Nov 29, 2010

Building a road network for an increasingly globalised and mobile world – Opinion – Roads Australia magazine

Building a road network for an increasingly globalised and mobile world

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

With a relatively small population spread across a vast continent and much of our natural wealth located in remote areas, Australia has always been heavily reliant on its transport infrastructure for its continuing economic development.

Despite this reality our predecessors too often deferred the tough decisions and paid too little attention to the state of the nation’s infrastructure. The consequences of this inaction and underinvestment are with us today: slower economic growth, lower productivity and the loss of tens of billions of dollars in export earnings.

At a human level traffic congestion is set to cost Australian businesses and families more than $20 billion a year by the end of this decade.

In late 2007 Federal Labor came to office pledging a different approach. We understood that Australia’s economic success in the 21st century would require a road network equal to the challenges of an increasingly globalised and mobile world.

As we begin our second term we are more determined than ever to put right the neglect we inherited. Labor believes the national government must play a leadership role in building the infrastructure which will support a more productive economy, more prosperous regions and more sustainable cities.

Indeed such a nation building task has given purpose to all Labor governments, past and present.

That’s why we’re making the most significant investment in the nation’s road infrastructure since the creation of the national highway network by the Whitlam Labor Government more than a quarter of a century ago.

All up, the Gillard Labor Government is investing an unprecedented $27.7 billion over six years (2008-09 to 2013-14) to maintain the nation’s highways and major arterials as well as lift capacity along the network’s busiest, most congested sections.

In fact, in less than three years we’ve more than doubled the roads budget.

This much larger budget is delivering:

  • More than 120 major construction projects, with 24 already completed and work underway on a further 63;
  • An additional $450 million for routine maintenance, bringing our total spending to $2.3 billion over six years;
  • Extra money ($250 million) to assist councils maintain their local roads, taking our total support under the Roads to Recovery Program to $1.75 billion over five years;
  • Thousands of smaller scale projects to fix dangerous black spots on both local roads and major highways following a doubling in the black spot budget to $500 million over six years;
  • Boom gates and other safety measures at some 300 high risk level crossings ($150 million over two years); and
  • Additional rest stops and the other roadside facilities used by truck drivers.

Importantly, the benefits of this capital works program are being shared across the entire national network including those sections in and around our major cities which up until now have been largely ignored.

In addition to a renewed Federal focus on urban areas we have also provided record investment in regional highways and country roads of $21.2 billion.

Finally, under Labor higher road spending is being complemented by an unprecedented investment in the nation’s rail infrastructure with the aim of building a single, truly integrated transport system which over time will take the pressure off the nation’s highways.

As well as responding to Australia’s immediate infrastructure needs, we’re also planning for the nation’s future in an effort to identify and address bottlenecks and capacity constraints before they become a drag on the economy.

Infrastructure Australia is currently finalising the first ever national port strategy and national freight strategy – two long term blueprints which together with the National Priority List will guide future investment in our vital transport infrastructure.

On any objective assessment, substantial progress has been made in our first three years in office. However, we’ve always said it would take more than one parliamentary term to put right a decade of neglect, requiring both sustained levels of investment as well as proper long term planning.

The Gillard Labor Government will continue to do both.

While the challenges confronting us may differ from those faced by our Labor predecessors, the Party’s “nation building” mission remains constant – to build the infrastructure which will spur the next wave of economic development and shares its benefits across the entire community.