Coalition may block infrastructure funding

Coalition may block one of the Rudd Government's infrastructure Bills, potentially jeopardising funding for key road safety initiatives

By Brad Gardner

The Coalition may block one of the Rudd Government’s infrastructure Bills, potentially jeopardising funding for key road safety initiatives.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss has criticised a provision in the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2009 authorising the Government to rename AusLink the Nation Building Program.

The Bill also amends the AusLink Act to permit funding for projects outside of the national road network, while also expanding the coverage of the Black Spot and Roads to Recovery programs.

"Without this legislation the road program becomes difficult," a spokesman for Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says.

But Truss claims the Government is attempting to take credit for AusLink projects by re-branding signs posted around Australia, and a spokesman for the Nationals leader says: "we’re not going to let them get away with it".

Liberal and National MPs need the support of one cross-bench senator to block government legislation, but the shadow cabinet is yet to determine whether to use its Senate majority to oppose the Bill.

"We haven’t made a decision. We are considering our options," a spokesman for Truss says.

The Coalition has also not ruled out voting against a proposed 0.7 cent increase to the road user charge, which will reduce the fuel tax credit to 16.4 cents.

Although the National Transport Commission recommended the increase on the basis of government investment in road infrastructure, the Opposition is unconvinced it is justified due to declining economic conditions.

"We remain sceptical in introducing an increment of that size at a time like this," Truss’ spokesman says.

Truss earlier this month claimed taxpayers would be forced to pay "serious money" for the Government to rename AusLink documents and signs.

"Mountains of documents will need to be pulped and road signs all over Australia using the AusLink name will need to be torn down and replaced," he says.

Under the Bill, restrictions on Black Spot funding will be lifted to allow investment in projects on the national land transport network.

"The Bill will also provide further flexibility around the Roads to Recovery program by enabling the amounts of funding to local government authorities to be increased if the minister sees fit," Albanese says.

The Black Spot program is designed to reduce accidents by funding upgrades to traffic signals and roundabouts on roads with a high crash rate.

Under Roads to Recovery, local governments apply for a share of federal funding for road construction and maintenance projects.

The Bill has been sent to the Senate Rural and Regional Affair and Transport Committee, which will report on its findings on June 15.

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