(Australian Associated Press)
Infrastructure will be “absolutely critical” to Australia’s success in the 21st century, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says.
Launching a landmark 15-year blueprint for Australian infrastructure on Wednesday, Mr Turnbull said the government was committed to using infrastructure to take advantage of Asia’s growing middle class.
“We have this phenomenal opportunity,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Brisbane.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the report was “visionary”, proposing an inland rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane.
“This is something that makes people excited about the future,” Mr Joyce said.
The link would make roads safer and commerce more efficient, he said, while driving prosperity to towns in between the major cities.
Major Projects Minister Paul Fletcher said the report was an important planning tool for commonwealth and state governments in assessing which projects would go forward.
The Infrastructure Australia report suggests a user-pays approach to provide greater fairness in the way Australia pays for its roads.
It calls for the introduction of direct heavy vehicle charging within five years and direct user charging for all vehicles within ten years while removing existing taxes and charges.
That would free up taxpayer dollars to invest in other priorities like social services, health and education.
Mr Fletcher said the government was already looking at heavy vehicle charging and investigating the benefits and costs around introducing cost-reflective road pricing, with recommendations to go to COAG by 2017/18.
“It is an important reform direction to study and we will look at it carefully.”
Mr Turnbull said Australia had been less imaginative than it should have when it comes to funding infrastructure.
A better calibrated user-pays system had its attractions but it had to be done in a way that was fair and equitable, he said.
“You can see the inequities that would arise if you were to jump into road pricing or congestion pricing as they have done in London, immediately.
“It is important to put these things on the table and examine them,” he said.