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Senate Estimates: Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 16 Oct 2012

Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation  Committee

Estimates hearings 16 October 2012

  • Senator RHIANNON
  • Mr Deegan
  • Mr Mrdak
  • Ms O'Connell
  • Mr Wood
  • Mr O'Brien
  • Mr Yates
  • Dr McConchie
  • Ms Beauchamp

 Full transcript available here

 

Page 29

Senator RHIANNON: Have you considered the assessment that Mr Ron Christie, former head of state rail and the roads and traffic authority in New South Wales, made of the approach of Infrastructure New South Wales to fund completion of motorways with no plan to improve public transport services? He made the interesting comment:

That example indicates that without other measures, just taking a roads approach to the problem is doomed to fail. It is back to the 1950s. It is a real LA-type solution.

Has Infrastructure Australia considered his comments? What is IA doing to overcome the bias towards roads for transport infrastructure spending on passenger commuter services?

Mr Deegan: We have the Long Term Transport Master Plan developed in draft form by the New South Wales government and we have a major report from Infrastructure New South Wales on a host of infrastructure issues including transport. We have been engaged in both of those processes. We have agreed to undertake a process to work through with Infrastructure New South Wales the range of recommendations and considerations that they have made. In particular, I understand that a copy of the first submission on the WestConnex project will be provided to my office today, but, obviously, we are yet to undertake any assessment of that project.

Senator RHIANNON: Do you give feedback to states with regard to the balance between public transport and roads?

Mr Deegan: What we try to do—and, indeed, I come to another piece of work that we are undertaking at the moment—is look at the projects within the holistic view of the city or the state, or, indeed, the nation with some of the work around freight. As part of that, we had commenced some work on a national public transport strategy. That work is well advanced. I think it would be fair to say that the Infrastructure Australia council would like to see how that relates to roads so that the two major transport approaches are considered together. Certainly, the report from Infrastructure New South Wales gives a lot of time and effort to the opportunities and cost-benefits of using more buses, and that is something that we would certainly welcome in terms of using the road asset in a more efficient and effective manner.

Senator RHIANNON: So Infrastructure New South Wales argues that most journeys in Sydney are by car and, therefore, the city needs more motorways before new public transport projects. Do you have a view on the priority for infrastructure spending in Sydney? Do you have a way to judge what comes before you from Infrastructure New South Wales?

Mr Deegan: Again, we would look at both the document prepared for Minister Berejiklian about the Long Term Transport Master Plan and the report provided through Mr Greiner to the Premier on the proposal. So we have two major documents that we will work through as part of our assessment.

Senator RHIANNON: Would you outline the process that will now occur with the WestConnex proposal that comes before you.

Mr Deegan: Certainly. Indeed, in public comments earlier this year I provided a report to the federal government on a range of issues associated with the M5 in particular and the potential upgrade. We have a couple of key interests in that discussion, but certainly the major one is the effectiveness of moving freight to and from Port Botany. I am not sure that necessarily all in the community in Sydney understand that we are moving from a relatively moderate sized port of two million containers to potentially eight million containers, which is the size of Hamburg, which is a very, very large port. So the freight issues associated with these developments are quite important.

As we look at the Infrastructure NSW report and the long-term transport master plan provided by New South Wales, our particular initial interest will be in understanding how those freight movements will be made effective, whether by road or rail or a combination, and then deal with a host of passenger transport issues that come under that.

CHAIR: I will get you to ask your last question and then we will put the rest on notice and move on.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice the actual process: when you give feedback on New South Wales and when you will be making decisions on aspects of freight and the other details we have put before you.

Mr Deegan: Certainly, but, in short, we receive the proposal, do an assessment, the draft goes to Infrastructure Australia council, they consider that and once that consideration is taken we give our draft assessment back to the New South Wales government—or the relative government in most cases—and then take our process forward from there.

Senator RHIANNON: Can you give us a timeline when that is likely to happen?

