Road funding at risk, as Truss stares down govt


Government faces Senate showdown over Nation Building Program after Coalition demands amendments to infrastructure investment

By Brad Gardner | May 29, 2009

The Rudd Government faces a Senate showdown over its Nation Building Program after the Coalition threatened to vote against it unless changes are made to infrastructure investment.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss yesterday criticised the Nation Building Program (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill, refusing to back an expansion of the Black Spot and Roads to Recovery programs.

The Coalition has also continued its campaign to retain the AusLink name, which will be superseded by the Nation Building Program if the Bill passes in the Senate.

Truss wants scrapped the provision authorising Black Spot funding to be extended beyond local roads to the national network, saying there are already measures to bankroll projects on national roads.

"We should not be taking away money from projects for local streets and roads to spend it on the national highway network," he says.

The Coalition has also refused to support a government move to replace the AusLink Strategic Regional Project with the Nation Building Program Off-Network Project.

By omitting the word ‘regional’, Truss claims the Government will be free to siphon funding for regional roads into urban projects.

"It is clear that Labor is firing another bullet in its war against regional Australia in this legislation," Truss says.

Unless it gains Opposition support, the Government will need to rely on the Greens, Family First’s Steve Fielding and Independent Nick Xenophon to get its Bill passed in the Senate.

But Labor MP Amanda Rishworth claims the Bill is vital to delivering key projects because it allows the transport minister to increase funding to local governments for Roads to Recovery projects.

"This flexibility is incredibly important, as currently no increases can be made during the funding period once the funding has been determined," Rishworth says.

The Government claims the Bill will also have wider benefits, with Labor MP Chris Hayes saying it will support jobs and stimulate the economy.

"We need to make these changes now to make sure that we can deliver on our road and rail infrastructure program in the most efficient and effective way," he says.

But by extending Black Spot funding to the national road network, industry group NatRoad is concerned money will be invested in big-ticket items at the expense of small projects.

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

The Australian Trucking Association will decide next week whether to make a submission to the committee, but a spokesman for the lobby group says it has no issue with the Government’s proposal to rename AusLink.

"The ATA does not have a view on what the program is called, just as long as there is one," the spokesman says.

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