Public forum discussion paper


This paper forms the basis for considering what might be part of a national remote and regional transport strategy. It was prepared to assist with discussion at the National Remote and Regional Transport Infrastructure and Services Forum. It was developed by an inter-jurisdictional working group with transport agency representatives from South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The paper focuses on the challenges and opportunities of all modes of freight and passenger transport and covers the key transport priority areas:

  1. Infrastructure
  2. Services
  3. Regulation.

A total of 86 per cent of Australia's land mass is classed as remote or very remote by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia. This index is based on physical distance between a settlement and access to service centres.

With 85 per cent of the Australian population living within 50 km of the coast, political and economic decision making can be inclined to focus on those living in urban Australia. This is also true of national transport reform over the past few years, with limited benefit expected for remote Australia. This is despite remote and regional areas making a significant contribution to the national economy, with the majority of the nation's mining platform operating in remote Australia.

Access throughout Australia to education, health services, employment and security requires infrastructure and policies that recognise the challenges and current levels of development in remote and regional areas.

2011 Australian Statistical Geography Standard:Remoteness Structure

Remoteness Area Boundaries

Note: click on the map and hover over the legend to see the map change.

Map of Australia highlighting the level of remoteness in States and Territories

Levels of infrastructure development and support services are very different in many remote and regional areas compared to those in more densely populated areas with a long history of development.

Historic settlement patterns and subsequent development have resulted in different needs and challenges in remote and regional areas that vary with location and between State and Territory jurisdictions.

Remote and regional areas present significant development opportunities, and many areas have strategic defence importance in maintaining the security of Australia. Patterns of settlement, including Indigenous communities, play an important role in addressing these issues.

While consistent approaches to regulation, funding and development decisions across Australia may be a desirable long term goal, it needs to be acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all approach to infrastructure investment and transport reform may not provide the most effective outcomes in remote areas. Regulatory and funding regimes should consider the application of differential risk and assessment models based on objective criteria to initiatives in remote areas, acknowledging the different operating environments across Australia.

There is a need for transport in remote and regional areas to be considered as a core part of the national agenda, to ensure investment is made and reforms are implemented to unlock and drive the economic growth of these areas.
In recent years, the national transport agenda has focussed on national reforms (for example, national regulators and Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment Project), with little emphasis on transport challenges that are specific to remote and regional areas.

The Australian Government is preparing a White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, which is intended to support economic development of Northern Australia. This will be informed by the current audit of infrastructure being undertaken by Infrastructure Australia, which covers transport, water, energy and communications infrastructure.

At the Sustainable Economic Growth for Regional Australia (SEGRA) Conference in October 2013, Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister Warren Truss said:

Central to our vision is a commitment to deliver a fairer share to those who live outside the capital cities…

Now, more than ever, the regions need to, and will be, front-and-centre in our national consciousness.

This Government is committed to improving social and community infrastructure, supporting small business and entrepreneurship, and facilitating access to education regardless of where people live.

In addition, on 13 December 2013 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) decided to commission urgent work on infrastructure, including 'ways to prioritise projects that improve productivity or unlock economic growth potential, including in regional economies'.

While the Transport and Infrastructure Council has coverage of transport issues across Australia, there is no group dedicated to providing a remote and regional perspective to the State, Territory and Australian governments. The Remote Area Consultative Group (RACG) , which deals with operational issues in relation to heavy vehicle road transport, has been successful but its scope is more limited than that of the proposed national remote and regional transport strategy.

The National Remote and Regional Transport Infrastructure and Services Forum provides a platform for capturing the transport issues faced by remote and regional Australia and developing innovative solutions to address these. The outcomes of the forum will be presented to Ministers at the Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting on 23 May 2014 in Alice Springs.

1 Transport Infrastructure

A focus for discussion:

  • How can long term sustainable transport infrastructure funding for remote and regional areas be realised?
  • Can alternative funding and assessment mechanisms be designed to deliver better outcomes for remote and regional areas without compromising broader fiscal, infrastructure investment and policy governance principles?

1.1 Background

The geography, climate and vast distances in remote and regional areas of Australia contribute to high infrastructure investment and maintenance costs, and lead to unreliable transport links to remote communities and industries. In the north weather events increase maintenance costs and periodically result in route closures due to flooding and infrastructure destruction from erosion.

