Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Catherine King, has announced that funding for the Roads to Recovery program will be doubled from $500 million to $1 billion per year through phased increases.
Ms King also announced that – in her response to the Government’s Infrastructure Investment Program Review – a $40 million per year increase in the Black Spot Program, and a new Safer Local Roads and Infrastructure Program.
Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) President, Linda Scott, said that following ALGA’s strong advocacy and leadership, it is delighted to welcome this major funding increase that will benefit all communities across Australia.
“For several years, ALGA has consistently advocated for more Roads to Recovery funding that will deliver safer and more productive roads,” Cr Scott said.
“New independent research published last week highlighted a $1 billion per year local road maintenance shortfall across the country.
“In the last year alone, 46 disasters were declared across Australia, covering more than 300 different council areas, which has significantly impacted on the state of our local roads.
“Minister King’s commitment to doubling Roads to Recovery funding will help reduce our roads maintenance gap, delivering road safety and productivity benefits to every community.
“It’s fantastic to see the Government recognising the importance of our local infrastructure, and the key role it plays in building more resilient and connected communities.”
Cr Scott said the $40 million per year increase to Black Spot Program would be welcomed by councils and will help save lives.
“Councils maintain more than 75 per cent of Australia’s roads and this expansion of the Black Spot Program will support us to reduce Australia’s unacceptably high national road toll.
Cr Scott also welcomed a new Safer Local Roads and Infrastructure Program, which would incorporate the existing Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity and Bridges Renewal Programs, with funding gradually increasing from $150 million to $200 million per year.
“As local road managers, councils play an important role supporting the efficient movement of freight around our nation,” Cr Scott said.
“This new and expanded program will support us to improve our local roads and infrastructure that are crucial to increasing national productivity, while also improving road safety for all users.
“We thank Minister King for her strong support and commitment to our sector and our communities; and look forward to working with the Government to ensure this new funding is efficiently rolled out.”
Keeping up with costs
However, the Grattan Institute’s Potholes and pitfalls: how to fix local roads report recommended that the Federal Government increase federal funding to councils by $600 million per year through Financial Assistance Grants, and Roads to Recovery funding by $400 million per year.
This aligns with the ALGA’s call for Financial Assistance Grants to be restored to at least one percent of federal taxation revenue and Roads to Recovery funding increased to $800 million per year.
One of the key issues identified in the Grattan Institute’s report is that federal funding to councils is not keeping up with increases in road construction and maintenance costs.
The President of the Local Government Association of the Northern Territory (LGANT), Kon Vatskalis, says councils manage over 14,000km of roads across the Northern Territory and acknowledges that they are in variable conditions for various reasons including councils inheriting poor quality assets, more frequent extreme weather events damaging roads, and more recently, increases in costs of materials and labour and shortages of skilled professionals such as asset managers and engineers.
The report also highlights that many regional, rural and remote councils face additional challenges in maintaining their local roads, based on their large geographic size and small ratepayer base.
Mr Vatskalis said that this is very much the case in the Northern Territory and the report is evidence of issues the local government sector has been talking about for years.
The report also confirms that the Northern Territory supports many more regional and remote communities than any other jurisdiction which clearly demonstrates the importance of roads for social and economic development.
The Grattan Institute report also recommends that the Federal Government establish a new $200 million per year fund to assess and upgrade local roads identified as priority freight routes.
Mr Vatskalis said that councils in the Northern Territory are similar to other jurisdictions, in that they are responsible for first and last mile roads – including those that enable freight deliveries to towns and communities.
Access roads to communities are often inaccessible during the wet season which makes first and last mile roads to barge landings and airstrips critical.
The Federal Government recently reviewed the Infrastructure Investment Pipeline, which included local government road funding programs.
Mr Vatskalis welcomed the report and said it’s time for action.
“LGANT fully supports advocacy efforts by the ALGA for increases in dedicated road funding programs such as Roads to Recovery and in untied funding through the Financial Assistance Grants, and the inclusion of betterment funding under disaster recovery arrangements.”