Coalition Senators are of the view that this Inquiry was a poor use of
the limited resources of the Senate considering that the licensing and
construction of Toll Roads is exclusively within the purview of State Governments.
Government Senators note that the majority report makes this very point at
paragraph 2. The commercial decisions of State Governments to engage with Toll
Road operators in order to augment their infrastructure spending is a valid and
sensible response to growth in metropolitan populations, and to ensuing the
enhanced transport needs of the populace.
Government Senators take the view that road and other surface transport
solutions remain critical to the transport matrix in the cities and regions of
Australia. There is no persuasive argument being put forward at this time to
dissuade policy-makers away from surface transport solutions.
The Australian electorate expect to be able to get to and from work with
relative ease and safety. At this time, road transport is the best way to
deliver on these expectations.
The argument that roads are public assets and should therefore not
attract user-based charges is redundant. Governments do not want to raise
taxes, nor do they want to increase public debt. The do, however, want to
provide excellent services and infrastructure for the community. Meeting the
needs and expectations of the community sometimes requires a cost-recovery or
user-pays model to be adopted.
Identifying urban infrastructure needs is an exacting science however
locating the best form of financing for such infrastructure is often a more
arcane endeavour. Government Senators caution strongly against any proposal to
increase public debt to facilitate transport solutions when there are economically
and socially viable alternatives, such as toll road arrangements, available.
Government Senators agree with the majority report at paragraph 2.24
that 'The logic of using tolls to fund road construction is reasonable.'
Government Senators are of the view that in most cases members of the
public have the option of using the toll road or an alternative route and, as
such, do not subscribe to the suggestion that toll roads create financial
disadvantage. On the contrary, toll roads create options and provide the
opportunity to make occasional decisions based on individual situations.
Government Senators acknowledge that economies of scale may result in
metropolitan residents receiving a disproportionate level of access to publicly
funded roads; however, programs under the Northern Australian development
banner are addressing any perceived inequity between metropolitan and regional
Australians in the infrastructure space.
Government Senators do not imagine that toll roads are intended for use
for all residents at all times. It would be sensible to expect that people will
exercise discretion regarding their use of toll roads in alignment with their
needs and their situation. Accruing a toll road debt is no different to an
unpaid parking fine or other statutory remittance: getting into such a
situation is inadvisable. Toll roads should only be used by persons who can
afford to manage the costs of such use. Government Senators note that the
principal operator of the toll roads, Transurban, have themselves established a
Tolling Customer Ombudsman to assist people who find themselves in such
situations. The impact of the cost of tolls on businesses would no doubt be
offset by the reduction in task completion time, fuel costs, vehicle
maintenance and driver fatigue that would be achieved by using high-quality
Regarding the majority report’s criticism of the WestConnex project at
paragraph 6.9, Government Senators note that the report fails to recognise that
the project has already been assessed by Infrastructure NSW and by
Infrastructure Australia as delivering positive economic benefits—and the
project is listed as a High Priority Project on IA’s Infrastructure Priority
Government Senators disagree with recommendation 3 as they note that
tolling is a state issue and any policy regarding the recoupment of unpaid
tolls is a matter for state governments.
Government Senators disagree with recommendation 5 on the grounds that
it is vague and ambiguous. Generic phrases like 'take account' and 'might constrain'
makes the intent of this recommendation unclear. Such a broad and unclear
recommendation adds little to the validity of the majority report.
Government Senators disagree with recommendation 6, because as signalled
in the most recent federal Budget, and as the Prime Minister has said on
multiple occasions, the Commonwealth will no longer be an ATM to the states for
grant funding for infrastructure projects.
The Government is committed to using innovative funding and financing
measures, where appropriate, to complement traditional approaches to providing
grants to state and territory governments for infrastructure, particularly for
roads and rail.
Government Senators also note that there is a significant grant
component as part of our infrastructure commitment and this profile is largely
dependent on the states and territories. The Government is being an active
partner with state government on major infrastructure projects. This early
involvement in the planning process will allow the Government to better plan
and manage its forward infrastructure commitments
Senator Jane Hume Senator
the Hon Ian Macdonald
Deputy Chair Senator
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