Opposition fails to deliver alternative to building fund

By: Jason Whittaker

Despite stoking fears over the Rudd Government’s $20 billion building fund being used to bankroll Labor’s next election campaign, the

Despite stoking fears over the Rudd Government’s $20 billion building fund being used to bankroll Labor’s next election campaign, the Opposition has failed to outline an alternative to funding critical infrastructure projects.

Delivering his budget reply, Opposition leader Brendan Nelson did not once mention the Building for Australia Fund, of which funds will be allocated to road, rail and port projects in 2009-10.

Yet with opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss and shadow treasurer Malcolm Turbull arguing the initiative is nothing more than a slush fund, Nelson was expected to at least critique the multi-billion dollar investment.

But the only transport-related item that formed part of Nelson’s reply was the Coalition’s support for a five percent reduction in the fuel excise. And the entire focus of that was on car owners. Under the Coalition, according to Nelson, motorists will be spared the pressure of rising fuel costs. This is despite the fact when in power, the Coalition refused to lower the excise.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) hit out at the proposal, saying it will result in less funding for safer roads because the fuel tax forms part of the road user charge, which is used to fund transport infrastructure projects.

"The Opposition's plan would reduce our effective fuel tax to just 14.633 cents per litre. It is just too low. It would not be enough to pay for the safer roads, more rest areas and better regulations that we need," Communications Manager of the Australian Trucking Association Bill McKinley says.

The Greens, however, want less spent on roads and freeways, with Senator Christine Milne using the Greens budget reply to argue for increased investment in rail projects.

"No government that takes peak oil or climate change seriously would spend only five per cent as much on rail as on road funding in the coming year," she says.

"We would allocate at least 25 per cent of the $22.3 billion AusLink 2 funding for 2009-10 through to 2013-14 to major infrastructure projects that shift people or freight off roads and onto more climate friendly alternatives. We would ensure that AusLink’s corridor strategies would address the issues of oil vulnerability and greenhouse gas mitigation."

Milne also lashed out at the Government’s $78 million initiative for states to conduct studies into reducing traffic congestion, referring to it as a paltry investment .

But while Nelson and Milne ridiculed the Budget, their words are at odds with the industry which has supported initiatives such as Building Australia Fund. Peak bodies such as Ports Australia, the ATA and Infrastructure Partnerships Australia all welcomed the commitment to invest more in transport infrastructure to alleviate freight bottlenecks.

While the fund’s governance arrangements will not be finalised for another few months, the Government expects the fund to be up and running by January 1 2009.

Despite not ruling out if funding allocation will be independent of government interference, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese says decisions will be guided by Infrastructure Australia.

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