Apr 20, 2011

Rail Sector Given a Chance to Shape Transport Vision – Opinion – Track and Signal Magazine

The tough and often contentious reforms put in place by the Hawke-Keating Labor governments – deregulation of the financial sector, floating of the dollar, compulsory superannuation, lowering of tariffs and enterprise based bargaining – left Australia with one of the highest rates of productivity growth in the world.

However, since then our nation slipped down the global rankings.

Indeed annual productivity growth has plunged from two per cent in the 1990s to just 1.4 per cent today, the lowest in half a century. If this trend continues, we will struggle to meet the major challenges that lie ahead, including an ageing population and climate change.

But if we could restore growth to two per cent then our economy would be 15 per cent larger than what it would otherwise be by 2050, adding $570 billion to annual economic output and increasing the living standards of the average Australian by around $16,000 a year.

That’s why the Gillard Labor Government’s productivity agenda is so important to the nation’s future.

It’s an agenda which recognises that in the competitive, globalised world of the 21st century, prosperous nations will be those with highly-skilled workforces and modern, well-planned infrastructure.

Better transport infrastructure will not guarantee our future economic success. But a failure to adequately invest in the nation’s roads, railways, airports and seaports will almost certainly consign Australians to a poorer quality of life.

That’s why we have been so determined to reverse the neglect we inherited and begin building a modern transport network equal to the challenges of an increasingly globalised and mobile world – a task given even greater urgency by the fact that freight volumes are set to double within just two decades.

Our approach is a simple one: greater investment and better long term planning.

We are already delivering on the first through our $37 billion Nation Building Program which includes a tenfold increase in average annual rail spending. In addition, long term planning took a major step forward last month following the release of a draft National Freight Strategy.

Developed by Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission, this document outlines a blueprint for a truly national, integrated and multimodal system capable of moving goods around our vast continent quickly, reliably and efficiently.

For too long there’s been a lack of planning consistency across jurisdictions with transport modes too often pitted against one another for a share of finite infrastructure dollars. Historically, this inconsistency and conflict has been to the detriment of rail. The National Freight Strategy will help put an end to both.

The release of the draft Strategy gives industry a chance to have its say in shaping Australia’s transport future. In particular, we want your views on the Strategy’s key proposals, including:

  • Agreeing now the existing and yet-to-be built roads, rail lines, intermodals, ports and airports which will link together to form a workable, truly national freight network;
  • Establishing dedicated freight routes and separating passenger trains from freight trains, particularly through our major cities like Sydney; Putting in place effective local planning to protect vital road and rail corridors from urban encroachment;
  • Completing the program of rail standardisation in Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia;
  • Developing greater intermodal terminal capacity at strategic locations around the country.

From the Government’s perspective, we want a long term strategy which greatly increases the amount of freight being transported on the back of trains or in the hull of ships.

Finally, we understand such a national approach cannot simply be imposed unilaterally. It will only endure and deliver results when all governments and industry have signed up to its vision and the specific tasks required of them.

That’s why Infrastructure Australia will continue working with state and territory authorities, councils and industry to build a consensus for action before submitting the final Strategy to the Council of Australian Governments for endorsement.

Together with our National Ports Strategy, the final National Freight Strategy will guide our ongoing process of regulatory reform as well as inform our future infrastructure investment decisions.

The Gillard Labor Government will not allow our quality of life and international competitiveness to again become the victims of poor planning and a lack of national leadership. We must avoid the bottlenecks at our ports and the capacity constraints on our roads and rail lines which cost the economy tens of billions of dollars in lost export earnings during the previous mining boom.

To obtain a copy of the draft Strategy and provide feedback on the direction, ideas and measures it is proposing, go to: www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au. Submissions close at the end of April.