Senate Estimates Tuesday 18 October - Rural Affairs and Transport Committee
Infrastructure and Transport Portfolio
Nation Building Program
CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Macdonald. Before I give Senator Ludlam the call, we have got to the bottom of the confusion relating to the five pages of Queensland projects being funded under the Nation Building Program. There was a mix-up in the lettering. It was MOU and I believe you said MUO, so it is there if that assists you. I have a copy there for you anyway.
Senator LUDLAM: I understand the Nation Building guidelines are under review at the moment. Can you talk us through what that review looks like?
Ms O'Connell : No, the Nation Building guidelines that are in place at the moment are the Nation Building guidelines that are in place at the moment. There is not a specific review about the Nation Building guidelines, other than what we talked about earlier-that is, the second phase of the program, which will go from 2014-15 onwards-
Senator LUDLAM: 2014 to 2017?
Ms O'Connell : that is right, yes-and clearly the guidelines for those are a decision for government to make. So there is no review of the current guidelines; it is more for the next phase of nation building. It is a decision for government about what the guidelines will or will not contain.
Senator LUDLAM: That is what I am referring to.
Ms O'Connell : Okay.
Mr Mrdak : Sorry, Senator, for the confusion. When we talk about the guidelines for the program, we mean the administrative guidelines for how the program will operate in relation to our administrative arrangements with the jurisdictions. But I think you are referring there to the second program, as Ms O'Connell said.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes, sorry, I should have spelt that out.
Mr Mrdak : It is just the way we use the terminology. But as Ms O'Connell says, the government is currently considering it and work is underway to look at projects and programs for Nation Building 2, which will be the Commonwealth's investment program beyond 2014-15.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not know why I am having so much trouble hearing you, but I really am.
Mr Mrdak : It has been a problem all morning with the microphones, but I will speak up.
Senator LUDLAM: Good on you, and, yes, that is what I was referring to-Nation Building 2. When you say the government is reviewing it, you sound a little bit cagey. Are you not going to be able to tell us much about the terms of reference of the review or what it is considering or what might be different falling out of the 2014-15 round?
Mr Mrdak : I am not being cagey in the sense that it is work underway. Essentially the program will look at, in accordance with the legislation, the next five- to six-year investment program by the Commonwealth in transport infrastructure. This is being guided by a number of things, not least of which are: the consultation now underway with the states and territories; consideration of the Infrastructure Australia prioritisation process and the analysis being undertaken by Infrastructure Australia; policy directions set by the government, which includes that the National Urban Policy that will guide future investment strategies; and the review of capital cities plans, which is also underway. So all of that work will culminate over the coming months with government consideration of what the future program's shape and priorities will be for that Nation Building Program.
Senator LUDLAM: Good. You have pre-empted a couple of my questions there. It is good to hear you are checking off some of those things as I was going to ask you about them. At what point, if at all, is the public going to be involved in some kind of process around those guidelines? The National Urban Policy certainly went out for draft; the COAG major cities work did not. It was very selective who they spoke to in producing that review, and that is still afoot. So at what point will the public get to see some draft guidelines for Nation Building 2, for example?
Mr Mrdak : It will be a matter for the government to consider in the context of its budget process. At this stage there is no intention for a public consultation process as broad as, say, the National Urban Policy. These are investment decision of the government. As I said, at the moment we are undertaking a round of consultations with the states and territories as one step in that process. It will be a matter for government how they progress decisions in relation to individual programs and projects.
Senator LUDLAM: You made it sound like it is the government spending its money and then there is, therefore, no reason at all to include the public in that; it is just going to be between state and Commonwealth transport and infrastructure ministers.
Mr Mrdak : I would not want to leave you with that impression. What I am saying is: we are at the early stages of preparing advice, and the government is considering a range of issues, some of which have been discussed this morning with some of the other senators, such as in relation to some of the existing programs. These are decisions that obviously government will take in the context of its budgets and its forward commitments.
Senator LUDLAM: Is there anything in the nation building No. 1 act that would act to exclude funding for cycling infrastructure?
Mr Mrdak : No. In fact, as I think we have discussed previously, in a large number of projects we have provided for cycling infrastructure to be incorporated into those projects.
Senator LUDLAM: That is good. We did speak about this before. There is no specific cycling infrastructure fund or program. I will get to that in a second. What there is is a certain number of bike paths and so on that are being attached to major roads and freeways that are being funded as part of nation building. But last time we did not go into detail as to which projects they were. I am wondering whether you could table-if you do not have it in front of you right now-exactly what has been funded by way of cycling incidental to major roadworks.
Mr Mrdak : Certainly. In our response to a question on notice that has just recently been tabled by the minister, I think we did provide a breakdown against each of the nation building projects that included cycling infrastructure. I am happy to provide another copy of that if you do not have it with you.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not have it with me, but if you have already done that then I will-
Mr Mrdak : In the answer to the question on notice, we listed a number of programs. I am happy just to run through them quickly:
Banora Point deviation, Pacific Highway, 5.5-kilometre cycleway;
Great Western Highway, 4.3-kilometre cycleway;
Great Western Highway, Wentworth Falls, 2.3-kilometre cycleway;
Princes Highway East, Traralgon to Sale, three-kilometre cycleway;
Geelong Ring Road stage 4A, 1.9-kilometre cycleway; Geelong Ring Road stage 4B, Anglesea to Princes Highway, 1.2-kilometre cycleway;
Clyde Road upgrade, two-kilometre cycleway;
Kwinana Freeway, widening and upgrade, 32 kilometres of cycleway;
Great Eastern/Roe Highway Interchange, four-kilometre cycleway;
Great Northern Highway realignment, upgrading of existing three-kilometre cycleway;
Northern Expressway, South Australia, 23-kilometre cycleway;
Kingston Bypass, Tasmania, 2.5-kilometre cycleway; Brighton Bypass, 2.4-kilometre cycleway; and
Bridgewater Bridge/Lyell Junction project, 0.3 kilometre cycleway.
That is an indication of the sorts of projects where those cycleways have been incorporated into the upgrades and new road projects. On top of that, as we have discussed previously, the Commonwealth government funded a significant cycleway infrastructure program.
Senator LUDLAM: I am well aware of that one, for reasons that we have discussed before. I think it is good that when we are putting in urban roads-and some of those may not be urban, as far as I know-we are including cycling infrastructure rather than going back and retrofitting it later. That is good. But I still find it bizarre in the extreme that the only way of getting cycling infrastructure paid for by the Commonwealth is to organise for a bit of freeway to go in. Why aren't we doing stand-alone cycling works? Why do they always have to be attached to freeways?
Mr Mrdak : I do not think they have to be attached. As I have said in the past, the Commonwealth has funded recently, in the last two years, a significant cycleway program.
Senator LUDLAM: Let us not rehearse this, because we do this every time. That was a one-off funding initiative that the Australian Greens negotiated into the stimulus package, and it has gone now and it has been gone for awhile.
Mr Mrdak : Well, it would be a matter for the government in the future if they chose to fund further cycleway programs. As I say, that may be one of the considerations the government wishes to look at in terms of designing future investment programs.
Senator LUDLAM: But do you need to seek permission or do you need a particular direction from government in order to fund cycling as a stand-alone thing? I guess I do not understand that. If somebody came through-and I am aware that a couple have-with perfectly good, costed proposals through Infrastructure Australia for cycling works that were not attached to freeways, you would not be able to fund them without a direction from government? Or am I misinterpreting that?
Mr Mrdak : The Nation Building Program projects that I have just discussed are what are called national network projects. There is a defined national network. Any cycle project would have to be associated with one of the projects on that network, but that does not preclude government at some point deciding to fund dedicated infrastructure, in the way they did with the program you and I have discussed at length.
Senator LUDLAM: But in the meantime you are not going to see a dollar spent from the Commonwealth budget on cycling unless it is next to a freeway?
Mr Mrdak : As you and I have discussed previously, the government has in the past funded dedicated cycleways. It may choose to do so in the future. That is a matter for the government.
Senator LUDLAM: You folk have got a lot of expertise in your department on these sorts of things. Will you be proposing that, as part of the Nation Building round 2 funding guidelines, that be fixed-that cycling need not always be attached to a freeway?
Mr Mrdak : I think you have seen with the minister's commitment to the national urban policy a strong focus on active transport. This would be one of the things the government would consider in future investment programs. But obviously I am not in a position to give you any position of the government at this point.
Senator LUDLAM: That sounds promising. I will put some further questions to the Major Cities Unit when we have them up a little bit later on. What about demand management-that is, people travelling less or travelling smarter? Would that be in the same category, as far as you are concerned?
Mr Mrdak : Certainly, the government has in this year's budget funded the managed motorways program. That is all about using intelligent transport systems to more-
Senator LUDLAM: I'm still a bit of a sceptic on that.
Mr Mrdak : to more effectively manage traffic flow. Certainly, these measures have proven to be highly effective in a number of domestic and international locations where ITS technology has facilitated traffic flow. The government has a strong commitment to continuing to invest in that area.
Ms O'Connell : There are also the investments in urban public transport.
Senator LUDLAM: Yes. Those are very uneven, but I recognise that this is an area that is in a bit of flux. Some of these projects have a very long lead time-the big freeway infrastructure takes a long time to design, scope and put together and a long time to build. What are you going to do about proposals that are clearly incompatible with where the government is heading? I congratulate the apparent heading on national urban policy. As I've said a number of times before, some really good work is being done there, but it is not a changing of direction, you would acknowledge that.
Mr Mrdak : No, I wouldn't, in the sense that we have the national urban policy and we have located the Major Cities Unit within the department. It is very much integrated with the work done by Mr Jaggers's Nation Building - Infrastructure Investment division. For instance, the infrastructure investment division will manage the liveable cities program which the government has now funded and which is underway. So we are very much looking to integrate urban policy with our investment program. I think that is one of the major reform agendas of the minister and the government.
Senator LUDLAM: What are you going to do with projects that are not compatible?
Mr Mrdak : I think the government has made clear its intention in the national urban policy and the statements that the minister has given over the last year or so to look to projects that deliver substantial benefits in the way our cities operate in terms of the program. At the same time, obviously the government has commitments and major transport demands, both urban and non-urban, across the country. I am sure that the program that the government will seek to develop will try to balance all of those elements.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you got somebody, or anybody, or can you tell us how many FTEs you have got, working on an active transport strategy? Or should I put that to Major Cities?
Mr Mrdak : There is work going across the department. The Major Cities Unit's resourcing is nine staff. Of that, one officer has primary responsibility for active transport. As I say, that unit works quite closely with our infrastructure division and our surface transport division. This is an area that we are trying to do a lot more work in.
Senator LUDLAM: Minister, can I throw to you-it will have to be on behalf of the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport-the question of whether there is consideration by the government in the next budget cycle to include a stand-alone funding commitment for cycling and active transport?
Senator Carr: That is something I will have to take on notice. Clearly, I am not familiar with the detail of the budget bids that are being made at the moment, nor for that matter would I be able to comment, even if I were. I will ask the minister for a response.
Senator LUDLAM: In the detailed action plan on the national urban policy, one of the short-term initiatives is to monitor and report on progress towards achieving a national cycling target to double the number of cyclists by 2016.
Mr Mrdak : Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: It's a laudable ambition. I wonder what the proposal is to do that. Has the monitoring and reporting begun?
Mr Mrdak : Yes, it has. The minister will shortly be releasing the state of the cities report for 2011.
Senator LUDLAM: How long is shortly?
Mr Mrdak : Within a very short period of time, is probably the easiest way I can put it. I am advised that it is known that the minister will be delivering a major speech on Thursday where he will release the State of Australian Cities2011 report.
Senator LUDLAM: That is good; that is shortly.
Mr Mrdak : One has to always be careful, but I am told that it is publicly known that he will be releasing it on Thursday.
Senator LUDLAM: Heaven forbid that you should let something slip that we did not already know.
Mr Mrdak : Heaven forbid.
Senator LUDLAM: You mentioned that specifically in the context of the national cycling target. What can you tell us about that?
Mr Mrdak : As I say, without pre-empting the minister's launch of the State of Australian Cities report, it will include the latest information that is available. As well as that, the Major Cities Unit is working with the Australian Bicycle Council, the Pedestrian Council and others, which we support and assist, in relation to tracking and monitoring the growth in active transport. The State of Australian Cities report will provide an update of the best available information to this point.
Senator LUDLAM: They are good documents. I will leave it there. Thank you.
The full transcript is available here: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;db=COMMITTEES;id=committees%2Festimate%2Fd96ce99d-c415-4bc6-9d2d-2155c5fe1a48%2F0000;query=Id%3A%22committees%2Festimate%2Fd96ce99d-c415-4bc6-9d2d-2155c5fe1a48%2F0000%22