Speech to National Roads Summit 2011 – Paving the way
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure & Transport
Leader of the House
Member for Grayndler
9 June 2011
If any of you have had the rather surreal experience, of wandering through the streets of Pompeii, you will have noticed the quality of the roads.
As well as the remarkably intact frescoes and villas and shops and market squares, there beneath your feet are roads that were laid up to 25 centuries ago.
The Romans certainly knew how to build a road.
At the height of the empire, their roads spanned more than 400,000 kilometres.
In fact around the time of the death of Julius Caesar, the official register of roads noted:
“There is hardly a district to which we might expect a Roman official to be sent, on service either civil or military, where we do not find roads. They reach the Wall in Britain; run along the Rhine, the Danube and the Euphrates; and cover, as with a network, the interior provinces or the Empire.”
Until then, most roads consisted of little more than levelled earthen tracks.
But the Roman’s built their roads like walls – broken stones mixed with cement and sand, with curved stones along the centre for drainage and tightly packed paving stones on top.
Some of those roads still exist today.
Put simply, the nation-building Romans knew that roads were their key to progress and to economic prosperity.
And in Australia in this 21st century, roads are no less important.
Our roads have paved the way to the economic strength we enjoy in Australia today and, like the Romans, we depend on them to traverse our vast nation.
Australia’s road network extends some 817,000 kilometres and is the fifth-largest in the world.
And like the Romans, the Federal Government is keenly aware that the health of this network is vital in maintaining and sustaining our national economic productivity.
NATION BUILDING – HALFWAY REPORT
It is now three years since Australia embarked on the biggest nation building program this country has ever seen.
Let me give you some figures which demonstrate this fact.
In 1999/2000, total infrastructure investment made up 5.5 percent of our GDP.
By 2009/2010, the percentage of GDP invested in infrastructure had grown to 7.3 percent.
We have almost doubled the roads budget to $27 billion and we are rolling out the biggest road construction program since the creation of the national network almost 40 years ago.
We have increased annual spending on rail more than tenfold.
And on top of this is a massive investment in future communications through the National Broadband Network, and investing in our children through the Building the Education Revolution.
At this halfway point in our Nation Building Program, it is timely that I provide you with a report card, looking particularly at what we are doing for roads.
We can say now that Australia weathered the global financial crisis far better than most.
In part this was due to the Labor Government’s investment in economic stimulus funding in infrastructure.
Let me run briefly through some projects funded through stimulus money.
- Adelaide’s Northern Expressway, completed ahead of time and on budget saving commuters 20 minutes in travel time.
- The Mandurah Entrance Road in Perth finished ahead of time and on budget.
- The Western Ring Road upgrade in Victoria – progressing on time and under budget with the upgrade of additional stretches between Edgars Road and Plenty Road.
- In Tasmania, work continues on the Brighton bypass.
- In the Northern Territory, we have opened the Tiger Brennan Drive upgrade – on time and on budget.
We know that this investment is important.
The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economic reports that every dollar invested in the Nation Building Program’s stimulus projects brings a benefit of $2.34 to Australia.
Let me turn to the recent budget where some $6 billion was earmarked for our nation’s roads in the coming financial year.
There was $1 billion in additional funding for the Pacific Highway, plus a further $916 million earmarked for new projects under the Regional Infrastructure Fund.
Right now, there are close to 100 major road building projects underway or about to begin, including all the commitments we took to last year’s general election.
The 2011-12 Budget also confirms $1 billion in funding for the nation’s 565 councils and shires to assist them maintain and upgrade their local roads.
There has been a lot of media interest recently in the Pacific Highway so let me tell you today how progress stands on this critical national highway.
This Government is keenly aware that duplication of the Pacific Highway is well overdue.
The fact remains that it is 22 years since 56 people died in two separate tragic bus crashes on that road.
In the intervening years, more than 570 Australians have lost their lives on the highway.
I have said publicly the fact that much of the Pacific Highway remains single-lane reflects poorly on governments of all persuasions.
I have also expressed my commitment to its complete duplication by 2016.
Our investment on this road so far is $4.1 billion.
I might point out that during the 12 years of the former Coalition Government, Federal spending on this critical national highway was just $1.3 billion.
We have more than tripled the funding in just over half the time.
Work underway on that highway right now makes it the biggest road construction project in the nation.
There are more than one thousand people working at sites along it – building the Bulahdelah bypass, the Kempsey bypass, the Glenugie duplication, the Sapphire to Woolgoolga duplication, the Ballina bypass and the Banora Point upgrade.