Remote and regional infrastructure is starting from a lower base compared with more developed urban areas. The condition, or often absence, of infrastructure is a barrier to business development, social connectivity and accessing services. Inferior infrastructure leads to higher operating costs for both passenger and freight services, impacting the cost of living and the cost of goods to and from these areas.

There is the potential to unlock improvements in productivity and to realise the economic growth and social development potential of remote and regional economies through targeted infrastructure investment.

Infrastructure in remote and regional areas that is provided only for social reasons will always rely on government funding. The majority of transport routes in remote areas will always have a high community service obligation funding component from government, and there is limited scope to implement direct pricing regimes on such infrastructure.

It is important that government and business plan investment in remote and regional infrastructure for the long term, to allow its economic potential to be realised.

1.2 Challenges

Low quality transport infrastructure impacts service delivery. The poor standard of remote and regional infrastructure inhibits the development of transport services due to high vehicle operation and maintenance costs and limited access being cut or further restricted during inclement weather that often includes months of wet season rains.The development of greenfield transport infrastructure, particularly in remote and regional areas, is more complex and costly, as there is limited existing base infrastructure to build upon.

Mining and gas exploration poses additional maintenance costs on existing infrastructure. There is a need to explore opportunities to work with mining and gas companies to expand transport infrastructure and cater for these growing industries.

Infrastructure investment costs are higher in remote and regional areas and repairs and maintenance costs are increasing as assets age and funding constraints result in deferral of maintenance activities and higher whole of life costs.
Regional councils and shires have limited revenue, economic and employment bases and often depend on a single industry or industry sector.

All governments face fiscal constraints on direct investment and are increasingly looking at alternative funding and financing models to deliver major infrastructure projects. Due to lower levels of use and higher operational costs per user, remote and regional projects often have a lower commercial viability than projects in major export networks or in urban areas, which reduces their suitability for alternative funding and financing models. This can mean that remote and regional infrastructure projects have a greater direct cost to governments than other projects.

Securing funding for remote and regional transport infrastructure projects is difficult when they are compared with urban projects on an economic benefit cost basis that applies standard parameter values.

It is difficult to quantify the broader benefits of infrastructure investment in remote areas, including improved health, education and transport safety outcomes.

Further, the current budget cycle leads to transport infrastructure work ramping up in the wet season in the north of Australia, which limits project delivery timeframes.

1.3 Opportunities

Possible opportunities to address issues relating to transport infrastructure may include:

  • Investing in remote and regional roads by unlocking the economic potential through improved all season access, increasing the viability of activity in the agriculture, horticultural, tourism and resource industries.
  • Ensuring that there is a level of 'transport resilience' through developing multimodal transport assets, i.e. the availability of barge landings and airstrips when roads are closed for longer periods.
  • Improving online and telecommunications infrastructure in remote and regional areas to reduce the need for long distance travel to access some services.
  • Developing an appropriate funding assessment mechanism, which may include:  
    • Investigating the need for a weighting based on objective criteria of major regional/remote transport infrastructure projects costs and benefits when assessed against urban projects, and the ability to assess economic potential over a longer timeframe. If such a weighting is found to be justified,    there is an opportunity to address this through project assessment guidelines. In addition, the treatment of wider social benefits needs to be more clearly identified and quantified in national assessment guidelines. While capturing the value of social benefits is difficult, work is currently underway    through the update of the National Guidelines for Transport System Management to address wider economic benefits.
    • Funding streams specifically for remote and regional infrastructure projects with different criteria based on asset type, industry development opportunities, training and employment growth and cost reduction to remote service delivery. This would clearly indicate the intention to invest in regional    areas to improve productivity and unlock economic growth.
  • Investigating how the flow of funding into remote and regional transport infrastructure can be improved and increase business confidence, including:  
    • Mining royalties as a funding mechanism for remote and regional area transport infrastructure, including infrastructure in Indigenous communities.
    • Potential of user pays pricing to fund ongoing investment in economic component of roads where applicable.
    • Partial guaranteed government funding committed to investment in sustaining standards for remote and regional infrastructure, where user pays models may not be viable.
  • Investing in research into the benefits of well-connected remote and regional communities in terms of the positive health, employment, education and social impacts resulting from infrastructure investment.

