May 30, 2012

Budget Speech – Consideration In Detail – Princes Highway

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (16:50):  I thank the member for Gippsland for his question. He is a strong advocate for his local community. We have some political differences, but I have no doubt that he is a genuine advocate for additional money to be spent in his community. He would never take the attitude of arguing against funding for his areas that some on that side of the House seem to take.

With regard to the Traralgon-to-Sale section, yes, the deferral of some of that funding was because we pay against milestone achievements. The EPBC environmental approvals meant that the state government requested a deferral essentially because the money could not be spent at that time. My advice from meetings with Minister Mulder from Victoria, with whom I have a very good and constructive relationship, has been that there has not been a request for additional funding—that is, an argument that because of the deferral the costs would increase. For a number of recent projects in Victoria there were cost increases, while for some projects there were cost savings. We have constructively worked through those issues, so I am confident that we could work through those issues with the Victorian government. People would be aware that there is a current commitment to the $175 million project, jointly funded with $140 million from the Commonwealth and $35 million from the state government.

With regard to issues with the highway beyond Sale, the section of the Princes Highway that the member refers to is a state road and the responsibility of the Victorian government. We have not had representation from the Victorian government for additional funding that I am aware of. There may well have been representations to the department, but none I am aware of from direct discussions I have had with Minister Mulder, the most recent of which were face-to-face discussions two weeks ago when I had two meetings with Minister Mulder, one in Victoria and one in South Australia at the ministerial council. I would invite the member to have further discussions with me to find a constructive way of dealing with this.

In answer to the member’s questions, we have had funding for projects including on the other side of the border, such as for the Bega bypass. I think that is now fully federally funded after we made a commitment to get it done. It is unfortunate that state governments of various persuasions have not all come on board with funding for that project. The member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, has been an extraordinary advocate. In two weeks we will be in Bega commencing construction of that road, an important part of Nation-Building Program 1.

Importantly, on state government negotiations, Nation-Building Program 2 will commence from 2014-15 going forward. State governments are preparing submissions to both the federal government and through the Infrastructure Australia process.

It is unlikely the Princes Highway funding will be prioritised by Infrastructure Australia, because Infrastructure Australia looks at benefit-cost ratios and it would be difficult to progress through that productivity inspired funding recommendations. That is not to say that that should be dismissed. Productivity is, of course, vital and the economic utility of one project versus another, of course, has to be analysed.

We also have to look at issues such as road safety. I do point out to the member that we had in the budget the Roads to Recovery program in terms of local government funding extended and an increase in the Black Spot Program that has been very effective in delivering projects that save lives on our roads.