Budgets show encouraging signs of infrastructure alignment

For industry groups, the preceding period is an even busier time spent formulating budget submissions and talking to members and legislators over wish lists.

A key aspirational hope for the VTA from the Federal and Victorian budgets has long been greater alignment on road, rail and sea infrastructure spending, and less emphasis on allocating funds based on political needs.

Just last month on these pages I referenced a Grattan Institute study exposing how marginal seats have been recipients of infrastructure projects that don’t stack up, usually at the expense of projects in safe seats that do.

So in many ways, the Victorian and Federal budgets were refreshing reading because within their pages small signs are starting to emerge of long-term and coordinated planning.

In Victoria, we saw this with the outline of a 10-year Capital Planning Horizon which is an encouraging sign that the government is adopting a visionary approach to infrastructure planning, and resisting temptation to align road and transport decisions to short-term political timelines.

Similarly, the Commonwealth’s enterprise tax plan delivers immediate tax relief for small and medium businesses, and commits to a 10-year plan for similar relief for big business. While future governments may of course change this, we welcome long-term planning for the greater good.

Returning to infrastructure, the congestion-busting Melbourne Metro Rail project was projected to be fully funded in the Victorian State Budget, with the Federal Budget allocating $857 million for it through its Asset Recycling Program. The remaining $20 million from Victoria’s share of that program will finalise funding on the Murray Basin regional rail project.

While the Victorian Government claims federal Melbourne Metro funding had already been allocated, what’s encouraging is that the Commonwealth has signalled its openness to contributing to commuter rail projects that will take passenger vehicles off the roads.

In a further boost to rail, the Commonwealth allocated almost $600 million in its budget for Australian Rail Track Corporation to continue formative construction works and land acquisition for the Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Rail freight corridor. This is a vital project that will reduce congestion on eastern seaboard road connections, which will benefit heavy vehicles using that infrastructure.

We also welcome $5 million in the Federal Budget for a Port Rail Shuttle at the Port of Melbourne, $9 million for a HPFV-capable freight facility in Ballarat, $119 million to fund M80 Ring Road and Tullamarine Widening works and $72 million for road duplication works on the Western Highway and Princes Highway (East and West).

Also notable in the Victorian Budget was the full funding of the Western Distributor connection and with it a second Yarra River crossing providing direct Port of Melbourne heavy vehicle access, the ongoing removal of rail level crossings throughout Melbourne, and investments in regional roads and bridges.

Combined, the Commonwealth and Victorian Budgets contain upwards of an impressive $40 billion in vital state- and nation-building infrastructure projects.

While the VTA’s priority North East Link project has yet to secure funding, recent comments from Victorian Treasurer, Tim Pallas, that the project makes innate sense, and from Opposition Leader, Matthew Guy, that it is “utterly overdue”, gives us hope that a consensus can be reached on this connection.

Of course, infrastructure is but one piece of the puzzle for an industry that directly and indirectly employs over three million Australians. Investing in people through training and education is arguably as important to sustain our industry.

So the VTA was particularly encouraged through the awarding of a $1 million grant for our Logistics Cadet Program in the 2016 Victorian Budget. The grant followed our sustained effort to secure a meaningful contribution from the government to support its work, and we thank Victorian Roads Minister, Luke Donnellan, for his advocacy on our behalf.

We are likely in the middle of a fierce federal election as this column goes to print.

Let’s hope coordinated planning between the Commonwealth and the states underpins commitments from the major parties, so we can build the infrastructure our economy needs to remain productive and competitive.

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