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Nation Building

Estimates & Committees
Scott Ludlam 25 May 2012

Senator LUDLAM: Were you folk in the room before when I put some questions about the Perth light rail funding or the Perth light rail proposal to Mr Deegan?

Mr Mrdak : Yes.
Ms O'Connell : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell us what the Commonwealth is getting for its $4 million for that very welcome injection of funding into planning for a Perth light rail system?
Ms O'Connell : That is a further study in terms of the route and design of the Perth light rail project.
Senator LUDLAM: The state had some money in the forward estimates in the last state budget, or from a couple of months before that, so this is top-up funding. Will that bring the planning horizon forward, will it make the study more ambitious or what will actually happen now that would not have happened before?
Mr Jaggers : I think it will take the project forward and move it towards a business case as well as that preliminary planning work. So you will get a business case as a result of the work.
Senator LUDLAM: Are there any conditions attached to the Commonwealth funding? Can you outline it for us? I have the statement that came with the budget papers. Perhaps you could explain to us what exactly we are getting?
Ms O'Connell : It forms part of the Nation Building Program and the memorandum of understanding that goes with that. It is a matched contribution in terms of Western Australian funding. The payment is dependent on reaching project milestones, so the delivery of the business case, planning study, the works undertaken. The Australian government contribution is also capped at that amount.
Senator LUDLAM: Could you table for us what those milestones are and what the expectation is for delivery of those?
Ms O'Connell : We are happy to take that on notice.
Mr Mrdak : We will take that on notice and get that for you.
Senator LUDLAM: Is that likely to be in the public domain? Is that likely to be a problem?
Mr Mrdak : I do not think so.
Mr Jaggers : We are still in discussions with the Western Australian government about how the project is going to roll out, so we are in discussions about the detail. Obviously the announcement has only been made fairly recently, so there is still a bit of work to do with WA to make sure that there are key milestones and that we get what we need out of the study.
Senator LUDLAM: So you will not be able to table it yet or even quite take it on notice because that document has not been finalised?
Mr Mrdak : We are planning on moving quickly.
Senator LUDLAM: Can I get a sense of the cause and effect? I understand from what Mr Deegan-or it might have been you, Mr Mrdak, I forget; I am sorry-put to us that it was effectively an offer from the Commonwealth to the state that was then accepted. Do I have that roughly right?
Ms O'Connell : Yes, a business case.
Senator LUDLAM: Has there been any other discussion of what future steps and funding are likely in order to meet Premier Barnett's goal to build light rail in Perth within a decade? A shorter version of that is: where to from here?
Ms O'Connell : I think the prerequisite is the step that has been announced as part of the Australian government contribution in the last budget, and that is around the business case and route design for the light rail study. Subsequent steps would be informed by that work.
Senator LUDLAM: I was a bit disappointed, bemused or puzzled to find that, as that announcement was being made, transport minister Buswell in Perth was announcing that the proposed line out to Curtin University had been cut. So virtually in the same breath as announcing that he has doubled his funding, with an extremely well-timed Commonwealth contribution, the scope of the project has been chopped back. Do you have any insight into why that has happened?
Mr Wood : No. The scope of the project overall is a proposal from the Western Australian government. We have had no discussions on the details of the project. Obviously, we are at the early planning stage through this funding and those issues will be explored through that. But that is a matter for the Western Australian government.
Senator LUDLAM: The planning has been underway for at least two years, give or take a couple of months. I am assuming that you have been privy to some of that long-term preliminary work or you would not have punted $4 million on it?
Mr Jaggers : Yes. We have had discussions with WA over a period of time, over at least the last 12 months, in relation to light rail in Perth.
Senator LUDLAM: So you would be aware that the expectation was that the line was meant to go to Curtin University; in fact, that was one of the purposes of taking it out through the eastern suburbs across the Causeway?
Mr Jaggers : Yes, we are aware of that.
Senator LUDLAM: Were you disappointed or surprised to find that, as you were making your funding announcement, the project was being scaled back?
Mr Jaggers : We are yet to have detailed discussions with WA about the scope of the study and what will or will not be included. So we are obviously in the process of doing that.
Mr Mrdak : And we will seek further advice from Western Australia on their thinking as part of these discussions in the next couple of weeks.
