Rural and Regional Affairs Committee Thursday 26 May 2011
Senator LUDLAM: I mostly want to ask about the National Urban Policy that was released, I think to a generally pretty positive reaction. It was nice to see the minister quoting Jane Jacobs. If we can go to the big picture stuff first: where to from here? That piece of work has been in the making for a long period of time. What happens for you now?
Ms Ekelund: The first action is an implementation plan for the National Urban Policy and the action plan that sits at the end of the policy document.
Senator LUDLAM: I am not familiar with what that is going to look like or what it will have in it. How is it going to work?
Mr Wilson: The major cities unit will go through the action summary at the back of the document and work out timeframes, resources and the like to implement the list of actions that fall within this portfolio's responsibility. We as an executive will discuss that and take it forward.
Senator LUDLAM: Will it mainly be concerned with the funding announcements that were launched side by side with the urban policy, Suburban Jobs, for example? Will the implementation mainly be about handling the disbursement of those funds?
Mr Wilson: To make it a short conversation, there will be two types of activity. There will be activities that are non-funding based and activities that are funding based. The next stage in regard to programs such as the Liveable Cities and Suburban Jobs will be the development of formal guidelines for calls for funding. For the non-funding activities, we will work out the next steps in actually undertaking those pieces of work.
Senator LUDLAM: How is it proposed that state, territory and local governments will apply for funding from the Liveable Cities and Urban Renewal Program?
Mr Wilson: We are currently working through the guidelines. As I said those guidelines will need to be approved by the minister and circulated to relevant stakeholders.
Senator LUDLAM: Who constitutes a relevant stakeholder? Will they be published?
Mr Wilson: Will the guidelines be published? Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: When are you anticipating roughly that that will be rolled out?
Mr Wilson: Senator, I would not like to put a date on it and be held to account to the fact that I may not meet it. I am trying to implement that as soon as I possibly can.
Senator LUDLAM: This year?
Mr Wilson: Certainly, Senator.
Mr Mrdak: The funding is in 2011-12, so we would need to get the guidelines in place and the program up and running, we would hope, by July.
Senator LUDLAM: Will the Suburban Jobs program-and we spoke a little bit with one of the other departments about this last night and got a little bit of background as to how that will work. Presumably that is not going to be much more than a pilot project once it is broken up?
Mr Wilson: I am assuming that you were discussing it with the department of sustainability.
Senator LUDLAM: We were.
Mr Wilson: The department of sustainability is the administering portfolio, so it will not be part of our portfolio. The answers that you got from sustainability will have provided you with the detail that is available at the moment.
Senator LUDLAM: Because the stuff is quite fragmented, do you want to tell me what your major areas of work are, what you are prioritising, and I will stick to that?
Mr Wilson: The two programs that we will be responsible for will be Liveable Cities and the national smart Managed Motorways.
Senator LUDLAM: The motorways stuff I find strange. There is $61 million there. Tell us how that is going to work?
Mr Mrdak: As I outlined a little bit earlier, this has come from a recommendation from Infrastructure Australia. It is one of their ready-to-proceed projects. They have placed it very highly on their priorities. Essentially this is $61 million which will enable a number of Managed Motorway trials and investments to take place. Infrastructure Australia has identified four projects which they believe meet the national criteria. They are, as I outlined, the Gateway motorway in Brisbane, the M4 in western Sydney, the Rowe and Graham Farmer Freeway and the M1 Westgate Freeway in Melbourne. They are locations where they believe optimal benefit could be gained from investment in ITS technology and the like. We will now develop program guidelines around that and will seek more detailed submissions and project proposals from those and other jurisdictions and then seek to make that funding available for those programs.
Senator LUDLAM: How will you identify if that has been a success or not? What are the criteria for success of a Managed Motorway program?
Mr Mrdak: We will be looking at the project proposals from the jurisdictions. This is a proposal that has been with Infrastructure Australia for some time for a number of jurisdictions. We will be looking at performance measures such as improved performance of the motorway in terms of flow, reduced congestion, reduced travel times and the like are the sorts of performance indicators that have been put to Infrastructure Australia which we will be looking to see in any project proposal coming through for funding.
Senator LUDLAM: All right. I must admit that I am a sceptic, but we will see.
Mr Mrdak: The advice from Infrastructure Australia is that things like variable message signing can deliver an eight to 13 per cent increase in average speed and ramp metering a 13 to 26 per cent increase in travel speed. We will start to see those sorts of benefits which are quantifiable. There have been some very good case studies done, particularly in Melbourne of the Monash freeway where ITS has delivered quite significant improvements in traffic flow.
Senator LUDLAM: I shall be following that up. I am probably more interested in what you are doing on active transport. The two areas I want to focus on tonight are active transport and behaviour modification programs. They are less glamorous. They are not big picture infrastructure stuff. Mr Mrdak, you were here earlier this morning when we were working through some of that. Can you tell us how you plan on getting people walking and on bikes explicitly through the processes that you published last week.
