ALGA Roads and Transport Congress speech, Hahndorf SA

Mark Coulton: Thanks David (Mayor David O’Loughlin, President of Australian Local Government Association) for the introduction. I'd like to acknowledge the mayors, councilors, CEOs. It's a great pleasure, to represent deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

This follows on from my address to the General Assembly Tuesday. One of the first significant addresses following my appointment after the federal election. I was in South Australia, a couple of months ago for the South Australian conference and that was also a very well attended and well organised event. And as I said at the time.

As a former mayor I know I've selected 10 [indistinct] to share with you and a couple of ideas for councilors.

And I also know what it’s like, what it needs to provide services for the communities. And as the deputy Prime Minister says; politics is local. Local governments are at the coalface when people have issues. And when they want government to act.

It's no surprise then that roads and transport continues to be such an important focus for our local governments around Australia. Local governments manage and maintain the vast bulk of the nation’s road network. As David said earlier councils manage around 75 per cent.

So essential to getting people home sooner, safer. Local made networks underpin the productivity of our industries, especially in rural and regional areas. Often the critical first and last mile of our supply chains are on local roads.

Since 2013, the Australian Government has invested in 900 major projects, and just as importantly, more than 25,000 local projects across the nation. 

Local governments are a valued partner in many of these local projects have been delivered through programs such as Roads to Recovery.

Legislation for the Roads to Recovery program was introduced to Parliament this month, 19 years ago.

Legislation for the Roads to Recovery program was introduced to Parliament this month, 19 years ago, under a Coalition Government.

It has stood the test of time.

Under Roads to Recovery, payments are made direct to local governments for local road construction and maintenance projects determined by councils.

The ability to set local priorities is an essential feature. 

Earlier this year – as part of the 2019-20 Budget – we committed an additional $100 million per year, starting from this financial year, bringing total commitments to $500 million per year. 

On the day after the Budget, on 3rd April, councils were notified of their new allocations for the next five-year period up to financial year 2023-24.

In the current program, which started in July this year and goes to June 2024, we are providing $2.6 billion to councils through Roads to Recovery. This is funding for local government over and above Financial Assistance Grants.

We are hearing much about the opportunity for infrastructure spending to be brought forward to address congestion more quickly and as economic stimulus. And David actually mentioned that introduction.

By bringing forward important road projects we can deliver jobs, boost the economy and make roads safer.

Local roads provide an excellent opportunity to bring forward construction and maintenance works, without some of the constraints of the mega-urban projects.  To this end, I remind local governments they can spend Roads to Recovery funding as soon as they are able within the 5-year allocation period Another familiar program through which the Australian Government helps local governments is the Black Spot Program.

This Program targets road locations where crashes are occurring and is aimed at reducing the risk through funding safety measures such as traffic signals, roundabouts, turning lanes, safety barriers and lighting at locations with a history of at least three casualty crashes in five years.

Sites for Black Spot funding can be nominated by councils, the state road authority and by individuals or other organisations.

I am pleased to say that since gaining office in 2013, over 2,100 projects have already been approved and funding for the Black Spot Program has been increased by $50 million a year.
Another familiar program through which the Australian Government helps local governments is the Black Spot Program.

This Program targets road locations where crashes are occurring and is aimed at reducing the risk through funding safety measures such as traffic signals, roundabouts, turning lanes, safety barriers and lighting at locations with a history of at least three casualty crashes in five years.

Sites for Black Spot funding can be nominated by councils, the state road authority and by individuals or other organisations.

I am pleased to say that since gaining office in 2013, over 2,100 projects have already been approved and funding for the Black Spot Program has been increased by $50 million a year.

Another program which many of you will be familiar with is the Bridges Renewal Program.

From the start of the program to 2023. We will be providing $640 million to the Bridges Renewal Program. We have also made an on-going commitment of $85 million to the Bridges Renewal Program for each following year.

On 1 April 2019, the Deputy Prime Minister agreed to fund 124 projects under Round Four of the Bridges Renewal Program.

Round Four was only open to local governments.

While roads can always be improved, I am proud that our Government is doing what it can, with increased funding made available through the Roads to Recovery, Black Spot and Bridges Renewal programs.

Mayor O’Loughlin has put it succinctly, in a President’s Message for this event, saying ‘these are great results that help make our roads safer’.[1]

All of us are acutely aware of the traumatic impact of road crashes on individuals, communities and businesses across Australia.

Ensuring our local roads are well managed and maintained is a critical component of improving safety. 

The Government recognises there is more we can do to improve safety on our roads, particularly working with local government. This was the clear message of the Inquiry into the National Road Safety Strategy 2011‑2020 and Government has heard it loudly and clearly.

In response, the Government has already taken action.

We are investing an additional $2.2 billion in road safety funding across Australia by 2019, 2020. Through the local and state government road safety package.

Through additional funding for existing programs such as Roads to Recovery.

It also includes additional funding for the heavy vehicle safety and productivity program. Bringing this funding to $65 million a year.

We're working closely with our counterparts at the state and territory level too. In August we agreed to more closely lead road infrastructure investment to save system principles.

All jurisdictions are committed to work with local government to improve engagement and resourcing road safety.

And given the influence of the [indistinct] we have established the Office of Road Safety to provide leadership, coordinate road safety efforts at the national level, and work with all levels of government and industry.

A key deliverable for the Office of Road Safety is the next National Road Safety Strategy - a once-in-a-decade opportunity for all governments to come together under a vision to eliminate road trauma in Australia.

The Australian government will be looking to partner with and empower local governments to make this vision a reality and I am reliably informed your President is already actively engaged through the COAG Transport and Infrastructure Council.

I’d like to move on and reference today these opening comments about a lot of infrastructure going into the cities and I’d like to talk about the Roads of Strategic Importance. It’s the most significant funding program.

The Roads of Strategic Importance initiative - ROSI as it’s known - was established in the 2018/19 Federal Budget.

It will support upgrades in key road and freight corridors in regional Australia to increase network reliability and connectivity.

Investment in these regional routes will better connect farms [indistinct] markets as well as supporting tourism in regional Australia.

I’m pleased to say one of the first ROSI announcements in my electorate was the Tooraweenah Road at Coonamble and I think I saw Mayor Karanouh here somewhere, which will also- not only connect his shire to the Newell Highway through our congressional activity of produce and network [indistinct] through the [indistinct].

Funding commitment to the Roads of Strategic Importance is now totalled at $4.5 billion.

The Roads of Strategic Importance initiative brings a corridor approach to the setting of funding priorities.  We know that across the nation we cannot upgrade all the highways and byways in the short term, but we can find that pinch points and targeted investments that will deliver the biggest ‘bang for their buck’ for productivity and safety.

Consultation with state and territory and local governments and industry to help identify these priority projects is essential.

Through careful analysis and prioritisation we can see how investments in feeder roads and main arterials can be complementary and deliver a better overall productivity improvement.

This is no better seen than through one of the early corridors announced by the Deputy Prime Minister: $70 million for the Wheatbelt Secondary Freight Network, taking forward a plan that came to fruition through a collaboration of 42 local governments.

In my patch, we see formal joint organisations – such as Namoi Unlimited – working together to plan and prioritise road investments. 

I am pleased to say we have now allocated $4.2 billion to 26 key freight corridors and approximately 50 projects.

One of these key freight corridors runs from Toowoomba in Queensland, through New South Wales to Seymour in Victoria. There will be a change of freight dynamics across this region, in large part due to Inland Rail, that reinforces the need for investments not just on the main Newell Highway arterial, but also the feeder roads and connections to intermodal hubs.

A Newell Highway Strategy outlines these changes to the freight corridor and was informed by stakeholder workshops along the corridor. I would like to thank Mayor Katrina Humphries of the Moree Plains Shire Council and Councillor Tony Lord of the Bland Shire Council for their work on the Steering Committee.

I encourage councils to be engaging with the federal and state road infrastructure departments to ensure their priorities for projects along ROSI freight corridors are on the table. 

Before I got into politics I was a farmer and grazier, so I feel very deeply for those regional communities who are currently impacted by drought. I represent an electorate covering almost 50 per cent of New South Wales in some of the areas hardest hit.

In August last year, we announced the Drought Communities Programme Extension for 60 Local Government Areas, with an additional 63 Local Government Areas added progressively over the 13 months to September this year.

This builds on the original Drought Communities Programme, where we committed up to $1.5 million for each of 23 councils from 2015-16.

Earlier this month, we announced that 122 local government areas would receive another $1 million under the program as well as six new LGAs as part of a step up in our drought response.

The Drought Communities Programme extension [indistinct] to the local government areas for local infrastructure and other evaluated projects.

Its aim is to provide economic stimulus and employment for those impacted by drought and keep money flowing to the local shops and suppliers.

Infrastructure investment generates economic activity, creating employment and income for workers and profits for firms. Jobs are created for those working directly on the projects, for workers at quarries or in manufacturing industries. 