2. Transport Services

A focus for discussion:

Which strategies could best support the development and delivery of transport services in remote and regional areas? Possible strategies include:

  • Promote the establishment of remote and regional passenger and freight transport operators through tax incentives (e.g. reduced road user charges for remote and regional passenger transport and freight services in the short to medium term).
  • Further subsidies for remote and regional aviation (e.g. expansion of the Regional Aviation Access Program and Remote Air Services Subsidy Scheme).
  • Investigate funding models to support business to deliver sustainable intra- and inter-community transport services.
  • Enable business and workforce development in remote and regional areas through tax reform and more flexible labour arrangements and incentives.

2.1 Background

Remote and regional areas of Australia have low-density populations separated by vast distances. There are limited or non-existent passenger transport links and, if services are available, they are often costly.

Limited mobility is exacerbated during inclement weather such as the northern wet season, when transport links can be cut for several months.

Private motor vehicles remain the primary mode of transport in these areas, given the vast distances travelled and a lack of alternative transport options. However, within some remote areas there are relatively low levels of vehicle ownership and vehicles are poorly maintained due to lack of repair services.

Regular scheduled passenger services allow people in remote areas to travel for social, health, education and employment opportunities, supporting positive economic outcomes and closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage and social exclusion.

These services can also have positive impacts of reducing road trauma, particularly for Indigenous Australians who are over-represented in road crash statistics.

Due to high operating costs and low passenger volumes, there is often a need, at least initially, for these services to be subsidised. However, sustainable service delivery models need to be developed and supported.

2.2 Challenges

Passenger and freight services to many remote and regional areas may not be viable due to operating conditions such as low demand, high vehicle operating costs and long distances on low quality roads. Lack of all-weather access also limits business opportunities as services cannot be provided year round. Even if provided, the cost of remote and regional passenger and freight services is very high making business viability difficult to sustain.

Many regional passenger transport services operate at a loss. Remote and regional areas also lose transport services that become unviable due to declining regional populations and competition from other modes of transport.

The cost for a transport provider to service a remote community often requires higher capital start-up and maintenance costs due to a more robust standard of vehicle being used, higher level of repairs and maintenance of vehicles due to operating conditions (unsealed roads, heat and dust) and higher fuel costs. In effect, remote operators end up paying more tax (road user charge) in total due to higher fuel consumption, while operating on inferior roads.

Across freight and passenger services, in some cases unscrupulous operators may 'price-gouge' where they effectively have a monopoly either due to extreme weather or a lack of competitors.

Regular public transport, charter and other aviation services are used more frequently in remote areas relative to the rest of Australia mainly due to long distances and limited land transport options. This includes industries in remote locations relying on 'fly-in, fly-out' employment. People living in remote communities need to visit larger centres for services such as medical care and for social reasons. Many government and private sector people also visit remote communities to provide a wide range of services.

Flying to remote and regional parts of Australia is generally more expensive than in other areas. Smaller aircraft are used because of low patronage and infrastructure limitations. High operating costs, resulting from the low number of seats available and long distances travelled, lead to high passenger fares and freight costs.

When demand for aviation services increases and larger aircraft are used, supporting infrastructure needs to be upgraded and the regulatory regime becomes more onerous.

Governments provide financial and regulatory support for some long distance passenger services so that transport-disadvantaged communities have year-round access to a range of essential services.

Government interventions (tax incentives, subsidies or funding for infrastructure upgrades) for remote and regional infrastructure are provided at considerable cost to the budget bottom line. For example, the Australian Government's recently announced funding initiatives include the $210 million Cape York Regional package, $9 million Regional Airstrip Upgrades, $33 million Outback Way, $90 million Regional Roads Productivity Package, $1.75 billion extension of the Roads to Recovery program and additional support for regional aviation by introducing a new and better targeted Enroute Scheme for regional commercial airlines.

However, in general terms, national transport reforms are moving towards greater private sector delivery and a user-pays approach, while recognising the ongoing need for community service obligation funding in remote and regional areas to ensure adequate access to services.

