BUDGET 08/09: $20b to build Australia, but only downpayment for roads

By: Jason Whittaker

The Rudd Government has found $3.2 billion to fund road and rail election promises in an inflation-fighting Budget handed down

The Rudd Government has found $3.2 billion to fund road and rail election promises in an inflation-fighting Budget handed down by the Treasurer Wayne Swan tonight.

The Government has also resisted pressure from green groups to cut the fuel tax credit scheme for trucking operators, a move warmly welcomed by the transport industry.

Rudd has pledged $20 billion to the Government’s Building Australia Fund, which he says will be used to finance road, rail and port projects as well as broadband and communication infrastructure in the future.

But already there is criticism the Government has failed to fund new infrastructure projects in the longer term, with no projects linked to the Building Australia Fund.

The $3.2 billion makes an "early start on election commitments", according to Transport Minister Anthony Albanese.

"We're getting a head start on nearly $560 million worth of projects that weren't due to commence until 2009-10, as well as delivering projects to upgrade interstate transport networks and critical freight corridors," he says.

The 2008-09 investment program includes:
  • New South Wales: starting the Ballina and Bulahdelah bypasses on the Pacific Highway, the Great Western Highway between Penrith and Katoomba and the Alstonville bypass in Northern New South Wales.
  • Victoria: improving capacity on the Westgate Bridge and starting Stage 4A of the Geelong Ring Road.
  • Queensland: finishing the Townsville Port Access Road up to two years early and doing further work on the Ipswich Motorway and the Bruce Highway.
  • Western Australia: $160 million to finish the New Perth-Bunbury Highway as well as planning funds for the Bunbury Port Access Road Stage 1 and the Great Eastern Highway from the Perth CBD to the airport
  • South Australia: $118.8 million so the Northern Expressway can finish in 2010 and funds to plan for the Main South Road upgrade
  • Local government: $936.9 million to help Australia's 620 councils maintain and improve local roads
  • Rail: $192 million for the national rail network, including improving connections to Port Botany, the Port of Melbourne and the inland rail study between Melbourne and Brisbane. In addition the Government’s Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) will invest $780 million in major rail projects.
  • Safety: $50.5 million to eliminate black spots and improve road safety.
Swan has also announced the Government will commit $75 million to immediate feasibility studies to determine high priority transport projects. The aim of the investment, Swan says, is to begin necessary planning work for key projects before Infrastructure Australia takes shape.

Albanese says the transport funding is part of fighting inflation and putting downward pressure on interest rates.

"These initiatives deliver on our election commitments and tackle major bottlenecks, congestion hotspots and safety issues," he says.

But shadow transport minister and Nationals leader Warren Truss says Labor’s commitments for road and rail funding will be at least $10 billion less than promised by the Coalition.

"Money allocated to the Building Australia Fund will not be available for projects for some years and most of the money previously allocated for this year will be shifted into planning only," he says.

Meanwhile, Swan has announced the Government will invest $11 billion in new education initiatives in an effort to beat the skills shortage crisis.

"Tonight I announce that the Government will invest $11 billion in a new Education Investment Fund to finance skills, TAFE colleges and universities," he says.

The Federal Budget projects a surplus of $21.7 billion, or 1.8 percent of GDP, which Swan says is "the largest budget surplus as a share of GDP in nearly a decade".

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