Transcript of Interview, ABC Riverina, Mornings with Simon Wallace

Interview

BPC011/2013

26 November 2013

Simon Wallace: Have you heard the saying that driving is the most dangerous thing that most of us will do in our lives? So what can be done to make it safer? I think we all know an intersection or a stretch of road that is dangerous and needs to be fixed. Well, there's some federal money available through the Black Spot funding program, and they'd like your input. Jamie Briggs is an MP; he's also the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.

Jamie Briggs: New South Wales has appointed John Cobb as the chair of the Black Spot consultative panel, and many of your listeners will know John is a very, very experienced parliamentarian and very experienced New South Welshman, representing rural areas of New South Wales, both in the parliament and through farmer experience for a very long time. And, John knows transport needs very well in New South Wales, and he brings a level of experience to the Black Spot committee which will ensure we get the best value of money that we want, but also improve our productive capacity, our safety performance, on important metro but also, importantly, regional roads.

Simon Wallace: Today we're broadcasting not just to the Riverina, but to the south west and the south east of the state. People in the regions will know these roads, and know that there's issues with some of them, what do they do, what can they do if there's a bad stretch of road? The council know about it, local government as know, as I said the council, people know about it, but what can they do?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, in respect to this programme, the Federal Government runs the Black Spot Program. It's a $60 million programme a year, spread across the states, obviously, New South Wales gets a good share of that. What people can do with their local government particularly is identify black spots which have had a crash history, where there have been incidents over the last two or three years, where there have been—not just fatalities—but also injuries through accidents. They can identify those black spots through this committee, they can identify them to the committee, they don't need all that much information, the information's online, and they can fill it out themselves.

Usually the local government body is the best way to move to get the best outcome, and then the committee will make the considerations, what are the best value projects. Projects can be up to $2 million in federal contribution. The state and local government can put in more, of course. That means that intersections where people have been injured, new roundabouts, signs in some cases, to improve the safety performance and, inevitably, the productivity, because injuries reduce productive capacity. Black spots usually mean that we're not getting the best value, particularly in regional areas, that we can get from the roads. So this programme can really make a big difference in that respect.

Simon Wallace: And the funding was specifically set up, but if there was an intersection, or a stretch of road, with a crash history, that it would be addressed?

Jamie Briggs: Well, that's right, and it was a funding program set up initially by the Howard Government, and has continued since that time, and it's got a great track record.

It's got a terrific economic outcome, economic history, and it's also got a really important contribution to our safety performance of many of our metro and regional roads. And many of your listeners will know well, that way out in the south west and in the south east and through the Riverina, there are many, many local roads which carry heavy loads of freight, heavy amounts of freight, and contributions to our economic development, which are unsafe at times. And, as economic activity increases in our region, we need to fix those to ensure we get the best value.

Simon Wallace: Is that part of the difficulty, too, that the roads and bridges weren't designed for some semi-trailers, let alone B-doubles?

Jamie Briggs: Well, indeed, in fact in respect of bridges, during the campaign, the Coalition announced a programme specifically to deal with bridges, and that'll be something that the Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss will be shortly talking more about. We will have a specific bridges programme to upgrade bridges in regional areas. And, your listeners in New South Wales, in the regional and remote parts of New South Wales, know that those bridges which were, as you say, built many years ago, are now carrying significant loads, which we want them to carry.

We want our regions to do better, we want our regions to be sending more of our high quality primary produce to ports to get onto ships, to export overseas, and to do that we need the most effective road network. And the Australian Government's committed to spending significant amounts to upgrade major roads, in Sydney for instance, we're committing $1.5 billion, as part of the WestConnex proposal, which has an impact on our freight capacity, of course, getting our stuff to airports and to ports.

But this programme, while it's small, makes a significant contribution to our regional development because it ensures we get productive capacity on many roads which are suffering from sub-standard infrastructure. And, what I've asked John Cobb to do is to lead this committee and to get the best value for the money that we allocate each year.

Simon Wallace: Should the business sector, businesses that set up in certain areas be asked to help fund roads?

Jamie Briggs: Well, indeed they are on some occasions, and part of the challenge the country has, as both state and federal governments deal with Labor's debt is to increasingly find ways to attract private sector investment. Sometimes that's through pricing. The WestConnex project is an example of that where there will be tolls which will, of course, in the end pay for the project. The private sector is involved in that sense, and is incentivised to be involved. Sometimes the private sector sees the benefit of investing in roads, and there are circumstances—Infrastructure Australia has looked at this in New South Wales in particular—where companies will invest, whether it be a mining company, or a major rural company, will invest to upgrade a road because it will increase their productive capacity, and they'll get less wear and tear on trucks, meaning they'll spend less but get a better outcome.

So, of course, in that instance, it's attractive to both federal, state governments, but also to the private sector, and we'll increasingly be looking at ways to attract private sector investment into our important economic infrastructure.

Simon Wallace: I know we're speaking about black spots, but just briefly, Infrastructure Australia, a lot was made with the change of government about projects being stopped, are you looking at new projects, or how is that money being spent?

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, we've spent more than the Labor Party would have spent had they been re-elected—and thank goodness for our country they weren't—in September. We'll spend some 30 billion over the next four years on economic infrastructure, in fact, I think in the end we'll contribute more. We want the states to contribute more, and we want the private sector to contribute more. We've asked the Productivity Commission to look at ways to ensure we get better value for both the government and private sector spend, we think the cost of building a lot of these projects has become too high, and therefore we're looking for ways to reduce the cost and also reduce the time it takes to bring these projects up.

Infrastructure Australia will be reformed. We've moved legislation in the Parliament last week to begin that process, and what we'll do with Infrastructure Australia is build a strong board with a CEO appointed by that board, to do an audit of Australia's infrastructure, and then have a plan with the states for a 15 year pipeline of investment. Because, what we're finding at the moment is Australia's productive capacity is not what it should be, we are not achieving the economic outcomes that we want. And, as I said before, we have a great opportunity with massive growth in our region. Our rural exporters can take part in this once in a lifetime opportunity, but to do so we need to provide the economic infrastructure for them to be able to get their produce to ports and airports to get to the world.

Simon Wallace: Does that mean mining is slowing down and we're looking back to the farm?

Jamie Briggs: Well, we've always looked to the farm, and I don't think it's one or the other, it's never been, we shouldn't look at it like that. We should play to our strengths and in New South Wales the farmers and miners are massive strengths. We're very fortunate to have a real competitive advantage in those two industries, and we need to create circumstances for both food producers and miners to do as well as they can, as well as other businesses as well, so rural communities can thrive.

Simon Wallace: That's Jamie Briggs, an MP and Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development.