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Australian Local Government Association needs $300M funding boost for road funding at local councils

The Treasurer should support ALGA's $300m increase for local road funding as it accounts for most of Australia's road length and needs urgent maintenance.

By news@gippsland - 17th March 2023 - Back to News

The easiest decision for the Treasurer as he prepares for his May budget should be to fully support a bid by the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) to increase road funding for local councils by $300 million per year. Across Australia, the local road network accounts for 678,000 kilometres, or about 77% of the total road length in the nation, and it's been hammered by natural disasters and prolonged wet weather.

The Traralgon Railway Station has undergone quite a transformation according to Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester

The Traralgon Railway Station has undergone quite a transformation according to Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester

Neglecting road safety

Talk to any regional Australian about the issues which concern them most and the state of the road network is always near the top of the list. They are enduring potholes, road closures and deteriorating conditions which are damaging their vehicles and have become a contributory factor to road crashes which already cost our nation more than $30 billion per year. We are all expected by law to maintain our vehicles and drive roadworthy cars but regional Australians are driving on dangerous surfaces which aren't 'car-worthy'.

Road safety is a complex equation of safer drivers, in safer cars, on safer roads, driving at safe speeds but governments perennially gloss over the 'safer roads' part. Afterall, it's easier to blame the drivers than admit that much of our road network is poorly maintained and unsafe. And when you consider that most crashes occur close to a driver's home, the case for investing in local roads becomes stronger.

The temptation for a new government is to try to put their personal stamp on the department and invent a new roads program with a fancy new name when in reality, it's better to simply increase resources to an initiative if it's already working.

Efficient roads program

'Roads to Recovery' (R2R) has been around since 2001 and supports the construction and maintenance of the nation's local road infrastructure assets, which facilitates greater accessibility and also improves the safety, economic and social outcomes for all Australians.

It's the most cost-efficient funding program I've come across in 15 years as a Member of Parliament because the money isn't eroded by a bloated bureaucracy or arguments with the states about their pet projects.

As the peak body for Australia's 537 local councils, ALGA has emphasised that local governments are committed to working in partnership with the Australian government to improve road safety. Fifty two percent of all casualty crashes and 40% of all road deaths occur on local roads.

Local road priorities

As I said, the beauty of R2R is the small operational costs for the department and flexibility is built into the program, with funding recipients responsible for choosing road projects on which to spend their funding, based on their local priorities.

As Federal Minister for Transport in 2017, I issued the first 'statement of expectations' to encourage councils to increase their focus on road safety outcomes but the reality is, each municipality retains the flexibility to fix the roads which need the most attention in their area.

R2R funding increased

Under the previous Coalition government, funding for R2R was periodically increased and we made sure the program didn't have a sunset clause under the National Land Transport Act 2014. That means no new legislation is required for the continuation of the program and from 2019-20 to 2023-24, the Australian government provided $2.6 billion, with an ongoing commitment of $500 million each year following.

The ALGA budget bid for $300 million in additional funding each year is undeniable given the seasonal conditions, inflationary pressures, and the deteriorating state of the local road network.

The program has already funded the upgrade or repair of more than 70,000 roads and is essential to help councils address the maintenance backlog on local roads, improving productivity, boosting the visitor economy, and saving lives.

Funding shortfall acknowledged

The federal government will convene the Australian Council of Local Government in June where they will hear these same sentiments directly from elected councillors. However, by then it will be too late and the time to act is in the May budget.

This is not a case of local councils going to Canberra with a begging bowl because they can't manage their own budgets. The growing demands on local government are extensive and it's well recognised that they can't keep up with the transport task within the current funding envelope.

In a recent parliamentary submission, the Victorian Farmers Federation stated that a lack of road maintenance funding has only exacerbated damage caused by recent flooding. That is, our regional roads were already on a poor trajectory and the natural disasters have just accelerated the decline.

Capacity to deliver

The VFF made the point that "enhancing the resilience of the road network to deal with extreme weather events is important, but it can only be achieved by ensuring there is regular maintenance to keep them at an acceptable standard. Maintenance funding keeps going backwards and worryingly Victorians keep risking their lives on dodgy and dangerous roads."

Much of Australia's road network was established more than a century ago and is struggling to cope with the agricultural machinery and high productivity freight vehicles which are essential for regional prosperity.

Sure, maintenance funding isn't sexy and the local MP doesn't get to cut a ribbon to open a newly repaired pothole. But the Treasurer needs to understand that Councils are the level of government with the greatest capacity to deliver immediate road safety and productivity improvements, and he should listen to peak bodies and motorists who are desperate for increased funding.

Pictures from VicRoads Facebook page.


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