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2010 National Local Roads and Transport Congress Communiqué

Bunbury, WA - 15 October 2010

More than 300 leading representatives of councils from across Australia met as the National Local Roads and Transport Congress in Bunbury, Western Australia, to examine the issues critical to Australia's local roads, transport services and infrastructure.

In considering the transport needs of local government, delegates acknowledged that local government serves a range of communities in remote, rural, regional, urban and inner city locations and that local government bodies achieves the best outcomes for their communities when working together while emphasising their diverse needs.

Delegates congratulated ALGA on the National Local Roads and Transport Policy Agenda 2010-20 launched at the National General Assembly in June 2010 as requested by the 2009 Congress, and called on the Federal and State Governments to act on the Agenda to address the local roads needs of communities across the nation. In making this call, delegates asked the Federal government to come to the table to discuss solutions to local road issues.

Delegates reaffirmed the obligation of councils to manage assets effectively, noted the significant efforts of councils to improve the management of local road assets through the adoption of strong asset management frameworks and welcomed the Federal Government's Local Government Reform Fund to assist local government to continue to improve its asset management. However they noted that improved asset management alone could not meet the backlog of funding to address the issue.

The Congress acknowledged the significant contribution that the Roads to Recovery funding has made to improving local roads and the economic, social and community benefits the program has achieved to date and congratulated the Federal Government for continuing the Program to 2014. Delegates noted that much more needs to be done to address the crisis in the provision and maintenance of local roads across Australia. Delegates expressed alarm at the continuing decline in the condition of the local roads network resulting from systemic under-investment. They expressed concern that continued under-investment in local roads hinders local and regional social and economic development and ultimately affects the development of the nation as a whole.

Delegates welcomed the release of an ALGA study into local road funding. The study found expenditure on local roads has been less than the life cycle cost for the past 5 years and that the shortfall in funding to simply maintain rather than improve Australia’s local roads in the period from 2010 to 2025 is estimated to be around $1.2 billion annually.

This study follows others which have highlighted infrastructure investment shortfalls and local government believes it is time to address the funding gap.

Delegates called for all governments to take concerted action to address the underfunding of local roads and accepted that local government must meet its own funding obligations, within available resources.

Delegates called for:

  • Roads to Recovery to be continued beyond 2014 at a rate of $1.2 billion per year, indexed in line with the cost increases of roads and bridges and made permanent until the backlog is removed;
  • re-introduction of the Strategic Regional Roads Program to fund upgrades to regionally important local roads with projects for funding be selected by an independent agency, similar to Infrastructure Australia; and
  • a dedicated program of funding for bridge maintenance and renewal.

Delegates expressed interest in the work requested by the Council of Australian Governments on heavy vehicle charging and called on the Federal and State Governments to ensure that:

  • any system of roads user charging includes local roads and that local government be fully engaged prior to implementation;
  • any system of mass-distance-location charging for heavy vehicles includes local roads;
  • the revenue resulting from charging users of local roads is paid to the council that owns the road; and
  • this funding be in addition to R2R funding which is to help address the backlog on local roads.

Delegates reminded the Federal Government that:

  • local government is responsible for more than 80% of the nation's road network on which more than 25% of the transport task is undertaken and the efficient operation of the local road system is vital to the national economy;
  • while Federal funds make an important contribution, nationally local roads are predominantly funded by councils from their own revenue sources
  • the costs faced by local governments in fixing roads in National Parks could be reduced by allowing councils access gravel and water resources from within National Parks;
  • all Australians are entitled to expect adequate transport infrastructure that enables them to have reasonable access to basic facilities. This is a basic community service obligation of government;
  • social cohesion and inclusion is dependent on access to social, medical and educational facilities in both urban and regional Australia and is critically dependent on an efficient and effective transport system;
  • the movement of people in regional areas depends on good roads because of reduced rail and aviation services;
  • transport planning continues on the basis that motor vehicles, but not necessarily powered by oil, will remain the dominant form of transport in our cities and regional areas for the foreseeable future;
  • collaboration on developing strategies to adapt to changes in the way transport will need to be delivered in the future, for example, in a low carbon economy, is essential;
  • rail is important as a low carbon option which can take pressure off the roads system if investment is increased in the rail network;
  • consideration must be given to the most appropriate locations to settle the expanded population including examining the scope for decentralising industry and government agencies; and
  • retaining land and providing transport links for sustainable food and agricultural production is critically important.

Delegates called for urgent action to deal with the backlog in public transport in existing areas and to make early provision for it in newly-developing areas and the recognition of the importance of involving local government in the planning of major urban transport infrastructure.

Delegates reiterated their call for action to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of local government by the provision of a fair share of at least 1% of Commonwealth taxation revenue (excluding GST) to local government as an untied intergovernmental transfer.

Delegates called for a review of the formula for the distribution of the identified roads grants to ensure that the distribution of these funds is based on the relative needs of local government in states and territories. In developing any new formula, no state or territory, however, should be financially worse off.

Delegates also called for Federal Government assistance to combat state government cost-shifting to local governments.

Finally, delegates confirmed the need for local government to be recognised in the Australian Constitution to ensure that the Federal Government can provide direct funding to local government, for example through the Roads to Recovery Program. Delegates noted the importance of bipartisan support and called on all major political parties at the federal and state level to support constitutional recognition of local government.

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