Balancing public transport and road expenditure

By Jane Dargarville

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s (ACF) call for Australian governments to adopt a national strategy to reduce reliance on imported oil was timely, coming two days before Shell’s announcement on April 29 of its plan to close the Clyde oil refinery in Victoria.

ACF coupled its appeal to cut the demand for oil and avert the vulnerability prompted by vagaries in supply – with a call to ‘rebalance’ the federal and state transport budgets, so that two-thirds be spent on public and active transport and one-third on roads.

The ACF’s entreaty for fundamental changes to transport policy was accompanied by an analysis of transport spending over the past decade, which showed governments have spent 4.3 times more on public roadway construction than on public railway construction.

Of the $11.3 billion spent in 2008-9 on road construction, $5.1 billion was given away by the federal government as fuel tax credits and more than $1 billion was spent through the fringe benefits tax to encourage the private use of company cars.

“These high figures starkly contrast with the $3.3 billion spent in 2008-9 on rail construction,” the ACF report said.

It went on to say Australia’s states and territories had “a pattern of significant underspending on public transport infrastructure” and “due to neglect and deferred project”, Australia was illequipped to meet the transport challenges of congestion, pollution and rising petrol prices.

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