Local government should be recognised in the Constitution to help secure federal funding for councils to maintain safer roads and build sustainable transport, said Australian Greens transport spokesperson Senator Lee Rhiannon in her speech to the National Local Roads and Transport Congress in Hobart today. Full speech below.
"A referendum on constitutional recognition of local government at the next federal election is necessary to secure federal funding for local councils to maintain safer roads and create sustainable transport options," Senator Rhiannon said.
"Programs like 'Roads to Recovery' and the Regional Development Australia fund involve direct payments from the Commonwealth to local government.
"The financial health of many councils depends on constitutional recognition, after a 2009 High Court cased raised doubts about the Commonwealth's ability to make grants directly to councils."
Senator Rhiannon also called for the heavy bias in funding towards roads to be shifted to see sustainable transport built in both urban and regional areas.
"At both state and federal government levels roads funding has strongly trumped rail funding for several decades.
"The Gillard government has allocated about $36 billion for a six year national building transport plan. Three quarters of that is for road and one quarter for rail.
"The Greens support the federal government's continued funding of the Roads to Recovery program and the need to maintain the condition and safety of existing local roads connecting regional Australia.
"But one solution to safer and more efficient roads lies with investment in public transport.
"What Australia doesn't need is new motorways. Funding should be targeted at light and heavy rail, freight rail and modest but effective projects like cycleways.
"We need to look at a range of measures to encourage freight onto rail, changing currently tax structures and investment patterns that favour road over rail for freight transport.
"More investment is also needed in regional intermodal hubs to allow better integration of road and rail freight. Shifting tax incentives to rail and public transport is also required.
"In Australia we are fortunate that our forebears had the vision to build an extensive rail network - for passengers and freight.
"Transport solutions will be varied in a nation as big as ours with such a dispersed population but strong government investment is key", Senator Rhiannon said.