Video Address: 2013 ALGA National Local Roads and Transport Congress Sustaining Our Roads: Good Business / Good Governance / Good Bottom Line

Speech

WTS007/2013

12 November 2013

Alice Springs Convention Centre

Good morning and welcome to the 2013 National Local Roads and Transport Congress.

I have been a regular at this event in various roles over the years and have come to know many of you well. But the new parliament is sitting for the first time this week and so this year I am not able to join you in person.

This Congress would have been a good opportunity to talk to you in person so soon after returning to government and to the portfolio of Infrastructure and Regional Development.

New Government, New Vision

The theme of this year's congress absolutely resonates with our new Government.

Sustaining our roads is good business, it requires good governance, and it contributes significantly to a good bottom line.

Let me say upfront, this Government has a new vision for regional Australia.

We are an infrastructure Government, being led by Australia's first infrastructure Prime Minister.

We are serious about investing in the productive infrastructure we need—the roads, bridges, highways and railways—to meet the challenges ahead and reap the rewards of that sound investment.

Importance of Local Government

As many of you know, I spent 14 years in local government before entering the Federal Parliament.

So I know the significant role that local government plays in the delivery of services.

Local councils regularly demonstrate their capacity to deliver programs and public services in a cost-effective way.

They find local solutions to local problems.

This Government is committed to contributing to the prosperity of all Australians by assisting local communities to manage their own futures even better.

In particular we are committed to helping regional Australia pursue and seize more ambitious opportunities.

We believe that access to good infrastructure is the key to truly unlocking regional Australia's potential.

National Stronger Regions Fund

The Government's new National Stronger Regions Fund will help to unlock this potential by helping to build the infrastructure missing in our regions.

Grants between $20,000 and $10 million will be available from 2015 to meet the infrastructure needs of regional Australia.

The Government will provide $200 million each year over five years, with the potential for this contribution to increase as the economy improves.

In the interim, we will be delivering on around 100 projects worth close to $300 million, which we announced during the recent election campaign.

I also want to mention the Regional Development Australia Fund (RDAF), which as you may know was to be funded largely by the proceeds of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

The Government will abolish the MRRT, as it is another cost to business—but it wasn't raising much money anyway.

I can assure you that funding will continue to be delivered to Regional Development Australia Fund projects already under contract.

The Government is currently considering arrangements for RDAF projects without a contract in place prior to the election.

Northern Australia

Many of you attending this conference will come from the north and I want to speak about the Government's national vision to develop Northern Australia.

Opening up Northern Australia—on the doorstep of Asia—will help to create a stronger nation.

Our Vision for Developing Northern Australia by 2030 outlines the region's enormous potential in agriculture, tourism, energy export, tropical medicine, education and technical skills.

Vital road infrastructure, which is already getting underway around the nation, is critical to our nation's competitiveness.

We are committed to a major upgrade of the Bruce highway in Queensland in partnership with the State Government. The Commonwealth will meet 80 per cent of the cost of the $8.5 billion upgrade to eliminate flood prone stretches, get rid of black spots and upgrade highway capacity with more passing lanes and town bypasses.

Building on current programs this plan will turn the Bruce into a Highway of the 21st century—at long last.

Of particular interest to Alice Springs is our plan to restore funding for the upgrade of the 2,800 kilometre Outback Way across inland Australia.

The Government has committed $33 million to match state and territory contributions to continue works to upgrade this cross country road between Winton in Queensland and Laverton in Western Australia—to build a sealed road from cairns to Perth.

It will directly link some of Australia's fastest growing economies in the rapidly growing mining sector and unlock benefits for inland Australia.

The benefits include greater road reliability and connectivity for local communities, increased potential as a freight corridor and more prospects for the self-drive tourist market.

It will create jobs, open opportunities for mining, and facilitate efficiencies for freight and the potential for reduced cargo and transport costs.

It is envisaged that works will commence next year.

Local Government and Local Roads

Most journeys start and end on a local road, therefore maintaining them is critical.

From this Government's perspective, we appreciate the crucial role that local government plays in maintaining the integrity of our road network.

The Roads to Recovery programme, which we established in 2001, plays a vital role in assisting local governments to maintain over 650,000 kilometres of local roads.

Since its inception Roads to Recovery has funded 44,571 projects, receiving almost $4.5 billion in federal government funding.

We will ensure this highly successful and much-needed programme is adequately funded into the future, even with the current budgetary difficulties before the federal government

This Government is equally committed to continuing the Black Spots Programme, which you are no doubt aware we re-introduced in 1996.

Black Spots provides approximately $60 million each year to address roads that are high-risk areas for serious accidents.

An evaluation of more than 2,500 Black Spots projects, approved between 1996 and 2003, found that the programme is preventing more than 4,000 crashes and saving 30 lives each year.

And in economic terms, the benefit-to-cost ratio is considerable—returning $7.70 for every dollar invested.

These statistics, released by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) in May 2012, are hard evidence that Black Spots is working, and we will ensure it is extended and adequately funded.

While we are on road safety, recently released figures show that 1,234 people died on our roads in the twelve months to September 2013.

This is 5.4 per cent lower than for the same period in 2012, and 16.6 per cent lower than the total five years ago.

These statistics are encouraging, but we know there's a lot more work to be done to create safe roads, safe vehicles and safe road users.

Restoring our Bridges

You are no doubt aware of the growing infrastructure problem posed by the decline in some of our 30,000 small road bridges across the nation.

Apart from moving freight, bridges are key economic assets that connect local communities to the broader road network and get people to work and school.

Some councils have been unable to afford the maintenance and upgrades necessary to keep these bridges open.

Through the Bridges Renewal Programme this Government has committed $300 million to restore and rebuild local road bridges, with an emphasis on freight routes.

Our financial commitment is to be matched by state and local governments, making at least $600 million available for the program.

My department will be responsible for the roll-out of this new programme. I anticipate that during 2014 more information will become available for state and local governments.

To return to the theme of this congress our new Government has a clear and definitive plan for sustaining our roads and building the infrastructure Australia needs to create a stronger future.

We will engage meaningfully, invest seriously and make regional Australia a genuine part of the national conversation.

This includes maintaining good business practices and good governance in how we work with local government.

Providing the necessary support for local councils to be part of this conversation is integral to our plan and will help to achieve a good bottom line for the nation.

Our plan will also assist councils to deliver on their responsibilities in building and funding more roads, and better roads.

And it will better enable both levels of government to get value-for-money for investments and to embrace and increase innovation in project delivery.

Congratulations to ALGA on holding this important gathering.

2013 will no doubt generate new ideas and innovative thinking.

And I hope I can be with you in 2014.