Rest area responsibility, but $70m still locked

Government to extend definition of a road to include rest areas, but still won’t release $70 million in funding

By Jason Whittaker

The Federal Government says it will extend the definition of a road to include driver rest facilities, but still won’t release $70 million in rest area funding tied to road pricing hikes.

Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese has introduced legislation to boost funding for local roads while including the package for upgrades to driver rest facilities, closing a loophole that allowed governments to dodge responsibility over funding driver rest facilities.

But Albanese says the money is still contingent on the passage of legislation enacting significant hikes in truck vehicle registration and diesel excise.

The Government proposed the $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program as a sweetener as part of legislation to impose the cost increases agreed to by transport ministers last year.

But the Coalition refused to support the price hikes, blocking the legislation in the Senate. Labor is now negotiating with the Greens and independents to pass the legislation.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) supported the filibuster but attacked the Government for not passing the rest area funding separately.

Albanese has now funnelled the money into a new Bill to fund the Roads to Recovery program, but insists the pricing legislation must still pass.

"That legislation would ensure that the heavy vehicle industry pays its fair share of the infrastructure costs incurred by governments for building and maintaining the roads that they drive on," Albanese told Parliament today.

A spokesperson for Shadow Infrastructure and Transport Minister Warren Truss says the Coalition will maintain its opposition to the pricing hikes, but will pass the local roads funding legislation.

He says the new Bill has "all the goodies, while the pricing Bill as the bad bits".

Albanese says he has consulted with states and territories and stakeholders including the ATA, Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA) and NatRoad to identify the most urgently needed rest area works.

"The facilities that will be delivered under the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Package will improve road safety and provide a better deal for truckies," he says.

"I would encourage the Coalition to support this Bill and the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination legislation to enable upgrades to be rolled out as soon as possible after 1 January 2009."

Albanese says Labor will secure the Roads to Recovery program for another five years under the new legislation, pumping another $1.75 billion into local council coffers.

The funding is an increase of $50 million a year (or $250 million over five years) compared with the previous annual allocation under the program.

"The continuation of this program means that local government can confidently plan for the continued improvements of their road network," Albanese says.

The Bill also makes amendments to clarify funds can be allocated to a particular state while the most appropriate entity to finally receive the allocation is determined, Albanese says.

"This will allow funds to be preserved while, for example, arrangements can be put in place to provide funds for roads in unincorporated areas where there is no local council, or to provide bridges and access roads in remote areas," he says.

Truss’ spokesperson says he expects the pricing legislation to be reintroduced to Parliament as early as next week.

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