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Janet questions the Policy and Research Division

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 23 Oct 2017

Senator RICE: We have had discussions about the National Cycling Strategy over the last few estimates, and it is wrapping up completely this year after the last participation survey is completed. Is that the case?

Ms Power: Commonwealth funding for the National Cycling Strategy and the Bicycle Council ends this calendar year.

Senator RICE: What resources will the Commonwealth be putting into active transport after that concludes?

Ms Power: The jurisdictions are now considering what action they will take in the context of their active transport programs. At this stage, there's no decision by the Commonwealth to put in more funding.

Senator RICE: So no resources from the Commonwealth, full stop. You are saying it is up to the states to do it. Will there be any specific staff with responsibility for looking at cycling and walking at a federal level?

Ms Power: We monitor these activities as part of other duties. But specific staff dedicated just to these functions—no.

Senator RICE: Will there be any staff that will, in particular, have cycling and walking as part of their duties?

Ms Power: As I said, it will form a role as part of a member of staff's responsibilities; they will not be dedicated to this function.

Senator RICE: Can you tell me which staff it is likely to fall under the responsibility of?

Ms Geiger: It's an area of responsibility that goes currently to an Executive Level 1. I'd have to take on notice how much percentage of the time of that staff member it is, but we do talk with our state and territory colleagues around matters of cycling, acknowledging that it is largely the responsibility of the states and territories. Regarding the effort that we put into cycling, if proposals come forward from states and territories for cycling infrastructure included as part of a broader infrastructure proposal, it gets considered in that way. So there is still some focus on cycling. But in terms of funding for the Australian Bicycle Council, that concludes at the end of this calendar year. In terms what comes next, that is under consideration, largely, with the jurisdictions.

Senator RICE: There is going to be no extension of the National Cycling Strategy, and the strategy abjectly failed to reach its objectives with regards to increasing the number of people cycling. You won't have any resources from a Commonwealth level to be turning that around. Basically, you are saying that, even though the Commonwealth responsibility is part of the National Cycling Strategy that's failed to meet its objective, we are going to leave it to the states to pick that up?

Ms Zielke: That seems appropriate—this is a state and territory responsibility. As my colleagues have said, we will continue to coordinate across—

Senator RICE: But we had a National Cycling Strategy, because it was recognised that there was a Commonwealth role as well as a state and territory role in encouraging the uptake of cycling. That is why we've had Commonwealth engagement over the period of the strategy. But what you are telling me now is that the Commonwealth is washing its hands, despite the fact that the Cycling Strategy has failed in its objective to increase the number of people cycling?

Ms Zielke: Given that states and territories are the ones taking the decisions about what is being funded, leaving the decisions with them seems appropriate.

Senator RICE: It is appalling—completely washing your hands of encouraging active cycling and all the benefits that that brings. Anyway, I will move onto road pricing. Almost a year ago, on 24 November 2016, the government announced its intention to recruit an eminent Australian to lead an enquiry into road pricing for light vehicles. It is now 11 months since that announcement. What has happened with regard to this inquiry?

Ms Geiger: We haven't had an announcement yet about the specifics of the inquiry. Arrangements are being settled within government. The focus to this time has largely been around heavy vehicle reforms, noting that a lot of the effort and work that goes on with our state and territory counterparts in relation to heavy vehicles will also apply on the light vehicle side.

Senator RICE: So what's your timeline for the overall road pricing inquiry to be rolled out?

Ms Geiger: That's a matter for government.

Senator RICE: So you have no expectation. When is it expected the heavy vehicle work will be completed?

Ms Geiger: There's a time frame for the heavy vehicle reforms. A road map was agreed with the states and territories at COAG in 2015, stepping out four phases of the reforms. Phases 1 and 2 are underway, with phase 1 being around demonstrating transparency. We have published asset registers and expenditure plans, which are available on the web, and we've had a public discussion paper around an independent pricing regulator. So there are a number of steps underway, and governments have agreed to accelerate heavy vehicle road reform.

Senator RICE: So we've got through stages 1 and 2. But you said there are four phases?

Ms Geiger: That's right. Phase 3 is around returning revenue to road owners, and phase 4 is around more direct user charging where appropriate. These are underway—we're in discussion with our state and territory counterparts at the moment. In terms of specific time frames around that, that's a matter for all governments to collectively decide upon, noting that the Transport and Infrastructure Council is meeting in November. Then we'll be making some decisions.

Senator RICE: What's your expectation, then, for accelerating the completion of stages 3 and 4? Are we talking about finishing them in three months, six months or 12 months?

Ms Geiger: We don't have definitive time frames around that, but we do have some commitments that we expect to be able to say more around after the transport ministers have met next month.

Ms Zielke: Largely, we are talking several years before these are completed. It could be four or five years before we've actually completed the steps to have a new system in place for heavy vehicles.

Senator RICE: What I'm interested in is the nexus between that and the fact that it sounds like the road pricing inquiry has been delayed until the heavy vehicle work has been completed. At what stage of the heavy vehicle reform process do you expect that the road pricing inquiry will kick off?

Ms Geiger: The connection between heavy vehicles and light vehicles is not so much that we're waiting for heavy vehicles to reach a certain point before kicking off the study for light vehicles. It's simply to note that a lot of the work that's happening on the heavy vehicles side would be applicable to the light vehicles side. The nexus is of a different nature.

Senator RICE: But you said that there was a delay in kicking off the road pricing inquiry.

Ms Zielke: Sorry, if that's the way it came across, that's not what the intention was. The government's considering the eminent person study, who will play that role and the timing for that at the moment. That could be announced in the next few months. But we don't have exact timing on that at the moment, whereas the heavy vehicle road reform work is still continuing.

Senator RICE: I'm interested in the timing, given that it was 11 months ago that we had this announcement that this road pricing inquiry was going to kick off and, still, you're saying it's likely to be months before we even have the announcement of who the eminent person is and when the inquiry is going to kick off. So we're not looking at having a road pricing inquiry until well into next year, by the sound of it. Would that be accurate?

Ms Zielke: There is the potential for that, yes. It's a lengthy study too that is proposed, so it's not something short-term.

Senator RICE: Is the department concerned that very substantial decisions are being made about expansion of private tolling contracts, given the interaction between private tolling and road pricing? We've heard a lot of evidence in our toll roads inquiry in the last few months about how, rather than looking at toll road pricing—and there were issues that needed to be considered—we should be looking at overall road pricing. Is this of concern to the department, given the delay in actually considering road pricing overall?

Ms Geiger: Noting that no decisions have been taken by governments collectively around specific reform measures for light vehicles, it's a journey that's likely to take up to 10 to 15 years. One of the issues that the eminent person study would need to look at is any interaction between potential reforms and tolling.

Senator RICE: We know that there are interactions. We know that arbitrarily set tolls locked into toll contracts are going to impact upon the overall road-pricing system. At this stage of the road-pricing inquiry, how much of a concern to government is it that there are going to be more locked-in toll road contracts, most likely, before you even get around to doing the study?

Ms Geiger: It's a matter that would have to be looked at under the study.

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