Councils call out transport funding shortfall

Australian councils have used an ongoing inquiry to call on the government to fork out funding to help them build a future-fit transport network.

A submission last week to an ongoing Productivity Commission inquiry asks for the roll-out of a new plan alongside a five-year $1 billion investment to help councils plug the costs of a makeover to the national transport network.

The inquiry comes as councils grapple with a suite of reforms to heavy vehicle laws which increase the burden on councils to ensure that roads are safe and well-maintained and require them to formally consent to heavy vehicles operating on their roads.

As part of the inquiry, the Commission is looking into the long-term economic impacts of transport regulatory reforms including whether councils have the resources to efficiently assess road access applications.

Councils need $200 million each year for five years to help them deal with the changes and manage future freight growth, the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) argues, pointing to the fact that around 75 per cent of roads are local despite councils receiving just 0.55 per cent of federal funding.

“Local government needs access to an initial five-year grant program to effectively play its role in providing a national transport network fit for purpose which is capable of supporting growth and national productivity,” the peak says.

Despite having the largest relative task in terms of asset management, with the asset renewal gap estimated to be around $136 billion, councils have the smallest relative revenue base, the submissions to the inquiry into the economic consequences of National Transport Regulatory Reforms argue.

“Unlike other levels of government, Local Government has no direct mechanisms to raise funds for road construction and maintenance such as road user charges, registration charges, or any road- or transport-related fees or charges,” it says.

The cost of fixing the billion-dollar infrastructure backlog is particularly burdensome for regional councils with less revenue-raising capacity, ALGA argues.

The peak also called for the roll-out of a plan which backs councils to help them address barriers to new heavy vehicle laws and facilitate more freight on local roads.

This call for funding was backed by Victoria’s local government peak, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), who urged the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to advocate for more funding to flow to local councils to help them assess roads, bridges and old infrastructure.

“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,” the peak said.

The injection could create substantial returns on investment, the peak argues, potentially unlocking over $1 billion in additional GDP and creating almost 10,000 jobs.

Meanwhile the Local Government Association of Queensland’s submission called on the government to help councils attract and retain qualified engineers.

“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,” it says.

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