 

Page 30

Mr Deegan: The end of this month to the council, back to the New South Wales government within the next month, formal advice back to Infrastructure Australia Council in about February and then formal advice on the stage that we might recommend, if at all, in the lead up to the budget. Then we publish all of our work annually in June.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

 

(Subject: Connecting People component of the Nation Building 2 package)

 

Page 33

Senator RHIANNON: I have some questions about the Connecting People component of the Nation Building 2 package. What proportion will be available for the Connecting People component of the program?

Mr Mrdak: The government have yet to reach any decisions in relation to the funding categories. They have announced in this year's budget the framework for Nation Building 2 around four key themes, one of which is Connecting People. Decisions on individual projects, beyond the ones we have just discussed with Senator Nash, are yet to be taken by government and future commitments are yet to be made.

Senator RHIANNON: I am also interested in the percentage that would be available for Urban Living. Do you mean the decision has not been made on specific projects, or that you do not have guidelines on how to make those decisions yet?

Mr Mrdak: The government has set out the program structure and the way it will operate in this year's budget. Decisions on the funding envelope and individual projects are yet to be made. They will be made in future budgets.

Senator RHIANNON: So what has been communicated to the states? Do the states know what proportion will go into these different areas?

Mr Mrdak: No. We have simply sought project proposals from jurisdictions based around those themes and priorities. We have not set funding envelopes or the like around individual elements of those for items.

Senator RHIANNON: So they do not have advice on how much they can apply for?

Mr Mrdak: No. They will be future decisions taken by the government in the budget.

Senator RHIANNON: And when will those future decisions be made?

Mr Mrdak: We anticipate decisions in next year's budget.

Senator RHIANNON: So nothing will be available until next—

Mr Mrdak: These are matters for future budget allocations by the government. As the government has made clear, these are obviously difficult fiscal times. The government will make resourcing allocations to infrastructure as part of its budget allocation across the whole of the forward estimates.

Senator RHIANNON: So this is really all on hold—the Connecting People aspect and all aspects of the package—until next—

Mr Mrdak: No, it is not on hold. There is quite a considerable piece of work no going on—and Mr Deegan mentioned some of it. Essentially we have sought project proposals from the jurisdiction around those priority areas for the Commonwealth around future funding and future arrangements. We have received project proposals from the jurisdictions for projects over $100 million and also for projects below $100 million out over the next five-year program. We are currently assessing those, along with Infrastructure Australia, and we are providing advice to the government. We anticipate that the government will consider the future of the program in the forthcoming budget process.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you share with the committee any information you have about the Connecting People component of the program.

Mr Mrdak: At this stage what is available is the material that was released in this year's budget in relation to the sorts of projects we are seeking. As I said, we are now working through project proposals that have been put forward by state governments against the Connecting People theme.

Senator RHIANNON: I understand that state governments have already submitted Nation Building 2 proposals to the federal government. Can you outline how it is that they can submit a proposal when the guidelines are still to be released?

Mr Mrdak: The program guidelines, as I said, were set out in this year's budget. They have submitted project proposals for the five-year program.

Senator RHIANNON: Have the guidelines been set out for the Connecting People component of the program?

Mr Mrdak: We sought projects that will fit under that in terms of the guidance that have been given so far.

Senator RHIANNON: So there are guidelines for the Connecting People part?

Mr Mrdak: Yes, which were announced in the budget this year.

 

Page 34

Senator RHIANNON: When did they come out?

Mr Mrdak: On budget night this year.

Senator RHIANNON: Of the proposals received by the states, what percentage are devoted to the Connecting People part of the program and Urban Living?

Mr Mrdak: It would vary across individual jurisdictions. I would have to take that on notice.

Senator RHIANNON: You mean that it varies from state to state?

Mr Mrdak: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay, you can take that on notice. Thank you. What sort of community consultation would you expect the states to undertake in order to put in their submissions for the Connecting People funding?

