AMSJ » Our ongoing partnership – A message to local government

Our ongoing partnership – A message to local government

One of the great lucky breaks in my life was getting a job with Tom Uren. It was 1985, I was 21 years old, and here was working for one of the smartest minds in the Australian parliament. There was not a better place to start my political career. Not only was Tom a highly experienced politician, he was also deeply engaged with his portfolio. And that portfolio was Local Government and Administrative Services.

One of the great lucky breaks in my life was getting a job with Tom  Uren. It was 1985, I was 21 years old, and here I was working for one of the smartest minds in the Australian Parliament. There was not a better place to start my political career. Not only was Tom a highly experienced politician, he was also deeply engaged with his portfolio. And that portfolio was Local Government and Administrative Services.

I learned a lot from Tom and, like him, I developed an enormous respect for those at the coal-face of Local Government. It is the councils, the councillors and the workers across  Australia that keep our neighbourhoods connected and serviced. The sector has always had the strong support and respect of the Australian Labor Party.

A measure of this was the decision, shortly after we came to offi ce in 2007, to establish the Australian Council of Local Government. This  provided a face-to-face meeting point between mayors from across the country and Federal members and senators, including ministers.

Next came the $1.12 billion in Federal funding through our Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. Through it, the Federal Government has worked in partnership  with councils to build local infrastructure projects in every local government area in the nation.

More recently, this year, we saw the 25th presentation of the National Awards for Local Government, recognising the work and achievements of councils. In short, the relationship between the Federal and Local Governments has never been stronger.

Let me bring you up to date on Federal initiatives that will affect local councils and the communities you represent. As Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, I see  improving transport infrastructure as key to productivity growth. Australia’s population is growing and ageing. Our economy is among the strongest in the world. However, we live in
the fastest and most dynamic region on the planet and for us to stay competitive, we must continue a vigorous reform program to streamline the economy.

That means improving our transport links so that freight and move seamlessly around the country and through our ports. It means removing the red tape that frustrates businesses  and adds unnecessarily to costs. And it means making our cities better places to live and work – in short, making them more productive sustainable and liveable.

The Federal Government has a range of programs in place to address these challenges. And there is a lot more work ahead of us. That is why our continuing partnership with you,  the local government sector, is vitally important as work with the States and Territories to achieve these reforms together.

Delivering transport infrastructure

When Labor was elected to offi ce in 2007 we faced a serious infrastructure defi cit. Australia ranked 20th out of 25 OECD countries when it came to investing in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income. In the decade prior to the election of the Labor

Government, public investment in the nation’s infrastructure as a Proportion of nationalincome had fallen by close to 20 percent. This lack of investmenthad sliced almoct one percentage point off annual growth.

The Federal roads budget was $2 billion less than it had been a decade earlier. Rail fared little better. There was no Federal Government investment whatsoever in urban public  transport, despite the rising cost of congestion. The IT and Innovation Foundation ranked Australia 27th out of 30 country on average download speed. In short, Australia’s ageing infrastructure was hindering economic growth and eroding our international competitiveness

That is why the Federal Government undertook the largest ever commitment to Australia’s transport infrastructure — $36 billion over the six years to 2013-14. We have more than  doubled the Federal roads budget to $27.7 billion. There are more than 120 major road projects around the country, including:

  • $1.45 billion to construct a new expressway in the Hunter Valley in NSW providing residents of the region with a fast route through to the F3 Freeway.
  • $2.6 billion for a raft of improvements to Queensland’s Bruce Highway, more than double what our predecessors spent over a similar period.
  • $4.1 billion towards the long overdue duplication of the Pacific Highway, more than three times what our predecessors spent during their entire 12 years in office.
  • More than $900 million to complete the duplication of the Hume Highway.
  • $2.5 billion to upgrade and widen the Ipswich Motorway, and,
  • $480 million to vastly improve the road network around Perth Airport.

Our investment in rail is similarly impressive. We are rebuilding one third of the nation’s interstate rail network with 38 major freight and passenger rail projects either completed or underway. In fact our $9 billion capital works program is the biggest federally-funded capital works program since the Fisher Labor  Government built the transcontinental railway almost a century ago.

Our work on the Brisbane/Sydney/Melbourne freight line is shaving 11 hours off the trip, making the transport of freight by rail viable once again. Woolworths has already announced that as a result of the improvements, it is considering returning its large freight load to rail. Making rail attractive to companies such as Woolworths makes great sense. One 1500 metre train can carry the load of 100 semi-trailer trucks. Woolworths alone has 160 B-double trucks on the Melbourne Brisbane route. Carrying those loads via rail leaves our roads safer and less congested for private motorists and reduces our global footprint.