Senator LUDLAM: I would appreciate it if you are able to table anything that would shed some light on that decision, particularly whether Curtin University is being expected to make some kind of contribution, for example-whether that is what the story is.
Does the department support a metro-wide transport planning approach that considers the future expansion of the light rail network in Perth to include growing urban activity centres such as Fremantle, Cockburn and Murdoch, where a lot of serious growth and consolidation are occurring?
Mr Mrdak : As you know, the Commonwealth is very keen to see integrated transport in city planning. Clearly, those types of activities which can provide economic hubs-including, obviously, universities, which are major employment generators-and form key parts of the transport network are obviously important. Overall we are looking for an improved metro-planning approach which does that much better, yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you able to comment on the public transport draft plan that was put into the public domain earlier this year which says that rapid transit, or light rail at least, for that southern corridor is post 2031 at the earliest?
Mr Mrdak : Again I do not know the detail of what went into the thinking which went into the strategy at this stage. That is something that we will establish with some further work with Western Australia.
Senator LUDLAM: Do you have any sense of when those discussions will be concluded and when you might be able to table the document that we were referring to earlier, your project milestones and so on?
Mr Mrdak : We would like to get it sorted out in the next few weeks, if we can.
Senator LUDLAM: The next few weeks; that is brilliant. The Australian Greens, my office, made a submission two years running through Treasury for an annual cycling infrastructure fund-we have spoken of this a couple of times-and for new full-time employees-four, I think-in the active transport unit. Were you aware of that funding submission that we made through Treasury?
Mr Mrdak : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Has your department ever asked Treasury for an annualised budget for cycling spending so that you know what is on the table at the moment-because we established before that it was not zero?
Mr Mrdak : As we have discussed at previous hearings, we obviously do provide funding to support cycling infrastructure through our Nation Building Program in relation to individual projects. You and I have discussed previously the former program, which is now completed. But I am not sure of your point about asking for a budget. Have we put in budget proposals for a cycling strategy? They are matters for the government's budget process; I cannot comment on those.
Senator LUDLAM: Am I out of line to ask whether the department put together a funding submission for a cycling fund that was then knocked back?
Mr Mrdak : That is a matter for the budget process and I cannot comment.
Senator LUDLAM: It is good that Senator Carr is here. Last session, in February, I asked how the national cycling strategy proposes to double the number of people cycling by 2016 without any funding appropriation. Senator Carr, you said that issue at the time was under discussion. In the light of no additional funding announced in the budget, can you step me through how that discussion eventually went?
Senator Kim Carr: I will ask the secretary to comment on the budget response.
Mr Mrdak : Last Friday the progress report on the national cycling strategy was presented to Australian transport ministers. I would be happy to provide you with a copy of that.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you.
Mr Mrdak : That highlighted that there has been a 95 per cent increase in cycling in the past couple of years as a result of the national cycling strategy, including the investments that the Commonwealth has made in relation to bikeways. I would be happy to provide you with a copy of that report, which I think is now available on the Australian Bicycle Council website.
Senator LUDLAM: Is it still government policy-I do not know whether this is through you, Minister, or Mr Mrdak-to double cycling to 2016 and is it still going to be attempted without any additional funding?
Mr Mrdak : The Australian bicycling strategy has been adopted by transport ministers nationally; that is and remains the objective. As you have seen, the Commonwealth has been investing in cycling facilities.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not want to have this fight with you again, Mr Mrdak, because it happens every three or four months.
CHAIR: My money is on Mr Mrdak; sorry, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you, Chair, for that intervention. He generally wins because any time it gets interesting the minister shuts me down, or else you do. The national cycling strategy says that you want to double the number of people cycling in Australia by 2016. How are you going to do that without additional funding because-and we can maybe skip over this stage of the usual debate-the one-off injection of funding has long since gone? We even have the ANAO's report into how that went, which was critical of some aspects but basically said that the money was well spent in the end. How are we going to double cycling from here without any additional funding?
Mr Mrdak : All of the jurisdictions have in place investment strategies and other strategies to implement the bicycling strategy. The Commonwealth will continue to invest, as it is, through its various projects, and we have run through in the past various road projects which have incorporated cycling facilities. It is a matter for government in the future as to whether it decides to invest further moneys into cycling. I would note that, as part of this budget, the government has announced the framework for nation building 2, which does set out the various categories and, importantly, in a linkage to the national urban policy, sets up categories of future funding for moving people, which includes our approach on liveable cities. So we anticipate that in the future government may choose to provide funding envelopes around that part of the nation building projects. That will be a decision for future government announcements.
Senator LUDLAM: Hopefully not too far into the future. Coming to what I think you were just alluding to-and we have spoken of this before-the only bike infrastructure at the moment that is provided directly by Commonwealth funds as far as we have been able to identify is attached to other projects, freeway projects, that are funded out of the Nation Building Program, which I think you call positive provision. Am I on the right track so far?
Mr Mrdak : That is correct.
Mr Jaggers : There is also some money that has been made available through our Liveable Cities Program specifically for active travel.
Senator LUDLAM: So that is a little unit within the Major Cities Unit to identify this kind of planning and strategy work?
Mr Mrdak : It is the $20 million Liveable Cities Program which the government recently announced the outcomes of, and that is handled by this division, nation building.
Mr Jaggers : Yes. There are four projects there that involve cycle access or cycle paths.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not know whether I should ask you this or the liveable cities folk later.
Mr Mrdak : Liveable cities is here in nation building.
Senator LUDLAM: Perhaps you could just hit those with a highlighter pen for me so that I know what those four are-if you could take that on notice.
Mr Mrdak : We will certainly do that.
Senator LUDLAM: Setting that aside for the moment and going specifically to the idea that the majority of Commonwealth funding for cycling only happens if you have a freeway attached to it and then the cycle lane gets painted onto one side, are you aware of a chart prepared in 2012 by the bicycle networks in New South Wales showing the bike facilities that are most appropriate in various motor vehicle speed zones and volume environments; that is-and I am happy to table this for you if it would be helpful-they say do not put a cyclist on a painted bike track by the side of the road that is just basically a white line on the tarmac above certain speed thresholds-and their recommendation strongly is 50 kilometres per hour-or above certain traffic density-5,000 vehicle movements per day. Are you aware of those approximate thresholds?
Mr Mrdak : I am certainly aware of that work. As you know, we are currently considering, as part of our work on major cities, a future Commonwealth policy approach on active transport. Just coming back to your earlier question, I now have that information in relation to the liveable cities and I will just give that to you, if that is all right. There were four projects funded under liveable cities which have been announced which have an active transport component. There is the Parramatta city river renewal project, $3.75 million, which included major links along the Parramatta River foreshore and which incorporated cycling and walking links between the University of Western Sydney, housing developments and employment nodes in Parramatta city. There is Albury-Wodonga cycling infrastructure, $300,000 for a partnership between councils that delivers on-street bike paths for Albury-Wodonga. There is the principal pedestrian network, $1.2 million for a network with four locations in Melbourne and Geelong, in relation to increasing the use of active transport. Also there is practical design for resilient outer suburbs: $335,000 for outer suburbs in Australia-four outer suburbs. So all of that has liveable cities and active transport provision.
Senator LUDLAM: That is useful. That is new funding, isn't it? We have not discussed this before.
Mr Mrdak : No. This is the announcement of the projects under the liveable cities fund, which has been announced in the last few weeks by the government.
Senator LUDLAM: Could you table this for us then, as it is getting down to the question I was asking before. What I suspect is that the majority of the bike lanes that are being attached to freeway projects that we have spoken of on a number of occasions are basically just white lines along the shoulders of high-speed and high-volume highways and freeways. Is that true or are we only putting in segregated paths on high-speed roads?
Mr Mrdak : No, I do not think that is right. I think there is a mix of provision. In some cases there are segregated areas and others are-
Senator LUDLAM: I do not expect you to have all of this in front of you because this will be a range of projects, but could you table for us in your own time a breakdown of the type of bike facilities attached to federally funded roads with speeds above 50 kilometres or a traffic density of 5,000 vehicle movements or more? I pinched those numbers out of the New South Wales bike network matrix.
Mr Mrdak : We will see-
Senator LUDLAM: What I am looking for specifically is the proportion of lanes on road versus separated or segregated paths.
Mr Mrdak : We will find that information.
