Public Sector Network Infrastructure Summit 2015: Building our Future—World-class Infrastructure for a Stronger Australia
27 October 2015
The Carlton Room, Rydges on Swanston, Melbourne
Good morning everyone.
Thank you for the warm welcome Dan (Paul, CEO PSMA Australia) and thank you for the invitation to join you this morning for your 2015 National Infrastructure Summit.
I am here this morning in my new role as Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister, Warren Truss.
Warren, as you know, is the Leader of the Nationals—in fact he's the longest serving party leader in Canberra at the moment having been in the job since December 2007—so, this is his eighth year in office.
I can quite honestly say I am humbled to be part of the Coalition's frontbench team and to be working alongside Warren in the Infrastructure and Regional Development portfolio.
Warren is a man who stands for honesty, integrity and reliability in government and he has the upmost respect for the public service—of which many of you are members.
His personal focus is to drive development in infrastructure, building for the future of the nation and investing in significant projects at the local and national level to improve productivity.
And it is the future we are talking about this morning: Future Transport, Future Cities, Future Universities and Future Healthcare Facilities.
Your overarching theme: Future Proofing the country's critical assets, is particular apt as we strive to boost both productivity and sustainability, maximise opportunities opened up by recent free trade agreements, and ensure our global competitiveness.
As Dan said, I am the Member for the regional New South Wales electorate of the Riverina—one of Australia's great foodbowls and a remarkably diverse and productive region roughly the size of Tasmania. As the Member for Riverina I am acutely aware of the transformational power of nationally important infrastructure.
There is no denying that right across the globe we are living in austere financial times which is likely to be the norm for quite some time to come.
The longest and largest mining boom in Australian history has transformed the northern economy and indeed the national economy.
However, as the boom tapers off, we can no longer rely on increasing terms of trade to sustain our economic growth.
Energy self-sufficiency and the potential for major export agricultural contracts, the development of gas reserves, renewables, uranium, oil and coal, are all real probabilities that capitalise on our natural advantages.
Australia is a vast continent and while it may sound like stating the obvious, safe and efficient transport linkages—land, sea and air—are key to keeping the supply chain moving, connecting communities, and the delivery of the essential services upon which daily life depends.
To be truly competitive in the global arena we must make the most of our existing infrastructure at both the local and national level.
We must identify, prioritise and put in place key national transport infrastructure.
Great examples are thethe Western Sydney Airport, WestConnex—currently the largest transport project in Australia linking Sydney's CBD, Sydney Airport and Port Botany, the Gold Coast Light Rail, the Northern Connector in South Australia, the Toowoomba Second Crossing, Armadale Road in Western Australia and a particular favourite of mine the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail project.
These are major infrastructure projects of regional and national significance which we must put in place to help future proof a sustainable economy.
Creating a stronger Australia requires a clear-cut focus on the future and the Coalition Government is proud to be delivering the vital infrastructure communities need in partnership with state and local government.
A well-known estimate from the research arm of my Department, projects that Australia's total freight task will grow by 80 per cent between 2010 and 2030.
If we think about that projection in context of the three Trade Agreements completed with South Korea, Japan and China and the most recent Trans Pacific Partnership agreement, suddenly this staggering projection to our freight task makes sense.
So, if we did nothing to develop our infrastructure, by 2030 every Australian business would operate in an over-crowded and far less productive space.
And this country's prospects would be undermined.
So the Government has dug deep—in every sense—to ensure Australia's infrastructure is up to the demands of future decades.
Accordingly, in our first Budget we made a record $50 billion commitment to transport infrastructure.
Across the board the $50 billion infrastructure investment packaged has and continues to translate into thousands of kilometres of new and upgraded roads and railways, new and expanded airports, seaports, better water infrastructure and vast new communication networks.
A further $1.105 billion was added with the extra funding going into the well received Roads to Recovery programme over the next two years.
In the 2015 Federal Budget we extended our funding commitment by allocating a further $5 billion for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to provide loans for infrastructure projects; and a further $700 million for roads as outlined in the Northern Australia White Paper, including $100 million for the Beef Roads Fund.
The new $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Fund will make targeted upgrades to key roads necessary for transporting cattle strengthening the future viability of the cattle industry which has long been a pillar of the northern economy.
Importantly, this work will draw on state-of-the-art CSIRO modelling of the cattle supply chain to identify which road improvements will make the biggest long-term financial impact. Consultation with stakeholders to help determine the routes is currently underway.
In fact later this week I'm heading up to Mount Isa to discuss the Northern Australia package and the Beef Roads Fund with local beef producers from across Queensland.
This funding is in addition to the $5 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility we have established to provide concessional finance for a range of infrastructure projects in the north.
The facility aims to make it easier for the private sector to invest in needed infrastructure where it can get a return.
The Government will also establish a ‘single point of entry’ office in Darwin to help investors deal with regulatory requirements.
The office will work closely with the Northern Territory's Coordinator-General to assist in facilitating approvals for priority projects.
The new office will provide potential investors a single contact for Commonwealth and Northern Territory Government regulatory approvals.
The office will work with major project investors to streamline their development process, including approvals under Commonwealth legislation in areas such as native title, customs and quarantine, and under Northern Territory legislation in areas such as planning and infrastructure.