Mr Mrdak: Certainly there are two things. Firstly, there is very strong emphasis in the National Urban Policy about future investment programs by the Commonwealth, which I think comes to one of the points you are raising this afternoon about using the full range of Commonwealth investment programs to drive better urban outcomes in terms of how you mix housing, employment, public transport and the like and also how you get active transport into those cities much more. Also there is the Liveable Cities program, which is looking to fund demonstration projects. One of the areas the government has identified is looking to optimise the use of active transport through those types of measures. Through the dedicated program of Liveable Cities and more broadly through Commonwealth programs we are making investment to try to drive active transport outcomes.
Senator LUDLAM: The reason for my scepticism about some of this stuff is that in this space, not just with the states but specifically with the Commonwealth, there has been a long and noble history of starting up wonderful pilot projects that get a few tens of millions of dollars spent on them, that run for a few years and then get killed off or get called something else and pop up somewhere else. Things never graduate beyond the pilot stage. What do you have in mind and what can you tell us about how these pilots will be scaled up so that they actually change the way our cities work?
Mr Mrdak: At this stage we have these programs which are designed to get these pilots. I cannot comment on future investment and future ongoing programs. Certainly, you have to recognise also that what we are looking to do is get investment in here from other levels of government as well into some of these pilots and the like which may give the impetus for further funding from there.
Senator LUDLAM: That did not really answer my question, but maybe that is not possible. First of all, is there a lead agency, authority, unit, division or department that has portfolio responsibility for active transport?
Mr Mrdak: Right across our divisions both nation building, but certainly in terms of the policy direction of trying to get impetus behind this our Major Cities Unit has carriage of that area.
Senator LUDLAM: Great. That is good. Would the same go for behaviour modification programs?
Mr Mrdak: Again, as they relate to meeting the objectives of the National Urban Policy, the Major Cities Unit would be involved.
Senator LUDLAM: They would be involved or would they be the lead agency?
Mr Mrdak: As the lead.
Senator LUDLAM: Are there resources allocated to either of those two things within the MCU?
Ms Ekelund: We do have quite a lot of expertise within our small unit that has a strong interest and background in active travel. We work quite closely with other jurisdictions who are doing work in this area as well as health promotion, the Heart Foundation and a whole range of agencies both within government and external to government that recognise the merit of active travel. We are ramping up our knowledge and involvement in this policy area.
Senator LUDLAM: It is great that you are doing that because we are basically at a standing start. There is not a dollar being spent at the Commonwealth level on behaviour modification as far as I can tell-and I would be delighted to be contradicted. We had a debate earlier in the day about cycle paths. There was a $40 million contribution in the stimulus package that has been worked through and that has gone-not a lot else happening. For example, the Australian Vision for Active Transport, which I presume you are familiar with, have called for four positions within DOIT and a funded active transport strategy. And they obviously want the continuation of the cycle path funding. Can you tell us how far off we are from achieving at least that kind of ask-somebody whose job it is to fund and roll out that kind of infrastructure?
Mr Mrdak: I think the establishment of the Major Cities Unit is a major initiative, as Ms Ekelund has indicated. We have staffed it with people who have expertise in this area. That is in place.
Senator LUDLAM: I am delighted with the work that the Major Cities Unit is doing, and I do not have any criticism at that level. But the Major Cities Unit is not actually out laying cycle track. That was more the nature of my question. When can we get people out actually doing it?
Mr Mrdak: As I said earlier, the Australian government has made a significant investment in the past, and we continue to fund cycleways through other projects. That is happening.
Senator LUDLAM: I wonder whether you can contextualise for us, Ms Ekelund, the importance of behaviour change programs. I do not know that there is a huge amount of awareness of what can be achieved, because it is not as glamorous as cutting a ribbon on a new bridge, for example.
Ms Ekelund: It is also variable in terms of the data that exists about how effective it is. It is an area we are getting more involved in understanding. Certainly we are familiar with TravelSmart programs and programs like that, but we also have a strong interest in how you may reduce travel altogether. Obviously things like the broadband will assist that issue. There are also matters such as working hours and working from home. There is a whole range of initiatives that can be undertaken-rather than just changing the mode of travel. You can actually reduce the need to travel altogether. So we are looking into that whole range. As you would be aware, this area of policy is quite new to the portfolio and we are really just starting to work on it in any serious way-apart from what is reflected already in the national urban policy.
Senator LUDLAM: There is a new preventative health agency that was established last year, and obviously there will be a high degree of overlap between those two agendas. Has there been any attempt to link these two agendas together or any contact across the two portfolios?
