Feb 23, 2011

Question without notice – Road & rail infrastructure

Ms GRIERSON (3:09 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. How is the government ensuring Australia’s productivity growth through a more productive national freight system? How has this strategy been received?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) —I thank the member for the great port city of Newcastle for her question. Freight volumes will double between now and 2030, so there is an urgent need for national leadership and long-term planning. That is why the government asked Infrastructure Australia to develop a national freight strategy and yesterday, at the Australian Logistics Council, I released the draft of that strategy. We encourage input between now and April. Just like with the port strategy, we will have a process of consultation with industry and the community to make sure that we get this long-term planning right.

Our vision is for a truly national, integrated and multimodal transport system capable of moving freight quickly, reliably and efficiently. That is not the end in itself. The end itself is increased export earnings, decreased costs to consumers and increased productivity, leading to increased economic growth. This strategy is a plan for the next three decades, not just for the next three years. It is a plan which anticipates rather than merely reacts to bottlenecks and capacity constraints.

There are some specific ideas canvassed there: local planning laws to prevent urban encroachment on vital road and rail corridors, establishing dedicated freight routes, separating passenger trains from freight trains, more intermodals to improve access to rail and using smart infrastructure to get more productivity out of the infrastructure which is there at the moment, as well as moving to single national regulators in rail, heavy vehicle and maritime. At the moment we have 23 transport regulators for Australia’s 22 million people. We will move that to three and the Prime Minister advanced that process at the recent COAG meeting. It has been endorsed by the Australian Logistics Council, the Australian Trucking Association, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, Infrastructure Partnerships Australia, Engineers Australia, the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils and many other industry organisations in the last 24 hours. There has been one area of opposition, and we know who that will be.

As well as planning for the future we are also responding to Australia’s immediate infrastructure needs. As the member for Newcastle knows, we have rebuilt in our first term one-third of the interstate rail freight network. New figures from BITRE, the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, confirm an equal commitment to building and investing in roads. During our first full year in office we invested a record $4.9 billion in the nation’s roads, which was up 80 per cent on the coalition’s records—indeed, the biggest investment since the creation of the national road network, of course again by a Labor government, almost 40 years ago. It is quite clear that we need to continue to invest, but it is also clear we need the right policy framework. This draft national freight strategy is just that and I encourage industry and the community to participate in this process.