Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Auditor-General's Reports

Report No. 27 of 2011-12

4:42 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the same matter. Like Senator Abetz, I have only been in possession of these documents for around an hour. Unlike Senator Abetz, who jumped to a whole heap of hasty conclusions to score a cheap point at the expense of cyclists, I am going to make some observations. I will acknowledge that Senator Abetz is a keen cyclist. The only thing that the coalition did not do during 12 years of government was fund cycling. I want to make some quick comments on the executive summary, which is what Senator Abetz did.

I pay a great deal of attention to documents that come from the Australian National Audit Office, particularly when it is a report on something as important as cycling infrastructure. This is all we have to show for the last couple of years of Commonwealth funding and investment in cycling programs. Senators will perhaps be surprised to learn that apart from this program, which the ANAO has provided this report on today, there is no standing Commonwealth appropriation for cycling infrastructure. As important as that is—and many of us in this place and in the broader community take advantage of this infrastructure when it does go in—there is not a single dollar of Commonwealth money spent on a standing appropriation for cycling.

The only way to get the Commonwealth government to fund cycling initiatives is to put a freeway in. Some of the larger urban freeway projects that have been put in in the last couple of years have had bike paths alongside them. Apart from that, not a single dollar has gone into cycling. That is an enormous shame.

I missed the first few moments of the no doubt memorable contribution on this matter from Senator Abetz. I presume that he spent the first minute or so sledging the Greens for having come up with this initiative. We did, of course, and I am happy to take credit for it. It was a Greens initiative to put cycling infrastructure in with the Jobs Fund. After that, once the government had taken carriage of that and agreed that cycling was worthwhile—that putting this infrastructure in and having a Commonwealth appropriation for cycling was a good idea—regrettably, the Australian Greens lost all control and oversight of that funding.

This, quite literally, is the first opportunity we have had to see how the government handled it. And I think that the key takeaway is that it takes longer than you think. What the government was trying to do was to put people to work on the spot, straightaway, right at the point where we thought the world financial system was going to seize up. I think that what is very clearly shown, certainly from page 17 of this short executive summary, is that it took a lot longer than that for people actually to get to work. What that tells me is that the states and territories, and probably the majority of local governments, were not ready. When the Commonwealth said, 'Give us whatever proposals you have right now to put people to work on cycling right now,' they were not able to.

The graph on page 17 quite clearly shows that. Some of the funding is still washing through. In fact, on page 16 it indicates that some of the final funding will not have been spent until next month—until April 2012. Senator Abetz is quite right to point out that the funding was not all dispersed right at the point where world financial markets were having their heart attacks and that, in fact, it took considerably longer to put all these projects onto the ground.

I do not know what we can take away from that, apart from the fact that we do need to be ready. What I take away from this is that we do need metropolitan and regional centre cycling strategies and plans that can be funded and that can be built in a systematic way. In my home state of Western Australia and in my home city of Perth we have just discovered that the Perth Bike Network is effectively half built. I have just produced a map of the Perth Bike Network and there are these little dots, dashes, segments and fragments of a bike network that in no way resemble a network. They will try and kill you when you run off the end of some—you are spilled back into traffic again and you are on your own.

I would contend that throwing $40 million at the entire country really is not going to do much more than create a couple more of those segments. We need to get much more systematic about funding of cycling infrastructure. I think that what we will find when we go through these documents in detail is that the plans were not there. They were not ready; the states were not able to come to the table the moment after the stimulus package proposal was announced and put viable proposals in front of the Commonwealth government. That is why we have this lag time.

So I do not think that you will find it has failed in terms of employment, because ultimately these jobs were created and these projects were implemented. They were put onto the ground. Nothing, on my reading of this document, indicates any kind of scandal or wastage of funds or projects that were not eventually adopted. All that happened was that there was this 12- to 18-month lag in putting them in. That tells me that we were not ready and that the states and territories were not ready simply to say on the spot, 'Here you go. Here are our integrated cycling plans, and now please fund them.'

With the greatest respect, even if they had been $40 million is not enough to do the job. It is simply not enough to do that job. It amounts to about $4 million for Western Australia and that would be enough to put in about four kilometres of principle shared path, so another little segment on the map; but nothing like closing the network of safe paths that get cyclists of any age off our roads and out of traffic, and smaller paths and ways of traffic calming that do not destroy cyclists' rights and which actually create an integrated network.

We do not have such a plan in Western Australia. I know that some local governments are doing the work and are paying a lot of attention to this. I am aware of what is going on, for example, in the City of Sydney and in some other places. Certainly, from a Western Australian perspective the plans are fragmentary, they are unfunded and there is no standing Commonwealth appropriation for cycling.

In this budget cycle we have proposed a standing appropriation, and I think that what we will find is that this ANAO report will stand us in very good stead when rolling out a larger bracket of funding that is standing, and that will go towards the systematic rollout of cycling infrastructure in this country. I would contend, probably without taking a poll—I guess I could call a quorum and find out—that most of us in here cycle, either recreationally or on a commuter basis. I cycle to work every morning when I am in Fremantle and I know that there are certain parts even of that fairly short trip that are inordinately dangerous, where we are mixing it up with heavy vehicles coming in and out of the port and that that could be fixed.

There are plenty of people like me who are thrown into quite dangerous situations. Two Greens staffers that I am aware of have been knocked off their bikes on the way into work, one here in Canberra and one in Fremantle, because we are forcing cyclists to mix it up with traffic. What I hope this report will allow us to do is back up the Greens proposal for a standing appropriation in this next budget. We know that it is something that the infrastructure minister is contemplating, because I have been badgering him about it for months since we put that proposal in to government that we need a standing appropriation that is there year-in and year-out to actually build out these networks.

Perth is obviously one that I am most familiar with, but right around the country we know that cyclists, whether they are recreational or commuter cyclists, deserve safe infrastructure—and it is excellent value for money compared with funding urban freeway projects—they deserve end-of-trip facilities and they deserve to be looked after by the Commonwealth. Mr Albanese frequently gets up in front of press conferences and boasts that he doubled Commonwealth road funding. I think that in some regional areas you will find that that is justified, but there is no further justification for expanding extraordinarily expensive urban freeways, particularly when that is at the expense of public transport and cycling infrastructure.

So I look forward to getting into these documents in a bit of detail. The takeaway message for me is that it takes longer than you think. You cannot just push a button and assume that you can spend money on cycling infrastructure if state and territory planning departments have not done the strategic planning work in advance. That is something that the Greens plan to pursue. I look forward to budget night when we find that the government has in fact seen sense and that the minister announces we will have a standing appropriation for cycling funding so that the lessons in these ANAO documents can be learned and that some of the lessons can be implemented.


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