The 2017-18 federal budget is making headlines with a new round of welfare cuts, additional investment in health and school education, as well as a $6.2 billion bank levy that wiped close to $14 billion off banking stocks overnight.
The centrepiece of the Turnbull Government's economic growth plan, however, is a record $75 billion infrastructure spending spree that will last 10 years and include a $20 billion “once in a generation” rail line upgrade.
The suite of infrastructure measures is not about rail development alone, though, with a significant upgrade of the Bruce Highway in Queensland and additional $1.6 billion investment in Western Australian infrastructure also part of the proposal.
The Government also committed to continue funding the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity, Roads to Recovery, Black Spot and Bridges Renewal programs beyond 2019-20; and plans to establish an Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
Infrastructure Minister, Darren Chester, described the initiatives as "a transformational next step in the Coalition Government's record investment in infrastructure - improving connectivity, productivity and liveability in our cities and regions."
He added, "These investments will deliver an important economic boost, creating tens of thousands of new jobs during construction. On completion, these projects will lift national productivity and drive economic growth."
In what Fairfax called a “vote-sweetener” for Victoria, the Federal Government also included a $1 billion package for new and upgraded infrastructure for the State.
Meanwhile, small businesses with turnover of up to $10 million will get an extension of the $20,000 instant asset write-off for a further 12 months – a measure KMPG said will provide a “much needed shot in the arm for many small businesses across the country”.
Geoff Crouch, Chair of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), welcomed the Government’s continued support for small business, too. “The vast majority of trucking businesses are small businesses. 94 per cent have a turnover of $2 million or less,” he explained. “The Government’s decision to extend the instant asset write-off to 30 June 2018 will benefit many eligible businesses.”
Crouch also commented on the Government’s ongoing commitment to infrastructure and transport, especially with view to road safety. “The [Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity, Roads to Recovery, Black Spot and Bridges Renewal] programs are highly cost effective and deliver safety improvements such as truck rest areas, roundabouts and street lights at dangerous places on our roads,” he said.
“Meanwhile, the Bridges Renewal Program is upgrading bridges that are critical to truck access to local communities. The 2017-18 Budget confirms that these programs will continue through to 2020-21. Their safety benefits will continue to flow.”
He added, “We also welcome the $300 million incentive to the states and territories to cut their red tape. Much of the red tape affecting trucking businesses is at state or territory level. We’d like to see the new National Partnership for Regulatory Reform cut our red tape burden and so we can spend more time focusing on moving Australia’s freight safely and productively.”
Michael Kilgariff, Managing Director of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), was equally bullish about the budget, saying it has the potential to deliver “substantial improvements” to supply chain efficiency and significantly boost economic growth.
“The Budget’s strong focus on infrastructure is timely, coming less than six months after the Federal Government agreed to ALC’s request to develop a National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy,” he said.
“We welcome the measures announced tonight as a positive first step in continuing efforts to deliver a safer, more efficient supply chain.”
Kilgariff said the commitment to rail was an important step in handling a growing freight task and could provide efficiencies across all modes of transport.
“The transformative potential of the Inland Rail project has been talked about for decades, with incremental progress being made over the past several years, including a positive assessment of the business case by Infrastructure Australia.
“The $8.4 billion commitment announced in the Treasurer’s speech tonight will finally allow its construction. At long last, we can stop merely talking about this project’s potential, and instead begin to witness it.”
He added, “Establishing a safe, reliable port-to-port rail link for freight between Melbourne and Brisbane is the only way we can simultaneously meet Australia’s burgeoning freight task, alleviate congestion on existing freight networks, create regional jobs and boost growth.”
Agreed Victorian Transport Association (VTA) CEO, Peter Anderson, who said the significant investments in inland rail between Melbourne and Brisbane was critical for further diversifying the national freight task and easing pressure on transportation networks.
"The freight industry, including the VTA, has long called for significant spending on port to port inland rail, and the expenditure outlined in the budget will go a long way to diversifying the freight task, creating productivity gains for operators and reducing pressure on our road networks," he said.
"The $500 million allocated for Victorian regional rail is also welcome because it will give rural commuters additional travel options to consider, which is good for road freight because it will alleviate congestion on rural road networks.”
Additional key measures: