Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (6.39 p.m.)-It is with great pleasure that I have the opportunity to participate in the debate on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Bill 2004 and the AusLink (National Land Transport-Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2004. The AusLink (National Land Transport) Bill 2004 establishes the basis for the ongoing administration and operation of the AusLink program, including the continuation of the Roads to Recovery program, which I think has been one of the most popular and well-received programs this government has ever introduced. It gives great certainty for local governments in terms of planning, and local governments often refer to it as a model for Commonwealth-local government relations. They love it because it bypasses the states, which they always see as getting in the way of dollars literally hitting the road. The bill will progressively bring together the government’s major road and rail funding programs under one act. It does what this coalition government does very well-that is, drive dollars towards practical on-the-ground projects that people want and need.
The Auslink (National Land Transport) Bill 2004 provides for six separate program funding categories: national projects; transport development and innovation projects; land transport research organisations; black spot projects; strategic regional projects; and the Roads to Recovery program, which I have already mentioned and which has been extended yet again by this government. Over the five-year period of 2004-05 to 2008-09, the Australian government will make available a total of $12.5 billion for investment in land transport infrastructure. This funding is made up of a number of components: $8.1 billion for projects related to the AusLink national network, including $7.16 billion for road projects and $974 million for rail projects; $1.6 billion for Roads to Recovery and the strategic regional programs; $180 million for the National Road Safety Black Spot Program; and $2.6 billion for financial assistance grants identified for roads.
The AusLink (National Land Transport) Bill 2004 establishes funding approval arrangements for each of these program categories. Other than for the Roads to Recovery program, the funding approval regime is based on a more or less standard framework. For each program category, the bill sets down eligibility criteria; provides for a ministerial power to approve projects and/or funding; lists matters to which the minister may have regard in considering whether it is appropriate to approve a project or funding; and establishes mandatory conditions attached to funding to apply to all projects and recipients in a given category, such as project progress reporting, submissions of audited statements and those sorts of matters. It also enables the development of a funding agreement to cover projects where additional specific conditions are to apply at the individual project level. The bill also provides for the minister to determine additional funding conditions where no funding agreement is in place to apply in particular circumstances.
The Roads to Recovery program provisions depart from the standard approach insofar as they seek to mirror as closely as possible the existing Roads to Recovery Act 2000. A central element of the bill is part 2, which refers to the provision for the minister to determine the composition of a national land transport network. The national land transport network will move beyond the separately planned and funded national rail and road networks and the ad hoc rail/road intermodal developments to a single, integrated network. The national land transport network which the government proposes to establish under this bill will cover the former national highway system, including its connections through urban areas; the major interstate rail network; other nationally important interstate and interregional transport links; and links to ports and airports.
Details of the transport links to be included in the initial national land transport network determination were set out in the AusLink white paper, which was released in June 2004 and subsequently tabled in the parliament. Decisions on the proposed composition of the national network followed a very extensive consultation process with the states, local government, industry stakeholders and the general community.
The bill provides for the minister to approve individual road or rail projects on the national network as AusLink national projects. To this effect, the government has established a national land transport plan which sets out the AusLink national projects-road and rail-that it is going to fund over the next five years. It has also set out how much will be invested in each of those projects.
This is the first time that Australian government transport infrastructure funding will be guided and underpinned by an announced five-year national plan. We are looking to the medium term. We are looking to provide certainty and a coherent framework for planning. The five-year plan focuses on high-priority projects that provide economic and social benefits from a national perspective. The five-year funding commitment gives certainty to states and to the transport and construction industries who support and build those projects.
The national land transport plan is based on clear strategic directions established by the government to determine what the project priorities will be for the next five years. The plan provides for very substantial investment in Australia’s most important land transport links. These will include projects on the Pacific Highway, the Hume Highway, the Sydney-to-Brisbane and Sydney-to-Melbourne interstate railways, the Bruce Highway and Brisbane urban road links in Queensland and projects that I am particularly pleased about: the Geelong bypass and the Calder Highway in Victoria. I was in Mildura on Thursday and Friday last week, talking to the council up there, and they were ecstatic that the Calder is going to be progressed but they were very disappointed that the Victorian state Labor government did not want to use the Calder so much to transport produce and to facilitate tourists; the Victorian state government want to use that highway to transport toxic waste to Mildura. The Victorian government want to establish a toxic waste dump in the food bowl of Australia, in Mildura.
That is Victorian state Labor’s idea of infrastructure provision: whacking a dirty great big toxic waste dump in the great town of Mildura, next to the iconic Murray River, which would of course just shatter the reputation that that part of Victoria has for clean, green exports to the world. That is a Labor approach to infrastructure. For my part, I will certainly be doing what I can to support the Calder but oppose that ridiculous toxic waste dump in Victoria which the Bracks government should admit they have made a mistake on, should not proceed with and should find somewhere else for-not Mildura.
I did get waylaid there. Other great projects which are part of AusLink are the Great Northern Highway and the Peel deviation in Western Australia, the Port River Expressway in South Australia and the Bridgewater Bridge in Tasmania. The provisions dealing with the Roads to Recovery program follow as closely as practicable the current Roads to Recovery Act arrangements.
The bill also provides for the minister to determine by, or as soon as possible after, 1 July 2005 an AusLink Roads to Recovery list identifying the local government bodies to receive funding under the program and the amount of funding for each body. All councils will receive funding allocations for expenditure on the construction and maintenance of local roads on much the same basis as the current program’s formula approach. The funds will be paid directly to every local council, as they are under the current program, under similar guidelines. This will provide funding certainty and will help all councils to sustain service levels across their local road systems. As I said, local councils just want the state governments to get out of the way and not be middlemen. They love having the money coming directly from the Commonwealth to them. Councils are also potential beneficiaries of funding for AusLink strategic regional projects, the aim of which is to support the development of regional communities.
I listened to Senator Bishop opposite. He was amazed that a majority of road funding seems to go to coalition seats in the country. A majority of road funding in country areas goes to coalition seats, but that is for a very simple reason. The Labor Party have hardly any House of Representatives seats in country Australia, so it is hardly surprising that it is the case that a lot of money does go to these seats because we hold the majority of them. The beneficiaries are Australians in country areas-country families, country businesses. They appreciate the money, they appreciate the roads and they appreciate the infrastructure, even if senators opposite do not. The legislation that we are introducing is honouring our election commitments. It is providing long-term planning for the benefit of Australia.