Mr Mrdak: Again it varies among the jurisdictions. Some of them have been through quite detailed planning and community consultation processes. Other projects, I think it is fair to say, are at the more strategic planning level. I do not think there is a clear indication of which projects have been through detailed consultation and which ones have not.

Ms O'Connell: I also think in relation to that aspect that it is very much project dependent—the nature of the particular projects that the state has—in terms of the priorities.

Senator RHIANNON: The question was about what you expect the states to do. I understand that the states often vary it, but do you have any level of expectation with regard to community consultation?

Mr Mrdak: It will depend on the stage the project is at. Some projects have been through planning and environmental assessment processes, which do involve consultation. The bulk of the projects, though, are more likely to be at the stage of strategic planning. The information we are seeking is largely around the economic and connectivity benefits of the projects, which enables Infrastructure Australia and us to do an assessment of the project, rather than projects that have necessarily been through more detailed community consultation.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you outline the process for the Maldon to Dombarton rail link, particularly given that specialist engineers and environmental advisers are being sought to make the assessments.

Mr Wood: As you would be aware, last year the Prime Minister committed $25.5 million for detailed planning work on the Maldon to Dombarton study. The minister approved earlier this year a proposal by New South Wales to take that forward, and they are currently undertaking the procurement for the services which you described. I understand those tenders close this Friday.

Senator RHIANNON: How soon after that will you be making a decision on which tender is successful?

Mr Wood: We do not make that decision; it will be a matter for the New South Wales government. We sit on the project steering committee and associated governance, but we do not make the decision on the tender; that is something New South Wales does. As to the specific timing of that, it would typically be a small number of months. So I would expect it would be either late next year or early next year, but I do not have a specific timetable for that.

 

(Subject: National Smart Managed Motorways Program)

 

Page 57

Senator RHIANNON: I wanted to pick up on the National Smart Managed Motorways Program. What are the benchmarks put in place to assess whether this program is successful in addressing congestions in cities and improving overall efficiency of the transport network?

Ms Ekelund: Again, the Major Cities Unit is not responsible for managing this program. It is nation building.

Ms O'Connell: In terms of the managed motorways program, we can talk about some of the actual projects that have been funded and what they have delivered in terms of improved traffic flow, reduced carbon emissions as a result of traffic running more smoothly, reduced commuter times.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you give me examples of where the motorways are? Are you talking about the motorway projects in Sydney, for example?

Ms O'Connell: I am talking about some of the examples like the managed motorway project in Melbourne, that has delivered some good results, and I am happy to provide you with further information on that, on the results.

Senator RHIANNON: Which motorways have you been working on?

Ms O'Connell: There are a number of proposal projects in terms of managed motorways. Infrastructure Australia has rated it, I think, a project that is ready to proceed in terms of about $6 billion worth of managed motorways projects. Within each of those projects there is information about what the specific project intends to achieve.

Senator RHIANNON: And how have you determined that this will increase transport efficiency?

Ms O'Connell: That is part of the submissions. The project proposals are about what the individual project will achieve in terms of delivering greater throughput of traffic et cetera.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you supply information? I imagine you are aware that the former head of the Roads and Traffic Authority and state rail in New South Wales has been critical of this motorway emphasis, that it is in fact not bringing the promised results in terms of more efficient transport movements, and that the induce-traffic phenomenon is becoming more real. Is the induce-traffic aspect that goes with motorways something you have looked at?

Mr Mrdak: Can I just clarify. I think the comments you are referring to refer to new motorway projects and whether they are the appropriate choice for the investment in Sydney. What Ms O'Connell is talking about, the managed motorway program, is effectively retrofitting intelligent transport systems into existing motorways to increase flow, as you know. We can certainly have a look at, and provide you with information on notice on, the forecast benefits and also, as Ms O'Connell has indicated, some of the real experience that has already happened on some of the motorways, particularly in Melbourne, where there has been very successful introduction of ITS Technologies such as ramp metering and the like, which has improved traffic flow quite markedly. I think they are separate issues.

