Warren Truss, Australia’s new Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, has a strong background in the sector, having been Minister for Transport in the Howard Government. Those involved in transport and infrastructure hope he will move swiftly to implement the Coalition’s policy promises.
The appointment of Jamie Briggs to serve as Australia’s first Assistant Minister for Infrastructure serves as an immediate recognition of the increased expectations that will rest on the Abbott Government.
The Coalition’s commitment to roads has already been well documented. The party has budgeted $18.5 billion budgeted for roads, including $33 million to improve the Outback Way – Australia’s longest short cut – but the Coalition’s plans extend well beyond this. They also recognise the importance of the aviation sector, which employs in excess of 100,000 people and contributes an estimated $17.3 billion to the Australian economy.
The Coalition’s Policy for Aviation will improve consultation, reform the structure of key safety agencies and provide support to struggling sectors of the industry. This includes an additional $3.5 million investment to support regional aviation by introducing a new and better targeted En Route Rebate Scheme for regional commercial airline carriers to support low volume and new routes to small and remote communities.
They also plan better utilisation of Australian airspace, including tasking Airservices Australia with fast-tracking technological and navigational improvements at airports and pursuing methods to decrease aircraft noise for communities.
Also high on the agenda is helping communities struggling with high unemployment. To tackle this issue, the Coalition has established a National Stronger Regions Fund, which will improve local facilities, create local jobs and build essential infrastructure. This includes investing $200 million each year in local capital works projects.
As of 2015, councils and community groups will be able to apply for grants between $20,000 and $10 million to meet half the cost of community building projects. Disadvantaged regions with a higher than average unemployment rate will receive priority funding.
“We will work with local communities by backing successful projects and contributing up to 50 per cent of the funds needed to construct them. The remaining funds for the projects will come from local government, state governments, the community and the private sector,” Truss said.
To do all this strengthening, providing Infrastructure Australia with the resources to ensure it can facilitate greater private sector investment will be important.
Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA) chief executive Brendan Lyon said Truss is widely respected and used his time in opposition well, “using deep consultations with the sector to deliver a detailed plan to reform Infrastructure Australia and better equip that agency to achieve practical outcomes.”