Transcript of Interview: ABC Riverland—Riverland Today— with Narelle Graham

Interview

BPC050/2014

05 June 2014

Narelle Graham: South Australia is set to receive a $5.8 million in black spot road funding, and as far as I can tell, Riverland and Mallee will get $185,000. That's going to the Mid Murray Council for a five kilometre section of the Sturt Highway, at Accommodation Hill in Truro. So, we're going to hear from Assistant Minister, Jamie Briggs; he is the Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development at the federal level. I spoke with him yesterday.

Assistant Minister, thank you for being with me. South Australia seems to have done quite well out of this black spot funding, but the Riverland and Mallee hasn't, why is that?

Jamie Briggs: Well, this is a program which is based on applications, so if the councils are making applications, they should have received some of the project, and I think there are some projects, at least one in the Mallee that I'm aware of. However, what I would say is that next year there is an increase of $100 million into the program, and $100 million the year after that as well, so there'll be $320 million over the next two years. And I would encourage all the local councils in the Riverland and the Mallee to make applications. We are looking at the criteria to make sure that regional councils particularly can have better access to it, because some of the criteria make it a bit difficult at times, for small councils in particular to access.

So we are considering that at the moment, and we will release the amended criteria in the coming weeks. But there are, obviously, lots of opportunities with the additional money that the Abbott Government is putting into this program, it's an important way to improve our safety outcomes across the country, and I would urge all councils and individuals, for that matter, taking up the opportunity of applying for the black spot program.

Narelle Graham: What constitutes a black spot?

Jamie Briggs: Well, at the moment, it is mainly based on a crash record history, over the last five years; fatalities, injuries and incidents. There's also an economic judgment, as far as the revenue, in effect, for every dollar spent by the government, so we want that to be two and above. So every dollar spent, we want a return of $2 or more. In fact, from the black spot programs that we've announced this year, there'll be, on average, a $7 return for every dollar spent. Often if you do these small projects, you increase productivity on intersection and so forth quite enormously, by a small improvement. And then there are opportunities through just safety audits as well, so where people recognise is a dangerous road, a safety audit by a qualified person can also add to the process and ensure that the black spot is addressed. And sometimes I think they can actually be some of the most beneficial, because if we can prevent accidents in the first place, then obviously that saves a lot of heartache, a lot of money; and that's, in a sense, the intention of the program.

Narelle Graham: Don't there have to be three fatalities for an area for a road to be considered a black spot?

Jamie Briggs: No, it doesn't have to be. In fact, a vast bulk of the program—of the roads that have been given black spot funding this year—don't have fatalities. Some do, but a vast bulk don't. They do have injuries or incidents, but again, there are opportunities where we see grey spots, for instance, and I think we need to put some focus with this additional money on them. Particularly in regional areas. I think of my own electorate in South Australia, which includes Kangaroo Island, and Kangaroo Island would have some of the most dangerous roads, of course, because they don't have the traffic numbers its - some of our criteria, or the incident activity doesn't occur, but if there is an incident it can be quite catastrophic.

Narelle Graham: So what's likely to change in that criteria? I understand you're saying that that will be a couple of weeks, but councils will want to be prepared.

Jamie Briggs: Well, look, I think what we can do is make it easier for smaller regional councils to meet this criteria and put a bit more of a focus on the safety audit. Reduce, potentially, the BCR requirement, back down to less than two, and somewhere around $1. And also even look at the crash history, because we want to make sure with the additional $200 million we're putting into the program over the next two years, that we are getting, across Australia, a distribution of the program, which means that we're getting some of these real safety hotspots addressed. Getting the productivity benefit of it, but more importantly preventing future accidents from occurring, and the cost and the heartache that they cause.

Narelle Graham: So we've got, for example, the Karoonda Highway, from Karoonda to Murray bridge.

Jamie Briggs: I know it well.

Narelle Graham: It had three fatalities since 2008, three serious injuries, seven minor injuries. Shouldn't that sort of road, with those kinds of statistics, pop up as: this needs to be fixed, something has to be done.

Jamie Briggs: Well, particularly if the incidents are in a similar area indeed that would be a road—or a section of that road—that you would look to. It is a long road, so there may be incidents in different aspects of it, but I'm sure that the council will be able to identify certain spots where they can increase the safety; and of course the black spots programme is there for them to look at, to make applications to.

Narelle Graham: The councils are telling us though, that even though that there is this extra black spot funding, that it doesn't fill the hole left by cutting supplementary road funding. What do you say to them?

Jamie Briggs: Well, firstly, I think that the reality of the situation is we didn't cut anything, the programme that they refer to was coming to an end on June 30 this year. We had to make a lot of hard decisions in the Budget, and unfortunately that programme, or that additional money which had been given to South Australia was something that we couldn't afford to continue to do in the current circumstances. However, with the increase in black spots funding, the increase to Roads to Recovery, $350 million more in Roads to Recovery money, we think that that will cover over that amount that won't be there next year. And also, what I've said to the South Australian Local Government Association is, if councils think there is a problem with the formula, on how South Australia gets money, then they need to lobby the Australian Local Government Association and convince them there needs to be a change in the formula. If they do that, of course, we'd be happy to look at that.

Narelle Graham: Looking through the list, you've got a lot of city councils here. The City of Adelaide, you've also got the City of Playford, City of Onkaparinga, City of Murray Bridge; a lot of these larger councils, and I understand that this is weighted towards the number of cars that are using these roads. Is that going to change in this formula that's coming out in the next couple of weeks. Because at the moment, it seems that the city areas are going to get the bulk of the funding, and regional areas are going to miss out.

Jamie Briggs: No, not at all, fifty-fifty actually. We split the amount, 50 per cent spent in urban areas and 50 per cent spent in regional areas. But you do hit on an issue, which is it is, of course, more likely you've got a traffic incident record if you've got a lot more cars on the road and there's been more incidences, the logic follows. So, you know, we still want to address black spots in cities, because a car accident and deaths or injuries in one part of Australia compared to another is as bad. But equally, we want to ensure that regional areas are getting their fair crack at it, and there is an opportunity I think to improve the opportunity for regional councils to be able to get access to this program and that's what we're looking to do.

Narelle Graham: Assistant Minister, Jamie Briggs. Thank you.

Jamie Briggs: It’s a great pleasure.