Ms Ekelund: There has been some informal communication with what has been considered by that group. Within tiers of government the health portfolios have got a strong appreciation of the relationship between active travel and health outcomes, so leveraging that understanding-that active travel can deliver real dollar outcomes for communities as well as personal health and reduction in emissions, et cetera. I guess it is a growing area of understanding.
Mr Mrdak: I forgot to mention earlier that there is an important initiative in the budget and in this national urban policy which is the changes to fringe benefits tax, which is designed to reduce some of the incentives that have potentially been there for some motorists in terms of treatment of vehicles. I do not think it is correct to say that there is no action in this space. As Ms Ekelund has indicated there are measures being implemented across the country. The FBT measure is the important one in terms of a signal about what we are trying to do here in terms of thinking about getting people out of those motor vehicles for unnecessary usage.
Senator LUDLAM: Sure. We have been advocating for that particular policy switch for about 10 years, so that was a welcome bit of budget night news. The National Cycling Strategy was launched earlier this year, and I wonder if there has been any movement in targeted funding. I think it has happened since the last estimates session. We had half of this conversation already earlier this morning, and it is really difficult to identify where the Commonwealth's commitment to cycling infrastructure actually lies. How are we going about the objective of doubling the cycling rate by 2016? Is there anything you can point us to?
Mr Mrdak: As we have seen through the measures we have been funding in the cycling program to date and also the things we discussed this afternoon, the Commonwealth remains committed to that. That is an Australian Transport Council objective. We will continue to monitor that, as we indicated in the policy document.
Senator LUDLAM: It is going to be kind of boring if we have to have this conversation twice in one day, but what we identified earlier was that since that $40 million ran out there are zero dollars being specifically targeted to cycling, apart from where you are able to identify that there might be one or more cycle paths going in alongside an urban freeway. I am still trying to point people continually at this empty space where nothing is going on at the moment. It is difficult to understand how we are going to double the rate of cycling by 2016 if the Commonwealth's entire contribution is going to be that when we put in big urban freeways some of them will have cycle paths next them.
Mr Mrdak: The point I am making here is that the National Cycling Strategy has been endorsed by all jurisdictions, and there is considerable investment taking place by other levels of government-
Senator LUDLAM: Just not at this level? The Commonwealth has the taxing power-
Mr Mrdak: The Commonwealth makes payments to the states and territories, and they use that revenue to fund a whole range of initiatives. The Commonwealth is making major investments in areas, and we discussed public transport today. There are major investments in this budget in the package we have been talking about, and you have seen investments by the levels of government into active travel. I do not think I would agree with your assertion that nothing is happening in this space. I think that a lot is happening in this space right across the nation.
Senator LUDLAM: Can we come back to the big picture then, which is the agenda that I think the minister spelled out last week: the government is explicitly creating a set of criteria by which urban infrastructure, transport infrastructure and so on will be funded, and the National Urban Policy is pointing the way. I suppose it is pointing the states and territories in the direction that funding will come from. Can you just spell out for us at what stage you believe Australia will have a nationally integrated and coordinated system for funding sustainable infrastructure? When will all the Commonwealth funding go through these filters, which I think are quite good-the work that has been done is great.
Mr Mrdak: I do not know if I could give you a clear date on when that will happen. I think that, as you have said, that there is some very good strong direction being set here for the first time-
Senator LUDLAM: It is.
Mr Mrdak: Some outcomes and priorities have been set, linking together right across the Commonwealth programs into what the Commonwealth wants to see happening in cities. I do not know that I could say to you, 'There is a clear definitive date by which all of this will come together'. Clearly, we have the national capital plans, which have to come together on 1 January. This will be an important focus for the Commonwealth's investment through nation building 2-
Senator LUDLAM: That is the COAG reform council stuff?
Mr Mrdak: That is right. You will have the national plan against the national criteria coming together at that point. Is there going to be a point at which we can say, 'Everything is coming together by X date?'-I do not know if I can give you that clarity. We have a lot of elements which have to be brought together, but this is an important start and, I think, an important policy-setting document which will start to guide future Commonwealth direction.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you just spell out for us what happens when those capital city plans have been brought together? I spent a bit of time discussing this with the reform council and my understanding is that those documents will be made public. So can you just spell out exactly what will happen when these two processes, which have largely run in parallel thus far, meet up?
Mr Mrdak: One of the elements in the National Urban Policy is that the future funding from the Commonwealth into those capital cities will be dependent on the adequacy of those capital city plans as change proceeds.
Senator LUDLAM: All future funding?
Mr Mrdak: That has been the Commonwealth's position-future infrastructure funding will be tied to-
Senator LUDLAM: Roads, rail?
Mr Mrdak: That is right. It will be tied to the adequacy of those national plans. In the absence of those plans meeting the CRC tests against the national criteria, the Commonwealth's position to date has been that they will not be successful in Commonwealth funding.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. I think that is going to be quite a powerful moment when we get there. We will see how it works out. Thank you.