Many residents have difficulties accessing licensing and registration services from remote locations. The regulatory requirements and training are also inappropriate for the road conditions and the environment, and the majority of driver training and experience requirements are based on urban driving. Remote and regional communities are more likely to experience socioeconomic disadvantage, low levels of literacy and numeracy, having English as a second or third language and establishing identity. Unlicensed driving is a major social and justice problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that is related to many of these issues.

There is also a lack of understanding of the licensing system and limited access to services associated with obtaining a licence.

Providing licensing and vehicle registration services in remote areas is a major challenge for many reasons such as attracting and retaining suitable staff, cost of operations and small scattered remote populations.

Road and marine safety can also be compromised because messages designed for mainstream audiences are not effective. In response, many jurisdictions provide additional assistance to remote Indigenous communities through dedicated mobile licensing and marine and boating safety services.

Regional areas have shown a desire to lift standards associated with the commercial passenger vehicle sector, namely in support of taxi camera surveillance units for taxi drivers and passenger safety. However, this requires skills in installing, servicing, repairing and providing support in remote areas.

Many regional centres are unable to maintain taxi services due to the high cost of providing a 24/7 service in a regulated environment designed around the urban context. Consequently, remote and regional areas have poor levels of service or none at all.

In South Australia, Cessation of Business Orders (COB) for unpaid fines pose a significant challenge. A COB prevents a person from undertaking any business with the Registrar, such as renewing a driver's licence or vehicle registration, and is a significant barrier for Aboriginal people in remote communities.

2.3 Opportunities

Opportunities to address transport services related concerns include:

  • Assisting remote and regional communities to identify their own specific transport and safety issues and strategies to address them, including funding strategies.
  • Investigating funding models to support business to deliver intra- and inter-community transport services, including demand responsive initiatives. This could include community based transport, which can be a cost-effective solution, especially where it can be linked to fixed routes and use existing  underused assets.
  • Realising the full benefit of some remote area airstrip projects through improved coordination of work by local government, States and Territories on approach roads, enabling communities to more reliably access airstrips during the wet season.
  • Investigate Indigenous community investment in improved remote and regional transport services via the Aboriginals Benefit Account and other funding sources.\
  • Expanding mobile services to other essential customer services that can contribute to closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.
  • Providing exemptions for drivers who cannot complete supervised on-road driving experience requirements or volunteer programs where the community contributes their time and their cars to help people learn to drive.
  • Developing culturally appropriate information campaigns that tailor messages to individual community issues (e.g. infant restraints, overcrowding).
  • Exploring expanded subsidies and co-funding arrangements for remote aviation via expansion of the Regional Aviation Access Program (RAAP) and the Remote Air Services Subsidy (RASS), resulting in improved and expanded services.
  • Recognising regional airports as critical national infrastructure, developing appropriate funding mechanisms to support their ongoing development and maintenance, and developing other business activities on infrastructure assets (including airports).
  • Providing tax incentives for remote passenger and freight transport operators (e.g. reduced road user charge for remote passenger transport and freight services). In the longer term COAG pricing reforms must recognise that remote operators who operate on inferior roads are subject to higher operating  costs.
  • Facilitating business development and workforce provision in remote areas through tax reform and more flexible labour arrangements and incentives.
  • Opening higher demand air and rail routes to competition so the market can set the best price and service levels.
  • Using communication technology to improve access to a wider range of online services and information than may otherwise be available for remote areas.

Any proposals for new program expenditures or tax incentives would need to take into account general fiscal, taxation and cost recovery policies of the relevant governments, and the current fiscal environment facing those governments.

3. Transport Regulation

A focus for discussion:

  • Are there ways to achieve regulatory objectives that better support the needs of remote and regional areas?
  • Should regulatory regimes include differential risk models to be applied for remote and regional areas, acknowledging the different operating environment?
  • Are there innovative approaches to regulation and institutional arrangements to minimise the compliance demands for remote and regional transport operators without compromising safety and other regulatory objectives?

3.1 Background

Although the national transport agenda has, for the past few years, focussed on national reforms, it has not directly or adequately acknowledged remote and regional issues. The current focus of a one-size-fits-all approach to regulation (such as National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment) does not explicitly reflect the unique challenges for remote and regional areas.

It is recognised at a jurisdictional level that there is a growing need to reconsider existing regulatory approaches, to introduce reform where required and to acknowledge that remote and regional Australia requires different regulatory approaches to other regions.

Regulation applicable to the remote areas of Australia must consider innovative approaches to achieving regulatory objectives, including greater flexibility, and recognise the different operating conditions and associated requirements.

Regulation also needs to reflect changing external environments, economic drivers, demographics and technology to ensure it allows operators to achieve the best possible outcomes.

3.2 Challenges

As compliance resources are limited, the vast geographical distances in remote areas create difficulties in ensuring compliance and enforcing regulations.

The enforcement of regulations in remote areas can also be problematic due to the weaknesses of electronic and technological systems to support a regulatory regime, e.g. timely servicing or replacement of telematics in vehicles operating in remote Australia, and limitations in communications networks. Physically accessing services such as inspections and defect clearance to meet regulatory requirements is difficult.

Regulatory technologies require flexibility as there is often no access to appropriate or adequate equipment or to the skills for operating the technology. Performance of any new technologies in extreme conditions areas also needs to be considered.

The lack of driver training and licensing and limited transport options in remote communities contributes to the high number of repeat traffic offenders and high rates of incarceration of Indigenous people.

National heavy vehicle road fatigue laws have implications for remote areas due to the nature of the freight task and operating conditions, including the definition of work and rest particularly for remote tour operators and transporters of livestock. The fatigue issue is also linked to infrastructure, and in particular the lack of rest stops on remote roads in some areas, with unsealed networks requiring much slower speeds and significantly longer travel times.

In regard to regional airports, the Australian Airports Association has reported a declining trend in the number of airports with regular public transport (RPT) services over the past two decades. Since 2005, RPT services have ceased at 45 regional airports (mainly on lower density routes), while 25 airports have gained new RPT services. A number of regional air routes are currently under pressure through declining passenger numbers, particularly in remote areas.

The demand for air services, which directly relates to opportunities for tourism, access to communities, delivery of services and business support, is impacted by costs associated with:

  • the need to provide nationally consistent security arrangements in regional airports, given passenger numbers are lower than in capital cities
  • the international passenger movement charge, as it represents a higher portion of the fare for short-haul flights, which are the majority of flights from Darwin.

New Australian Government legislation pertaining to aviation security requirements that came into effect in 2012 has resulted in a substantial increase in airfares to some regional airports to cover passenger screening operations and security screen infrastructure replacement.

The cost of regulation of remote airstrips (security and management) makes it difficult to meet the costs of operating RPT airstrips on a commercial basis. Under the Australian Government's funding model, each airport is responsible for the cost of providing airport security. This cost is passed onto airlines in the form of a security charge per outgoing passenger. Security charges per passenger at low volume regional airports are high due to the high fixed costs of security facilities raising the cost of flying.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority's process to amend its regulations that pertain to airport standards also threatens the continual operation of certain aircraft on regional airport runways. The possible requirement to widen runway sealed surfaces may be beyond the means of some small communities.

While aviation safety standards should not vary between remote and non-remote regions, the issue of what standards should be used must be clarified.

Different regulatory requirements for heavy vehicle pilots and escorts create complexity and inefficiency in cross-border operations for the transport industry. Austroads and the National Transport Commission are both working towards harmonising regulations to increase efficiency for operators transporting over-size over-mass loads.

Regional transport operators continue to request more flexible regulations to allow them to deal with remote and regional area issues. For example, heavy vehicle steer axle mass limits vary across jurisdictions and additional steer axle mass allowances are required in order for prime movers to meet Euro-6 emissions standards.

3.3 Opportunities

Regulatory regimes should include differential risk models, acknowledging the different operating environment in remote areas. Measures that have worked well in some jurisdictions and opportunities that could be considered include the following:

  • Exploring ways to simplify land tenure management for transport assets in order to maximise economic development and business opportunities for Indigenous communities on their land.
  • The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) developing a risk based fatigue module that meets the needs of livestock and tourism operators, under the Heavy Vehicle National Law specifically for use in outback Australia, including the non-participating jurisdictions NT and WA.
  • WA operates the Harvest Mass Management Scheme (HMMS), which allows heavy vehicle operators carting grain from regional areas a mass allowance to account for the variables in measuring the mass of grain. This could potentially be considered in other jurisdictions to facilitate grain transport during  harvest.
  • Exploring measures by which government could reduce aviation costs, such as by reversing the carbon tax and compliance policies and reintroducing an en-route rebate scheme.
  • Giving consideration to spreading the costs of aviation security across all passengers, which could be justified on the basis that all passengers using the aviation network would benefit. This would reduce the costs per passenger at regional airports. Other potential measures include reducing the number  of planes to which aviation security measures apply and an equalisation fund established by the Australian Government to equalise the cost of security services across Australia. In addition, the Australian Government could review the size of aeroplanes that require security screening, to reduce the number  of planes to which aviation security measures apply.
  • Investigating and creating new transport categories, such as omnibus and private, and prescribed taxi areas. This could enable ad-hoc transport services to be delivered through a vehicle other than a taxi, or create specific locations where metropolitan vehicle standards for all hire and reward vehicles  apply.

4. Conclusion

It is intended that broad and open debate on all issues relevant to remote and regional transport will take place at the National Remote and Regional Transport Infrastructure and Services Forum in May 2014 at Alice Springs.

This discussion paper presents a range of issues to stimulate discussion about remote and regional transport needs to be addressed as part of the national agenda. While this paper does not cover every issue faced in remote and regional Australia, there is an opportunity to capture all issues through the forum process.

Innovative solutions are required from remote communities, industry and governments to address the issues that will be raised during the forum. It will be important to capture the outcomes of the forum and ensure that a feasible and acceptable way forward is developed.

The outcomes of the forum will be presented to Ministers at the Transport and Infrastructure Council meeting on 23 May 2014 in Alice Springs.

A suggested way forward is to establish a collaborative high level working group and to develop a national remote and regional transport strategy by building on the outcomes of the forum.

The working group could:

  • advance the development of a national remote and regional transport strategy
  • identify remote and regional transport issues and provide advice to Transport Ministers on key priorities\
  • identify and prioritise the development of solutions
  • where appropriate, monitor and oversee the delivery of agreed initiatives
  • provide advice to other bodies responsible for infrastructure planning and delivery, regulation, and the national transport reform agenda.

These initiatives would need to be underpinned by consultation with all key stakeholders with an interest in transport infrastructure and services in remote and regional Australia. Relevant stakeholders may include the transport industry, State and Territory transport and regional development agencies, local government and remote community representatives, the National Transport Commission and regulatory authorities such as the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

It is recommended that the outcomes of the forum and the key initial elements of the proposed national remote and regional transport strategy are also made available to inform the White Paper process on Developing Northern Australia.

Appendix A - Jurisdictional specific issues and case studies

A.1 Infrastructure

Northern Territory Specific Infrastructure Issues

The governance of roads management across the north of Australia varies. In the Northern Territory, regional councils are not responsible for managing the majority of transport assets within their shires. Current local government revenue options do not adequately support the transfer of transport assets to councils.

A significant portion of the Northern Territory's roads are on Aboriginal land. This requires sensitive management in relation to tenure, costs and logistics. It can also impact project delivery timeframes.

All weather road access for remote areas of the Territory is a significant issue and if resolved has the capacity to build business confidence and drive growth. However, improvements to the network are difficult to fund when the amount of revenue received for road use is far outweighed by the cost of repairs and maintenance required each year. Further, a large portion of the trucking task in the Territory is completed by interstate registered vehicles.

Queensland Specific Infrastructure Issues

A lack of market competition for infrastructure services in Queensland can result in monopoly prices being charged that further restrict business competitiveness in dependent (upstream and downstream) markets. As a result, trading that could enhance community wellbeing often does not proceed.

It can be difficult to obtain approval to develop new infrastructure that opens up all-year access where it would compete with existing commercial air or sea transport services that are owned and operated by councils, as there is a legitimate interest in maintaining viability.

Remote and regional councils sometimes lack sufficient resources to administer or manage their local transport networks. In some instances, a lack of comprehensive data can make planning and cost estimating road network upgrades challenging.

Case Study – Queensland Roads and Transport Alliance

The Queensland Government is committed to empowering communities and giving more authority and decision-making to local councils. However, the leadership capacity, levels of engagement and local transport issues can vary. This can create challenges for the governance of transport infrastructure planning and investment at the state and regional level.