Signifi cantly, we are also making an unprecedented investment in urban passenger rail, an area traditionally the province of State Governments. We are doing this because we believe better public transport is critical to the productivity and liveability of our cities. As our cities expand, congestion will only grow unless serious effort is made to provide
attractive alternatives for commuters to the private car.

We are funding an urban rail project in every mainland capital city, including:

  • Australia’s biggest public transport project – the $3.2 billion Regional Rail Link in Victoria,
  • The Gold Coast Rapid Transit – $365 million towards a light rail network linking Griffi th University at Southport to Broadbeach, and,
  • The Perth City Link – $236 million towards the sinking of the existing line underground, reuniting the Perth CBD.

These rail and road projects will greatly improve the way Australians do business, removing bottlenecks and improving the speed with which we can move goods and people around the nation.

I know councils are well aware of our $500 million highly successful Black Spot Program which is fi xing dangerous stretches of road and intersections. This program is saving lives  with every dollar invested saving $14 by reducing the number and cost of crashes. Let me remind you that the program is still in progress and any council can nominate a black spot in their area. I encourage you to do so.

It is also important that I reassure you that there are no plans to cease the Roads to Recovery program. Some councils have raised concern that it may be cut. Roads to Recovery has been a most valuable way of helping councils fund the important road and bridge improvements that allow their local residents move safely and smoothly around their suburbs, towns and along country roads. Already, almost 20,000 projects have been funded under the program with 7,100 more listed under the current third round.

The funding for this program is considerable – a total of $4.45 billion since it began in 2001. This money has gone directly to local councils, creating jobs, opportunities and better transport infrastructure. We know how important this program is to councils.

An extensive boom gate program undertaken during the economic downturn has now been completed. A total of $150 million was provided under the Economic Stimulus Plan to install a variety of boom gates, fl ashing lights, safety cameras, improved signage and advanced warning systems at 300 identifi ed high-risk crossings.

As people living in country areas know, rail crossings without protective barriers can be enormously dangerous for motorists. On average, there are 100 accidents at unprotected level crossings every year, with 17 people killed and many more seriously injured. This practical measure will save lives and avert further tragedies.

A better way to plan and deliver

Delivering infrastructure, especially major projects, is a long term, expensive commitment. To make the tendering and contracting system easier, we have introduced a National Prequalification System.

This new system will improve competition and reduce duplication and red tape for contractors wishing to tender for infrastructure projects in different state and territories. It will be a great aid to local councils as it well speed up the pre-construction process and allow infrastructure projects to be delivered more quickly.

More good news for the construction sector has been the release of national guidelines for Public Private Partnerships (PPP). These guidelines will help provide consistency across Australia and improve the investment landscape for private investors.

In the May Budget, we announced a further measure to encourage private investment in public infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment Incentive Package will allow up to $25 billion in projects assessed as nationally signifi cant by Infrastructure Australia to have the value of their early stage losses uplifted over time at the government bond rate. Such projects would also be exempted fromtax rules which prevent tax losses being transferred with a change  of ownership. This reform is a direct response to concerns raised by potential investors.

Overall, the result will be a lower weighted average cost of capital for eligible projects, lower compliance costs and greater certainty, especially for brownfi eld investors such as superannuation funds.

A single large infrastructure project can deliver enormous benefi ts to local government areas, employing large numbers of locals and buying local services and goods. For example, the 23 km Northern Expressway and Port Wakefi eld Road Upgrade was good news for local horticulturalists. The project manager in charge of the landscape work, Randall Wee, sourced all plants, crushed rock, fertiliser and herbicides from local companies.

Major cities planning and development

It is also important that I bring you up to date on the extensive work the Federal Government is undertaking to improve the productivity, sustainability and liveability of our major cities. Historically, cities policy has been left largely to the States and Territories. The fact is our cities are facing great challenges. Congestion, sprawl, housing affordability, and servicing the needs of an ageing population are just some of them.

Our cities have become too important to ignore. While Australia might be famous for its agricultural and mineral production, it is cities that produce 80 per cent of our national  wealth. And it is our cities  that are home to three out of four Australians. We need better cities for the people who live in them, for the people who work in them and for the people who depend on them.

