Home' Future Building: The Australian Infrastructure Review : Volume 8 Number 1 Contents futurebuilding 95
The things we agree on
AA: I think that part of the problem with the debate is that
the advocates in the sector haven’t sold the issue. Sydney’s
Cross City Tunnel is fantastic – it saves a lot of time, costs $5 or
so, and it’s worth it, unless 20 minutes of your time isn’t worth
$5. But everyone is so bloody shy about going out there and
advocating it. So, in terms of toll roads, people have got to be
prepared to have the argument out there in the business sector.
BL: People can conflate tolls and wider network pricing?
AA: That’s right. Exactly.
That’s part of the problem. My side has been constructive
since Paul came out and announced his study. I didn’t quite
do a joint media release, but I didn’t bag it, which is frankly
sometimes the best you can do from Opposition. Is it uniform?
Are there some people in Parliament from all political parties
who don’t let a chance go by; if there’s a ball they swing at each
one? Yeah, there are. That’s part of the dynamic that we need
to address as a nation.
The major parties need to wake up to the fact that some of
the behaviour from senior people in mainstream politics is what
is pushing people to the Greens, One Nation and to the fringes.
People are reacting against the yelling and the negativity of things.
I don’t think that’s widely recognised yet, but I certainly see it, and
I know that there are people in the Government who see it, too.
PF: Can I say one thing on the specific issue? The Council
of Australian Governments (COAG) made a decision to
accelerate the heavy-vehicle user charging process. That’s
three per cent of vehicles that weigh more than 4.5 tonnes.
We’ve got a couple of technical measures that we’re working on
at the moment, and we’re appointing an independent regulator,
as well as coming up with an affordable cost base consistent
with what’s used in energy and telecommunications, and other
utility sectors. We put out a discussion paper on that, and it
will be on the agenda at the next Transport and Infrastructure
Council (TIC), the meeting of state and federal transport and
There is a process underway there, which has been
endorsed by COAG. In some ways, because people in the
trucking sector are running a business, the notion of paying for
an input is understood. I won’t say people love to pay it, but
paying for an input is understood, and you’ve seen that obviously
in the response of the trucking sector on some specific tollways.
People are prepared to pay for tolls because of the time savings
it gives them.
AA: Can I give you an anecdote that shows how difficult this
is going to be?
When I went to chair my first ministerial council meeting
in early 2008, one of the issues on the agenda was a heavy-
vehicle user charge, which is supposed to increase every year.
That’s not a foreshadowed thing, it’s just recouping money
that’s already been spent. I asked when the last increase was,
and the answer was eight years prior to that. I asked why that
happens. What had happened is that every year, theoretically,
a state had an election coming up. In 2002, South Australia had
an election coming up, so the South Australian Government
said, ‘We’ll stand up for truckies, and we won’t support the
increase,’ and the next year, New South Wales said, ‘We’ll
stand up for truckies,’ so it wouldn’t happen because one
government would say no, and they’d all fall over. We had
an increase every year while I was Minister. We had very
forthright discussions about what the consequences would be
at the dinners held before the formal meetings. ‘Do you want
any funding at all next year?’ Just stop playing politics with
them, but that’s what you’re up against.
There is a temptation there in some ways; it’s always
easy to say no. The hard thing is to say yes to a government,
or to a federal issue, when you’re a state government. Our
election cycles are too short – there’s always an election
PF: That’s true. Can I make one other point about heavy-vehicle
user charging? Apart from the fact that a number of people in the
sector have sidled up to me at various points and said, ‘Oh, so
you’re the Minister who’s now got responsibility for heavy-vehicle
user charging. Well, good luck,’ it’s gone off the rails spectacularly
on a couple of occasions. One of the reasons for that is because
it was all framed in terms of econocrat jargon, which sounds great
in Canberra, but the trucking industry didn’t see an advantage for
them in it. To make any significant progress, the industry is going
to have to see that there’s something in it for them.
I was in New Zealand earlier this year, getting a briefing on
their system, and while I was there, I talked to the peak body
of the trucking association, who were positive about where their
system’s ended up – despite some terrible politics along the way.
BL: Paul, if I can just ask you before you move off road
pricing, when can we expect you to fire the starter gun on the
PF: In the coming months, I think we’ll be in the position to
announce our eminent Australian and begin.
AA: Pending High Court decisions.
BL: Indeed. You can re-use the Max Moore-Wilton press
release when that happens.
Another area where both of you have been in vigorous
agreement is around smart cities, but trying to understand what
smart cities are is difficult. I’ve never heard anyone calling out,
saying they wanted a dumb or stupid city. What is a smart city?
PF: To me, smart cities are the opportunity to use
technology to get better utilisation out of existing infrastructure.
Whether it’s managed motorway technology – which has a
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