In my patch, I have seen great projects across Parkes providing jobs and delivering projects that can provide lasting benefits to communities. 

This funding is making a difference. As at the 7th of November, 324 projects from 110 LGAs had been approved for funding and 139 of these have already been completed.

$138.9 million in additional Roads to Recovery funding in the 2020 calendar year is also being provided in the 128 eligible Local Government Areas under the Drought Communities Programme Extension.
This increase in Roads to Recovery in the equivalent of one additional year of funding to those drought-affected areas.

Councils receiving the additional drought funding can start nominating additional projects now for payment in early March 2020.

And of course, we know there are plenty of opportunities to improve our regional roads, with potential long-term benefits to business productivity and road safety. So this is not just a stimulus to support local jobs through the drought; it is an investment in a better transport system for regional Australians into the future for when the drought has broken.

Lastly, I want to touch briefly on roads and recycling.

At the recent COAG meeting, Australia’s leaders, including ALGA, agreed to establish a timetable to ban the export of waste plastic, paper, glass and tyres, while building Australia’s capacity to generate high value recycled commodities and associated onshore demand for recycled content.

Local governments are at the coal-face for our waste management and recycling challenges, not least because of their role in collection.

Not least because their old collection is probably the most important [indistinct].

But as we rise to the challenge of dealing with waste, it is essential we look for innovation in our use utilisation of waste. Essentially, we need to create markets.

The use of recycled and reclaimed material for roads is one possible way to address this issue.

The Prime Minister has highlighted that recycled materials should be able to make up more and more of the asphalt used in this country. And it is often local governments that are innovating in the use of new road materials. 

This is not just a new outlet for our waste. New uses of these resources and new methods is leading to increased performance: such as longer-life pavements and more flexible surfaces.

You only have to drive around my electorate to see the impact of drought on the roads, with longitudinal cracking and other problems that will be difficult and costly to fix.

I know that a number of local governments across Australia – including Lismore City Council, Sutherland Shire in NSW, Hume City Council in Victoria, and Kingborough Council in Tasmania – have trialled the use of recycled glass and plastics in road construction.

Lismore City Council has also collaborated with the NSW Environmental Protection Authority on a trial of recycled glass sand in part of the Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Highway Upgrade, and more than three tonnes of recycled plastic are being used for part of the upgrade to the Great Ocean Road. These trials are expanding our evidence base on what works, and helping support the development of our recycling industry.

One way to make things easier for local governments, contractors and other participants in the infrastructure market is to streamline and clarify regulatory arrangements and standards for use of recycled materials.

I note that Michael Caltabiano, CEO of the Australian Roads Research Board, is also a speaker at this Congress. In the last Budget, the Australian Government provided the Research Board $2.6 million to improve local government’s access to technical support to assess their road and bridge infrastructure and optimise maintenance spending.

In August and September 2019, ARRB completed 40 workshops with local governments and government organisations to seek input into updates on three existing guidelines to best practice - sealed and unsealed roads and bridge maintenance manuals and develop a new manual on materials used for road network infrastructure.

Throughout 2019-2020, as part of this funding ARRB will deliver Portable Assessment Devices (PAD) laboratory and field trials. The laboratory trial is underway and local governments across regional Australia have been invited to provide input into testing protocols and bitumen samples from their local government areas.

At a meeting on 8 November, Environment Ministers determined that the export ban should commence on 1 July 2020 with a phased approach.

Ministers will further test the timetable with industry and local government, while also developing strategies to manage the impacts of the ban, and undertaking independent market analysis.

Today I have spoken about many road topics. 

I would like to finish on another – related – part of my ministerial portfolio: decentralisation.

As our major cities grow, so too does the strain on infrastructure and service
delivery — we continue to support this growth however regional Australia is also part of the solution.

For the first time, we have a targeted and considered population strategy to plan for projected future growth.

Regional centres are a recognised part of this plan to help manage population, and make both our cities and regions even better places to live and work.

Infrastructure is probably one of the reasons that I actually stepped off a tractor 12 years ago and went to Canberra. I was a local mayor, I could see the need for infrastructure and the role it can play in developing regional Australia.

Our roads provide the physical connectivity for our communities. 

This is why we have increased funding for Roads to Recovery, Black Spot funding, Bridges Renewal and the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.

This is why we are focussed on key road freight corridors in regional Australia, through the Roads of Strategic Importance initiative.

2020 will be another busy year for local government and for me as the Minister for Local Government.

I look forward to marking the 20th anniversary of Roads to Recovery with you next year.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention.