Opposition says no, but industry wants action

Opposition won't back the Rudd Government's massive investment in road funding despite industry groups pledging support for the initiative

By Brad Gardner

The federal Opposition is refusing to back the Rudd Government’s massive investment in road funding despite industry groups pledging support for the initiative.

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull yesterday revealed Coalition MPs in the House of Representatives and the Senate will vote against a $42 billion economic stimulus package.

The package, designed to mitigate the effects of a global economic downturn, is to be spent in part on boom gates at high-risk level crossings and the Black Spot road safety program.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) says the plan "gets two thumbs up from the trucking industry" because it will deliver a safer and more productive road network.

Likewise, the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) says the 200 new boom gates under the plan will increase safety not only in the rail industry, but for all vehicle drivers and pedestrians.

But in a nationally televised address following his announcement yesterday, Turnbull accused the Government of profligacy because it plans on going into debt to fund the package.

Turnbull claims generations of Australians will be financially burdened if the package passes the parliament in its entirety.

However, Transport Workers Union (TWU) National Secretary Tony Sheldon says the package should be approved in the interests of increasing safety in the trucking industry.

"The Government is spending $90 million on black spots as well as $150 million on repairs to regional roads and $150 million on gates at level rail crossings. This will help improve the situation on the roads immediately," Sheldon says.

Furthermore, ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says the Government’s actions may also reduce operators’ costs and allow higher mass loadings on sections of the road network.

If the package is passed unamended, an extra $30 million will be spent this financial year on the Black Spot program, with another $60 million slated for 2009-10.

This follows a commitment from the Government in December last year to double Black Spot funding from $50 million to $110 million.

The boom gates and other safety measures will also be funded over a two-year period, with the Government investing $50 million this financial year and $100 million the following year.

ARA Chief Executive Bryan Nye also wants greater investment in education and enforcement initiatives to boost safety around level crossings.

"It is great to see the Australian Government actively approaching the level crossing issue," Nye says.

States and territories will be asked to provide submissions on priority crossings.

Another $150 million will be spent on maintenance on the Auslink network provided state and territory governments agree to the Federal Government’s $22.3 billion Nation Building Program for 2009-10 to 2013-14.

The program is designed to address safety risks and improve efficiency by increasing speed limits or weight loadings.

The TWU has also welcomed the 30 percent tax deduction for small businesses on assets such as vehicles.

Sheldon says owner-drivers can now improve their vehicle’s safety performance.

But in congratulating the Government, Sheldon also repeated calls for action on overhauling pay methods.

He wants the Government to establish "safe rates" for truck drivers as recommended in a report released in November last year.

The report argued incentive-based payments and the cent-per-kilometre rate should be scrapped.

"This would mean that drivers across Australia would not have to face the shocking and often deadly choice of having to do ‘just one more load’ to make a living for themselves and their families," Sheldon says.

Unless the Coalition changes its stance, the Government will need to rely on the Greens and independents Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding to pass the package, which will also be used for cash payments and school infrastructure.

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