Early return to surplus could provide local infrastructure boost

By Angela Dorizas

With the Federal Government planning to restore the budget to surplus in the next three years, investment in local community infrastructure should be high on its agenda, the Australian Local Government Association has said.

ALGA president Geoff Lake said local government welcomed the early return to surplus foreshadowed in the 2010/11 Budget and the opportunity it could provide for further investment in infrastructure.

“We believe this is a responsible budget which positions the country well for increased nation building investment in coming years,” Cr Lake said.

“We want to see local infrastructure investment included in that future investment.”

Cr Lake said the $1 billion community infrastructure spending included in the economic stimulus package was a “good start”, but an ongoing funding program was required.

“Without doubt, the great success story of the stimulus package is the community infrastructure component, with more than 3000 projects delivered across every corner of the country,” Cr Lake said.

“Major sporting grounds, opera houses and national highways are important, but what really makes a difference in people's everyday lives is the local facilities and services that support where they live – the local parks, main streets, libraries and civic spaces.

“Taxpayers have a right to see some of their tax dollars invested in these important areas."

ALGA also welcomed the Government’s decision to bring forward the first quarterly payment of the 2010-11 Financial Assistance Grants, worth an estimated $511 million.

“Bringing the first quarterly grants payment forward from August to June will help to smooth out the cash flow, especially in rural and regional councils which rely heavily on the Financial Assistance Grants,” Cr Lake said.

“The last thing small communities need as we emerge from the downturn is a reduction in the cash available because of a reduced cash flow for the council.”

Funding for cities infrastructure

The Urban Taskforce has raised concerns that the National Infrastructure Priority List has been overlooked in this year’s Federal Budget process.

The Taskforce’s chief executive, Aaron Gadiel, said the 2010/11 Budget did not include funding for priority urban infrastructure projects in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, worth $32 billion in total.

“In last year’s budget, the federal government allocated funding to $4.5 billion of urban transport projects on the recommendation of Infrastructure Australia,” Mr Gadiel said.

“This was a good start, but it left eight key urban transport projects unfunded, each identified by Infrastructure Australia as part of a ‘priority pipeline’ of projects.”

Mr Gadiel said the projects, costed at $32 billion, included $14.8 billion for Brisbane’s public transport system; $13.1 billion for Sydney’s public transport system; $2.6 billion in Queensland motorway improvements; and $700 million for the Mornington Peninsula Connector Road in Victoria.

“We’re disappointed that nothing in this year’s budget advances any of these projects,” he said.

“This means that Sydney and Brisbane’s public transport remain completely unaddressed by the Federal Government, despite the generous assistance extended to other state capitals.”

Mr Gadiel welcomed the creation of a new Infrastructure Fund, with an initial $700 million deposit by the Federal Government, but said the Government was being biased to the demands of resource-rich states

“This won’t be any comfort the commuters of Sydney or Melbourne,” he said.

“In any event, its modest size means it can’t adequately address the infrastructure needs of either Brisbane or Perth.”

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