EDITORIAL: Rudd Govt gets Labor states on board reform bus

By: Graham Gardiner

There’s a notable spring in the step of the bureaucrats at the National Transport Commission headquarters in Bourke Street, Melbourne.

There’s a notable spring in the step of the bureaucrats at the National Transport Commission headquarters in Bourke Street, Melbourne.

And it’s not surprising. Despite fears about the implications of wall-to-wall Labor governments across Australia, the election of the Rudd Government is producing some very encouraging signs for the transport sector.

The Australian Transport Council (ATC) has already met for the first time in nearly 12 months and, in addition to approving the proposed overhaul of heavy vehicle charges, the result is a firm commitment to developing a national, co-ordinated transport policy for the nation.

While it’s only words at the moment, the announcement from last Friday’s ATC meeting is more than was delivered in 11 years of the Howard Government.

Crucially, the NTC’s advice to Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Anthony Albanese, has a heavy emphasis on all modes of transport, including public transport.

It’s only a start, but the fact that transport ministers have "enthusiastically" agreed to support a national approach to transport policy, and the formation of a number of working group to address reform "hotspots" including possible actions to promote increased public transport availability and use, is very encouraging.

The key – as the NTC and the road freight transport industry has found over the past decade or so – is to get competing jurisdictions to agree to nationally consistent reforms in areas in which they’re reluctant to give up control. And they deliver on their commitment.

Determining the priorities is the easy part; it’s coming to agreement on solutions that’s proved the stumbling block in the trucking sector.

It won’t be easy to develop national service standards for public transport based on measurable performance indicators, or a national action plan to address congestion, including pricing options, intelligent transport systems and funding priorities.

And the call for the abolition of FBT concessions for car use that provide incentives to increase annual kilometres driven within three years will be difficult politically.

But as NTC Chief Executive Nick Dimopoulos pointed out in an address to this week’s Roads Summit in Sydney, "in the absence of a co-ordinated national transport policy and plan to move people and freight safely and efficiently, our cities will become pretty ordinary places to live in, with urban congestion costing $20 billion by 2020".

What do you think? Email your thoughts to Chris.Smith@psamedia.com.au.

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