Senator RHIANNON: The induce-traffic phenomenon is something that is associated with existing motorways. It is not just something about new motorways. Is that something you have made an assessment of? Yes, it is well known that you get a speed-up of traffic in the early stages of motorways or with motorway upgrades but then in time the congestion comes and then the proposal is, 'Let's add another couple of lanes; let's look at how these ramps are managed.' Have you made the assessment that there is another side of motorways, where the induce-traffic phenomenon just results in more congestion because the message it sends to motorists is, 'Get in your cars and use these motorways'?

Mr Mrdak: The induce-traffic debate is a little bit of an inexact science. The reality is that if we are seeing more traffic on motorways, isn't that a good outcome, in the sense that we are seeing more activity, more development, more economic activity?

Senator RHIANNON: If it is congested, isn't that a problem? We are talking about congestion.

Mr Mrdak: Let's not get carried away with this induce-traffic debate. We build infrastructure to promote growth. People make judgements about the level of capacity and congestion on that. Our job is to ensure that we reduce congestion on all modes of transport to maximise the economic opportunities.

 

Page 58

Senator RHIANNON: You spoke about the scientific basis—and, I think, if I interpreted correctly, challenged—of some of the arguments around induced traffic.

Mr Mrdak: I think it is far from an exact science.

Senator RHIANNON: What is the scientific basis that your improvements will actually go on to relieve congestion?

Mr Mrdak: If you look at the experience of managed motorways and the technology that is now available, we are certainly seeing dramatic improvements in traffic flow, certainly in Melbourne and certainly internationally—quite significant improvements. Over time, quite clearly, as growth takes place, there will be new traffic which will enter those systems—and that is a good thing—as it does with every transport mode. So I am not too sure what the point you are making in relation to induce-traffic is.

Senator RHIANNON: You would be aware that there is considerable analysis that induce traffic in time results in motorway flows actually becoming heavily congested, and Sydney motorways are a classic example of that.

Mr Mrdak: You could make the same argument about public transport systems—as you improve the systems, people use them more and they become congested. Sorry, I do not understand your point.

Ms O'Connell: I think, Senator, the application of the intelligent transport system, as in the form of management motorways, allows you to avoid increasing additional lanes on motorways for a period of time, so you are just making more efficient use of the infrastructure you have.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes, but it seems that the message I am hearing from you, Mr Mrdak, is that you reject the induced traffic phenomenon and you are arguing that the issue of congestion can be managed successfully on city motorways.

Mr Mrdak: I do not think I would say I reject it; what I am saying—

CHAIR: Mr Mrdak, I am so sorry to cut in on you; Senator Rhiannon, I will have to make that your last question.

Mr Mrdak: I was saying I do not think I was rejecting induced traffic demand. I am saying it is inexact science and I am not too sure where it takes you as a point of policy.

Senator RHIANNON: So your—

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, I have been more than fair. I did put you on notice. I am sorry. It is your colleague you are cutting over.

 

(Subject: Aviation capacity for the Sydney region)

 

Page 69

Senator RHIANNON: I have just one question. My question concerns the joint study on aviation capacity for the Sydney region. There appears to be a contradiction or an inconsistency. The executive summary recommends Wilton as a second option if Badgerys Creek was ruled out. However, when examining part 8 of the report, the study identifies a number of options other than Wilton as preferable: Badgerys Creek; three other sites in the Nepean; as well as Wilberforce in the Hawkesbury and Somerset on the Central Coast. Why do we have that position where Wilton is coming in at No. 8, then you get to the executive summary and it is coming in as No. 2?

Mr Mrdak: I think you are referring there to the appendices which have all the rankings against the criteria. Is that where you are?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes in part 8.

 

Page 70

Mr Mrdak: At the end of the day it was a judgement made by the steering committee based on the reality of what would be likely to be a more viable site given the various issues involved. At the moment the next stage of the work we are doing for the Australian government is looking at the various site alternatives at Wilton as to whether they present major issues, and which may well be the more easily developed and viable option. I think it reflected a judgement at the end of the day by the steering committee, given all of the issues raised on the various sites, as to what would be a more viable option that could proceed to a development proposal.

Senator RHIANNON: So the question—

CHAIR: No, I am going to finish it now. I am sorry, Senator Rhiannon. If anyone out there in cyberland thinks I am picking on Senator Rhiannon, I am not, because there are only 15 minutes left for Airservices Australia and those out there will not have to put up with the sooking if someone, who has put their name down, does not get to ask their questions in that area. On that, I call Airservices Australia. Senator Rhiannon, put the questions on notice, thank you.

 

(Subject: Constitutional recognition of local government)

 

Page 111

Senator RHIANNON: Just following on from those questions: since the expert panel handed down their report the only information I could find on your website about this issue was a link to the expert panel's report. I was interested in what resources you have had to work on this issue? Does the fact that there really is effectively no information there reflect that you have not had resources to work on this issue of explaining to the public and setting out some information about the work towards constitutional recognition?

Mr O'Brien: As Julian Yates indicated before we have about four—

Mr Yates: We have had about four staff working on this. One of the department's priorities is to provide advice to government. You will appreciate that the government's position at this stage is that there is a notice of motion to a joint select committee, which will then provide advice to government. We are anticipating that it will discuss some of those issues in accordance with the terms of reference.

Senator RHIANNON: I appreciate that, but I was just curious. Since the last election it has clearly been something that we have been working to, but it is your own website where the public largely can gain information and make a judgement, or learn things about the sort of work that you undertake. So my question is: the fact that there is effectively no information there, does that reflect that there has not been much—

Mr Yates: No, it does not.

Mr O'Brien: At the end of the day, the government needs to make a decision about whether it proceeds to a referendum. We have supported the expert panel through that process and, as Mr Yates indicated, there will be further support prior to the joint select committee to deal with the terms of reference that they should be given.

Senator RHIANNON: Considering that you are well aware of the challenge that it is in referendums being passed in this country, that is, effectively, why I am asking the question. I was surprised that there was not information there just giving some background to this issue. Unless the public are aware and we are starting to build up that awareness—through the local council networks that you work with, with the public, gradually there can be greater understanding of these issues—it will be much harder to achieve it. Again, that is why I am asking this question: why has there not been coverage of the constitutional recognition on your public interface?

Dr McConchie: Could I just respond? The Australian Local Government Association was funded $250,000 to undertake some work, campaigning and raising awareness of local government constitutional recognition in the community.

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. I have spoken to them, and that is obviously excellent. But, again, I am not hearing why the department itself is not presenting that information there when it would seem that since the election of the last government it was a key part of the program. When I go to your site I would have expected to see more information.

Ms Beauchamp: A lot of work was done in supporting Chief Justice Spigelman, and the process did involve quite a few consultations that they had around the country. As Mr O'Brien and Mr Yates have said, we actually supported those and provided secretariat support to help with that consultation process. That was quite extensive, and I think it is quite proper that the expert panel, based on those consultations and advice to government, have presented their report.

Of course, we have been looking at doing work internally in providing advice to government. Minister Crean has indicated that he would like some further work done in progressing the election commitment. He has actually put the terms of reference and the like on the Notice Paper now to get the joint select committee looking at it. I think we need to look at parliamentary support more broadly for the terms of reference and the joint select committee.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you for outlining that the parliamentary support is obviously essential. Do you see that public support is important and that the department has a role to play—

Mr O'Brien: Our role is to advise the government in its deliberations.

Senator RHIANNON: Right. You do not see that is part of it—

Mr O'Brien: Certainly not at this point of time.

 

END

 

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