In May, I released Our Cities, Our Future – a national urban policy for a productive, sustainable and liveable Australia. It was the fi rst time a government had outlined its  overarching goals for the nation’s 18 major cities with populations above100,000.

While State and Territory Governments and local councils remain the hands-on planners and designers of our cities, the Federal Government is helping reform their planning processes and strengthen the networks between them. Under an agreement secured around the COAG table, all States and Territories will from  1 January 2012 have in place strategic planning systems for their capital cities.

These planning systems must meet nine nationally-agreed criteria. For instance cities must show how they are providing for nationallysignifi cant economic infrastructure such as transport corridors, airports and ports, intermodal connections, communications and utilities.

They must show how they are providing for evidence-based land release and an appropriate balance of infi ll and greenfi eld development. And they must address big policy issues such as how they are planning for population growth and demographic change, climate change mitigation, housing affordability and how they can better connect people to jobs.

Future Commonwealth infrastructure funding will be tied to these plans. Our Cities, Our Future is available on my department’s website. In October, I released the State of Australian Cities 2011an economic, environmental and social snapshot of our cities. The report received 200,000 downloads after only two days,  demonstrating the enormous interest in the cities agenda.

The State of Australian Cities 2011 is the second in a series and allows policy makers and political leaders, industry and the broader community to check how we are faring on  improving our transport systems, curbing congestion, addressing climate change and making our buildings and public spaces more liveable and sustainable.

I thank those councils that provided written submissions to the Our Cities discussion paper and participated in the workshops that were held in all of our major cities. Participants came from a wide range of industry and professional associations, community groups, State, Territory and Local Governments. Approximately 230 written submissions and survey responses to the Our Cities discussion paper were received.

Also in October, I opened applications for the two year $20 million Liveable Cities Program. The program aims to promote better planning and design of our cities, their  infrastructure, buildings and public spaces. It will also encourage projects which reduce car dependency and congestion by offering practical solutions for better public transport, cycling and pedestrian access.

Projects must be able to demonstrate good planning and design that can be emulated and applied across Australia’s cities and regional centres. This is a great opportunity for councils to apply together forprojects that will have widespread application across their regions.

Airport planning and development

Airports are our gateway to the nation and the world. Australians are great air travellers, at least in part because our vast size makes air travel an attractive way to get around the  country. Record numbers of travelling Australians means greater pressure than ever on our airports which must deal with a growing list of challenges including restricted space to expand and pressure from other users for space within airport precincts.

From the early days of flight, Australians have been at the forefront of aviation. But we have also had an ad hoc ‘wing and a prayer’ attitude to tackling national aviation issues. That was the reason why I released in 2009 an aviation policy that would serve Australia for the long term. The White Paper is widely acknowledged by peak international organisations as world’s best practice. I am pleased to report that almost every major initiative contained in the White Paper has either been fully implemented or is well down the path to completion.

In partnership with State, Territory and Local Governments, we are pursuing a nationally agreed land use planning regime around airports and near busy flight paths. We are  encouraging planning arrangements that will minimise aircraft noise. I thank affected councils for their considered submissions to the discussion paper Safeguards for airports and the communities around them.

We haven’t forgotten rural and remote aviation either. These facilities provide a lifeline to local communities, providing, mail, goods and medical services. Often these small airports  and remote air services are constrain d by limited revenue and can place pressure on the councils that maintain them.

We continue to roll-out the Regional Aviation Access Program (RAAP), which provides funding for remote airstrip upgrades and subsidies for essential weekly air services to remote communities. I encourage councils operating remote services or airstrips to get the guidelines from and check their eligibility.

Saving lives on our roads

Road trauma has a huge impact on society and can strike at the heart of local communities. Each year around 1,300 Australians are fatally injured in road traffic crashes and another 32,000 are hospitalised.

In economic terms, the total cost of road crashes has been estimated at $27 billion per year. Earlier this year, transport ministers from around the nation released the new National Road Safety Strategy, which aims to cut the number of road deaths and serious injuries by at least 30 per cent by 2020.

Bringing down road deaths and serious injury is a shared responsibility. I ask you to take the road safety message back to your own communities as together we can make a difference.

Ongoing partnerships

Our partnership with local government is vitally important and there is still much for our respective levels of government to achieve together.

I look forward to working with you all as we continue to strive for a more productive, sustainable and liveable Australia.

Anthony Albanese

Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment