The Australian Local Government Association has told a Productivity Commission inquiry that an Australian Government investment of $200m per annum would help local councils play their role in building a national transport network that boosts the economy, creates thousands of jobs, and handles future freight growth.
ALGA was responding to the Commission’s issues paper, which is part of its assessment of the economic consequences of National Transport Regulatory Reforms which the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed in 2008-09. These reforms cover heavy vehicle safety and productivity, rail safety, and maritime safety.
“ALGA proposes a Productivity Investment Plan to facilitate increased freight access on local roads by addressing current barriers to effective implementation of the Heavy Vehicle National Law,” the submission said.
“The Plan recognises that regional groups of councils may be at different stages of maturity in developing regional transport plans and implementation.
“Some groups of councils will require funding to address one or all of the gaps.”
AGLA proposes the plan be funded at $200m a year for five years, adding that its analysis showed this investment could unlock over $1 billion in additional GDP and create up to 9,500 new jobs.
While the Commonwealth has not directly responded to ALGA’s plan, the 2019-20 Budget included $6m in funding to the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to fund engineering assessments for local government-owned road network infrastructure.
The Commission is inquiring into topics such as are there opportunities for further integration in transport, have regulatory burdens and costs fallen, and are national transport regulators working effectively with local governments?
The Commission’s Issues Paper also asked if local government had the resources, data access and expertise to efficiently assess road access applications.
The Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) in its submission said attracting and retaining qualified engineering staff and a loss of corporate knowledge was a challenge for councils.
“While significant progress has been through LGAQ’s arrangement with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, the LGAQ is concerned that progress may cease, or even be eroded, without dedicated support over the coming years particularly considering the prospect of an entirely revised legislative framework once the National Transport Commission’s review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law is complete,” it wrote.
“Access to data, whether it be through mandatory telematics or other sources, will not only provide assurances that any imposed conditions are complied with but also aid the planning, delivery and maintenance of appropriate road corridors utilised by heavy vehicle operators.
“Local land use planning and regional level transport planning considerations should also be noted, especially in the context of the broader implications of local access decisions”.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) in its submission said it was crucial councils received more funding to assess roads, bridges and culvert infrastructure to accommodate future freight requirements.
“The NHVR could play a role in advocating to the Commonwealth the need for investment in a range of road infrastructure to assist productivity and increase the safety of the freight task,” the MAV wrote.
“If councils were able to access a fee for processing the increasing volume of permit applications, this would enable them to increase internal capacity and process more applications in the required timeframe.”
ALGA, meanwhile, also outlined local government’s role in the future of transportation and significant disruptions underway because of new technologies including autonomous and electric vehicles.
“To allow for the transport of the future to be adopted in the short to long term, all tiers of government, transport operators, transport and infrastructure providers, industry and communities must work towards a common vision,” the submission said.
“Local governments have a significant role in relation to fostering community acceptance and mitigating public concern towards the introduction and adoption of new technologies that continue to come before us.”
The Commission is expected to release its draft report in November 2019 and hold public hearings in early 2020.