Coalition backs down on road funding threat

Another 81 Black Spot initiatives to be funded, after Opposition backs down from threat to block the move

By Brad Gardner | June 17, 2009

A spate of road upgrades under the Black Spot program will begin immediately, after the federal Opposition backed down from its threat to block the move.

Despite accusing the Government of trying to strip money from local and regional areas through the Nation Building Program Amendment Bill, Coalition senators yesterday voted in favour of it.

With the Bill passing into legislation, the Black Spot program can now be expanded beyond local roads, with Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese already flagging 81 projects on the national road network.

The Opposition demanded an amendment limiting funding eligibility, but still supported the Bill when the Government refused the change.

Nationals Senator Fiona Nash baulked at the proposal to expand Black Spot funding, claiming large amounts of money would be sucked out of local roads.

"I express concern that these amendments mean that this key safety initiative that formerly applied only to dangerous local roads may now be swallowed up in a more general spend on Australia’s national highways," Nash says.

Labor Senator Don Farrell, however, rejected assertions that funding should be limited to local roads.

"It seems nonsensical to stop the Black Spot program from fixing dangerous roads just because they happen to be on the national land transport network," Farrell says.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss previously rubbished the decision to expand the Black Spot funding, saying there is already a pool of funds to maintain and upgrade the national road network.

As part of the legislation, Albanese also has the power to increase funding to local councils under Roads to Recovery.

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

Furthermore, all references to AusLink will be replaced with the Nation Building Program, drawing scorn from the Coalition – the party responsible for creating AusLink.

The Greens attempted to slot an amendment permitting the Senate to reject a project exceeding $200 million, while also calling on the Government to factor in environmental, social and energy needs when approving road funding.

Both amendments were defeated.

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

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

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