Senator LUDLAM: Moving on, if I may, my reading of the 2011-12 budget was that it committed five times as much new funding to roads as to rail. There was some of the rail funding in there, but the road funding was about five times as much. The COAG Reform Council's report on cities of this April was quite an intelligent confirmation that our cities are buckling under growing road congestion and transport was identified as a top priority to fix by the CRC expert panel chair, Mr Brian Howe. My reading of the 2012-13 budget is that it is not a 5 : 1 ratio anymore; it is a 12 : 1 ratio in new funding. Can you confirm whether that is true or not?
Mr Mrdak : I would need to check the figures. There has certainly, as you say, been an expansion of rail funding. I will take that on notice, if I can, and give you the exact number.
Senator LUDLAM: I am posing to you that the expansion of road funding was much greater. I realise that we are winding back actual funding relative to previous budgets, and that is part of the surplus measures, I suppose. Can you provide for us the funding ratio in the 2012-13 budget of roads to rail, whether that be passenger or freight?
Mr Mrdak : Certainly.
Ms O'Connell : I think some of that reflects where the various projects are up to. There was significant rail investment in the past and much of those projects is being delivered now and paid for in the current Nation Building Program. In this year's budget there were some key rail announcements. The Goodwood-Torrens is a significant project announcement. Most of these projects go through a process of firstly being proposed, assessed and then coming to fruition in the budget, as well as projects such as the Perth light rail that we have touched on already, which are at the business case stage, so they are not yet ready for consideration for significant construction funding.
Senator LUDLAM: That stuff is all positive. The Gold Coast light rail is a positive one. What I am talking about is orders of magnitude. Nation building programs in Perth at the moment-$3.7 billion in WA and $2.4 billion over 2012-13 to 2015-16, all massive urban freeway projects plus a very welcome little $4 million speck in the bucket for light rail. We are trying to track this sort of expenditure from year to year. I was a bit freaked out last year that it was five to one; this year it is 12 to one. Can you confirm for us if that is true or not?
Mr Mrdak : We will get you those numbers. Again I would look at this in the context of which of those road projects would you not wish to have proceeding. They all meet a critical need.
Senator LUDLAM: For wider roads and more traffic?
Mr Mrdak : It comes back to this debate we have. You can try to categorise this as road versus rail, and I do not think that is the case. The government is investing where the growth is, and in the needs of those cities.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you come across the concept of induced traffic before? I appreciate that we have had this discussion as well.
Mr Mrdak : I know it well, but I suppose I say to you: which of those road projects in the current forward program would you not proceed with?
Senator LUDLAM: Why, for example, are we widening the Great Eastern Highway and the Roe Highway interchange without putting rails down that corridor?
Mr Mrdak : It is meeting the needs of those communities.
Senator LUDLAM: But a dollar spent on an urban freeway is a dollar not spent on public transport.
Mr Mrdak : I do not agree with that. I think there is a balance. There is a program and the Australian government has made a commitment to both road and rail investment. I do not even characterise this as either/or.
Senator LUDLAM: Maybe I should have put this to IA, but tell me if I am still in the ballpark: is the state government required to provide projections of traffic-modelling data in its submissions for these sorts of projects-if we want to throw another two lanes on the Great Eastern Highway, for example?
Mr Mrdak : They certainly do provide traffic projections and they provide us with information in relation to matters such as benefit-cost ratios and the like of the projects.
Senator LUDLAM: To you folk, the IA or both?
Mr Mrdak : No. They provide advice-initially they are bidding through IA submissions but also in project proposal reports to the department, which enables us to finalise funding commitments.
Ms O'Connell : Traffic forecasts and freight forecasts are fundamental to the BCR calculations.
Senator LUDLAM: I would have thought so. Do they tell you how many years on average it will take for these widened roads simply to fill up with more traffic, so that we have roads that are just as congested, only several lanes wider?
Mr Mrdak : Certainly the forward projections look at the whole transport picture.
Senator LUDLAM: For that Great Eastern Highway corridor, for example, how many years before that is simply a wider 10-kilometre traffic jam? How long will it be before that corridor is just as paralysed as it is today?
Mr Mrdak : I think that is a long-term investment in that corridor-
Senator LUDLAM: A long-term investment in future traffic congestion. If they are providing these projections for IA and for you guys, at what point do their models that the state government put to you show that traffic paralysis re-establishes itself along the Great Eastern Highway?
