings with it huge demands for infrastructure, something that I know the minister at the table, Minister Truss, is very well aware off from looking at the infrastructure needs across this country. I am very pleased to support this particular bill and to be a part of an infrastructure minister’s efforts, an infrastructure Prime Minister’s efforts and an infrastructure government.