I am pleased to report that we are engaged in constructive talks with the NSW Government over the future of the total duplication plan and I welcome the O’Farrell Government’s commitment to the 2016 deadline. I believe some things must be above politics and the saving of lives on the
Pacific Highway is one of them.
I can also assure you that work on the Bruce Highway is proceeding at full pace.
Our funding there now stands at $2.8 billion and I was pleased that in the recent budget, five large projects we thought would need to be deferred to free up labour and funds for flood repairs will now proceed as originally scheduled. There are some big jobs in the pipeline – such as a new section of the Townsville
Ring Road and the upgrade of interchanges between Caboolture and Caloundra.
We’re also spending $250 million to fix 80 black spots, build 25 new rest areas and install 50 overtaking lanes.
With carefully targeted improvements we are turning it into a safer, smoother link in the nation’s infrastructure.
SMART MOTORWAYS AND REGULATORY REFORM
The Gillard Government’s productivity agenda is not merely about building roads and rail tracks.
It’s about getting more out of our assets through use of smart infrastructure and better regulation.
In the Budget we announced an extra $61 million for Managed Motorways, where data sensors can improve real time management of vehicle movements.
Use of variable message signs has been found to increase travel speeds by 13 percent.
Ramp metering produces even higher efficiencies – increasing travel speeds by up to 26 percent and allowing greater volumes of vehicles to comfortably use the roads.
These smart systems improve the speed and flow of traffic, reduce the stop-start behaviour that occurs on congested roads, thereby reducing accidents and greenhouse gas emissions.
They also reduce the need for expensive capital upgrades that cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
But at a human level, they improve the quality of life for tired commuters by reducing the congestion that steals time from their families.
In this way, smart technology has great capacity to make our cities more productive, sustainable and liveable.
GREEN TRUCK FLEET
I’d like to say something today about the health of our national truck fleet.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that the average Australian truck is more than 14 years old.
In comparable first world countries, this figure is around eight years.
Because of their age, almost half our trucks are not subject to modern emission standards.
The Truck Industry Council estimates one of these older trucks – and remember that’s nearly half our fleet – emits on average the same particulate matter as 60 new Euro 5 trucks.
Climate change is affecting all of us.
Every industry needs to get its own house in order for the good of productivity, for the country and for the good of the planet.
I’d like to turn finally to road safety – something which concerns us all.
On average, four Australians are killed on the roads every day and another 80 are seriously injured.
Looked at annually, this translates to 1400 lives lost and 32,000 people hospitalised due to accidents on the roads.
These figures are staggering and barely a family in the country has not been touched in some way by a road tragedy.
The annual cost to our economy of road crashes is around $27 billion.
The Government has recently released a strategy to address this national problem over the next decade.
It has been developed with all the States and Territories and puts forward a range of practical and evidence-based steps that can help us create a genuinely safe system of road travel.
These steps aim to reduce our death and injury rate by at least 30 per cent by 2020.
But governments cannot achieve this goal alone — road safety is a shared responsibility.
Whether we are road engineers — and I know there are a number of you here today — vehicle manufacturers, fleet operators, policy makers or individual road users – all of us need to do what we can to help meet this important target.
I know that Roads Australia made submissions during the consultation period and I thank you for your input.
I began today with some Roman history.
Let me conclude by bringing our lesson a little closer to home.
One of Governor Phillip’s first tasks after disembarking the personnel and stores of the First Fleet was the creation of roads and streets.
Famous for his foresight in so many things, his design for the colony’s roadways was no different.
By July 1788, he had already drawn up a city plan.
In a letter to the Secretary of the State of the Colonies, Lord Sydney, in London he wrote: “I have the honour to enclose for your Lordship the intended plan for the town of Sydney. The principal streets are placed so as to admit a free circulation of air and are two hundred foot wide.”
Sadly, this grand ambition gathered dust while Sydney’s streets grew organically along the tracks made by the bullock wagons.
But I can tell you, that where you are all sitting right now, was on the site of what might be called Australia’s first road.
Little less than a mile in length, it ran easterly past us here from the Battery at Dawes Point, across the Tank Stream to the then Governor’s Residence at the corner of Phillip and Bridge Streets.
Some decades later, when serious road building was in progress under the direction of that great nation builder Lachlan Macquarie, which style of road-building was adopted, following the principle of long, straight radial roads?
That of the Romans.
I welcome the opportunity to speak to you today about the reforms and investments we are making today to protect this nation’s future economic prosperity.
I know that an agenda of this magnitude is not one that sits easily within the Australian electoral cycle.
But we are committed to the changes I have outlined today and we will carry them out in partnership with the States and Territories and the private sector and I look forward to working with you to achieve our common goal.