Ms O'Connell : The idea of congestion and traffic paralysis is not limited to roads. There is the same thing in terms of freight rail bottlenecks and passenger rail meeting its demand.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, but we are not spending billions and billions of dollars on these things in Perth, unfortunately, so let us just leave it to traffic. If you were funding a massive investment in light rail or heavy rail in Perth, I would be delighted to put those questions to you about patronage and so on, but we are not; we are putting in more freeways. In the instance of the Great Eastern Highway, those roadworks are the biggest cloverleafs that we will have in Perth-along Tonkin Highway and Roe Highway extensions and so on. Let us just keep it to that Great Eastern Highway corridor around towards the airport. When do those projections tell you that that traffic will simply be seized up and that there will need to be presumably another widening, according to this logic?
Mr Mrdak : I would need to have a look at the numbers and come back to you in relation to that.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, if you could.
Mr Mrdak : Certainly these enhancements will provide for the medium-term growth of traffic into that region.
Senator LUDLAM: They will. Then in a couple of years the state is going to come back and ask for another couple of billion dollars to throw another couple of lanes on and we will just repeat the cycle. Anyway, you have taken it on notice, so that is fine and I will move on.
CHAIR: Are you suggesting that we should pedal it? You cannot be serious, Senator. $3.7 million has been spent on infrastructure in Western Australia, mate.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you seen how slow the Great Eastern Highway is at the moment? It is going to be wider and just as slow, and I am interested to know when.
CHAIR: With the greatest respect, we can have the attitude of the state government and put our fingers in our ears and do nothing for the next 50 years. But our transport task is going to double by 2020.
Senator LUDLAM: Where are we going to put it all?
CHAIR: I think it is a wonderful concept if we can put it on balloons and float it around the suburbs of Western Australia, Senator Ludlam, but you know that is not reasonable. I do take a bit of offence. We are putting a lot of money into roadworks in Western Australian because no-one else did.
Senator LUDLAM: Maybe you have missed my line of questioning: why are we not putting that into an investment in freight rail? Why are we not double stacking on the freight network in Perth?
CHAIR: Senator Ludlam, do you suggest that we tie our butter and our toilet rolls on balloons and float them to the suburbs?
Senator LUDLAM: No. Chair; that is not actually what I am proposing.
CHAIR: It is off in gaga land. Senator Ludlam, you have the call. I am not shutting you down. There you go.
Senator LUDLAM: Chair, you are not shutting me down.
CHAIR: I am encouraging you to keep asking questions-the more West Aussies that hear it, the better for us.
Senator LUDLAM: That was a random interjection from the chair. I am not sure who I appeal to when the interjection is coming from the chair.
CHAIR: I am passionate about road transport and I am passionate about passenger transport, but I am also a realist, Senator Ludlam. I am not going to get on a pushbike and cart it all around the state.
Senator LUDLAM: Minister, could you call the chair to order?
Senator Kim Carr: This committee is quite interesting. It has been a long day at the table.
Senator LUDLAM: It has been an awfully long day.
Senator Kim Carr: Which is winding up on time.
CHAIR: I am trying, Senator Carr, but I am not getting a lot of goodwill at the moment.
Senator LUDLAM: Liveable Cities Program: 25 projects received funding, including three and a bit million for the City of Sydney Green Square town centre trigeneration project and half a million dollars for the Sunshine Coast light rail feasibility study. How would you gauge the quality of applications for this program?
Mr Mrdak : I think the quality is very strong. We had a large number of projects oversubscribed for the funds available and certainly I think we got a very good mix of projects.
Mr Jaggers : There were 170 applications and we thought there were a lot of very strong applications.
Senator LUDLAM: We spent in the end $20 million on best practice-I guess you have just picked the cream out of those 170, if the program was that far oversubscribed?
Mr Mrdak : The department did an evaluation against the program criteria and provided advice to the government.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell us how many in total came from WA? I notice that suburban centres immediately south of Perth got funding for four projects that looked to me as though they were of a pretty high standard. How many applications in total came from WA?
Mr Mrdak : I will see whether we have that information with us.
Mr Jaggers : We do not have it here.
Mr Mrdak : I am sorry; we do not have that with us but we will get that on notice for you.
Senator LUDLAM: All right. I will leave it there.

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