The office's work will target investments commencing at $50 million—but with flexibility for less capital intense but important projects for the north, such as in tourism. It will work closely with the Northern Territory to progress environmental assessments and approvals under the Government's new One-Stop Shop arrangements.
Current predictions determine by 2040, northern Australia may account for almost 42 per cent of the Australian economy.
Developing northern Australia is a key priority for the Government. By developing the north the entire nation will further benefit through investment in infrastructure, job opportunities, the growth of services and emerging industries and better fulfil our export potential.
Forecasts predict that come 2050, the Asia Pacific region will account for almost half of the world's economic output and will be home for more than half of the world's population.
If you look at the burgeoning Asian middle class and their demand for high quality primary produce including beef and dairy, plus premium imported goods and services; and then again consider the opportunities opened up by the recently completed Trade Agreements—the potential is astounding.
At a more local level, applications for Round Two of the $1 billion National Stronger Regions Fund have now closed and the announcement of successful submissions is expected in December.
The Fund is designed to support economic growth and productivity, boosts employment and importantly addresses areas of disadvantage in regional Australia
Local councils, in which many of you are involved, and incorporated not-for-profit organisations can apply for funding of between $20,000 and $10 million for capital infrastructure projects that demonstrate strong economic outcomes, especially in disadvantaged regions.
In Round One there were 405 applications received seeking funding of over $1.2 billion.
The 51 successful projects in Round One range from freight and transport projects to community centres, water infrastructure upgrades and major multi-purpose sports and tourism facilities.
Following feedback from various stakeholders, some amendments have been made to the Fund to better reflect the objectives of the programme.
Under Round Two, $25 million will be quarantined for those projects seeking funding of $1 million or less. This will allow a broader reach across Australia's regions and better reflect the national intent of the programme.
We are also pleased to introduce the new Stronger Communities Programme announce in the 2015 Budget. This is a fantastic initiative which will help fund small projects which will help to encourage community participation and social cohesion.
The Stronger Communities Programme will hopefully fill gaps that can be left by other programmes, by focusing on small grants for projects that boost the vibrancy and livability of communities—so councils and other local sporting, community and service organisations can receive support for projects that will help your community and region to grow and flourish.
$1 billion has been made available under the Fund over five years with $200 million allocated in 2015–16.
For two years $150,000 in Australian Government funding will be available to each of the 150 federal electorates for small capital projects. Grants between $1,000 and $20,000 will be available to local governments and community based not-for-profit organisations.
Local MPs will be responsible for consulting with communities to identify high priority projects.
In my electorate the Programme has been well received and the application and selection process has been competitive.
I mentioned Roads to Recovery a little earlier and it is worth highlighting this important programme is now permanent. We have removed the sunset clause in the legislation—something Labor failed to do when in office and voted against in the House of Representatives.
This Government is delivering a record $3.2 billion to Roads to Recovery.
We also recognise the critical importance of safe, well maintained bridges to connect communities and keep freight rolling.
That's why this Government has committed $300 million to the new Bridges Renewal Programme.
Under round one $114 million was provided in funding for 73 projects.
Applications for Round Two have closed with 270 proposals received.
Round Two is reserved specifically for Local Government bridges. The round will provide funding of up to $100 million exclusively to local councils to enhance the productivity of bridges serving local communities, and allow access by higher productivity vehicles.
The Department of Infrastructure has been working with councils to ensure their projects have the best possible chance of success by streamlining the application form and providing more guidance in the application process, and better feedback directly to Councils.
Round Three will be announced in 2016.
We have also committed an extra $200 million to the Road Black Spot Programme—bringing total funding for the programme to $500 million over the five years to 2019.
When it comes to road safety, prevention is certainly better than cure.
In addition to expanding the Black Spot Programme, we have made it easier for Councils to access the funding by broadening the eligibility criteria for the Programme for the next two years.
We have amended the criteria for Black Spot funding to allow more investment in the proactive treatment of unsafe roads. Consultative Panels will able to allocate up to 40 per cent of funding to sites on the basis of a road safety audit—rather than have to wait for accidents to happen.
To further expand eligibility for the program, the minimum Benefit Cost Ratio for proposals has been reduced from 2:1 to 1:1—a very significant shift.
The Government has also guaranteed that at least half of the funding provided over the next two years will be dedicated to fixing roads in regional Australia.
We have also committed an additional $200 million for projects under the expanded Heavy Vehicle Safety & Productivity Programme.
The Programme aims to improve productivity and safety outcomes for heavy vehicle operations across Australia, through funding infrastructure projects including rest stops, decoupling bays and heavy vehicle pavement upgrades.
I expect Round Five will open later this year and I encourage councils to apply.
Since coming to office two years ago, the Coalition Government has sought to identify, prioritise and deliver the world-class infrastructure we need to build a sustainable economy and a stronger Australia.
And that includes ensuring long-term value, which in turn means a focus on future-proofing the life cycle of our key land transport networks so that they can adapt to meet changes in usage volumes and modes—and importantly here in Australia—extreme weather conditions.
I wish you well with your discussions which I expect will generate much lively debate.
To all of you I would like to express the Australian Government's thanks for your service.
Your hard work and dedication is appreciated and I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead to build a stronger Australia together.