This issue continues to be addressed through the Queensland Roads and Transport Alliance (outlined below) to jointly invest in and manage the State's transport infrastructure network at a regional level, and includes a proposed initiative to incorporate Indigenous councils.

The Roads and Transport Alliance (formerly the 'Roads Alliance') is a partnership between the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR), the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ) and local government, established in 2002 to jointly respond to the transport infrastructure needs of Queensland's communities based on regional priorities.

Under this cooperative governance arrangement, councils voluntarily form Regional Roads and Transport Groups (RRTGs) with local government elected representatives and the TMR regional/district director, based on shared transport network interfaces or common transport issues. RRTGs are the primary decision-making bodies of the Roads and Transport Alliance.

There are currently 17 RRTGs in Queensland, each supported by a technical committee of local government and TMR senior engineers and other relevant technical staff. The committees provide technical advice and investment recommendations to the RRTG.

Under the Roads and Transport Alliance, $31.8 million in state funding is made available (via TMR) to RRTGs each year through the Transport Infrastructure Development Scheme (TIDS). Local governments must generally match all TIDS allocations. Members of the alliance benefit through:

  • improved road stewardship and workforce capability and capacity through training, technology adoption and knowledge sharing
  • operational efficiencies through improved project coordination, scheduling and delivery.

South Australia Specific Infrastructure Issues

There is generally no local government in outback South Australia and consequently the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) is responsible for 10 100 km of outback roads. DPTI also contracts to look after 4000 km of roads in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands. This is a significant funding challenge despite Road to Recovery funding assistance.

Remote and regional airports and airstrips are chronically unfunded, both for major maintenance and capital works, due to the limited resources of their community owners. For example, while SA matches Australian Government funding under its Remote Airstrip Upgrade Program, the funding is insufficient and limited by narrow program criteria.

There is no source of funds allocated directly to assist airport infrastructure. These airports must compete for regional economic development funding across all infrastructure and seldom achieve priority.

Western Australia Specific Infrastructure Issues

In September 2008 the National Transport Commission produced a set of national guidelines on developing rest areas to assist in delivering the Heavy Vehicle Driver Fatigue Reform. With the increasing number of heavy vehicle movements in WA, the existing rest areas and road train assembly areas (RTAA) in some bays have reached capacity.

The Australian Government has provided significant funding under the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program (HVSPP) for rest areas. Main Roads WA has a project underway to upgrade eight existing bays on the Great Northern Highway between Newman and Port Hedland and a number of other bays have been completed or are being considered for upgrade. Further upgrades are still required and the road freight industry also has concerns with the maintenance and facilities available at the RTAA sites.

The 'last mile' issues are a critical for the transport industry. The NHVR is continuing to engage with local government on opening up heavy vehicle access to local roads and providing assistance and guidelines to support access decisions. A number of areas are being closely examined including roles within the case management of applications, interaction and technical support for local government and mechanisms to allow efficient administration and consent of access decisions by road managers.

Infrastructure at a number of large, fast-growing regional airports such as those in the Pilbara is inadequate to meet current levels of demand. Significant upgrades are required to meet forecast growth in air traffic. The funding of the repair and replacement of ageing infrastructure at local government-owned airports, where levels of airport usage and revenues are insufficient to meet the costs involved, is problematic.

The Regional Airport Development Scheme (RADS) is a State Government grant program delivered by the Department of Transport aimed at improving airport related infrastructure in regional Western Australia. The State Government's $6.5 billion Royalties for Regions program, created through the reinvestment of 25 per cent of mining and onshore petroleum royalties into regional WA each year, provides some additional funding to the Regional Airports Development Scheme (RADS).

Transport infrastructure is crucial for the long term sustainability of mining operations. Over the past decade Western Australia's northern ports have experienced exponential growth in throughput. Port infrastructure is, however, ageing. A constant and major challenge for port authorities is ensuring that infrastructure remains current and meets ever changing industry requirements. Proponents have high expectations of government with respect to delivering associated infrastructure (roads in particular) and are often not supportive of third party access arrangements. Access to scarce public funding for new or upgraded developments is a significant challenge for ports.

A dividend exempt Port Improvement Rate (PIR) has recently been implemented at the Port of Port Hedland. The PIR will fund future capital improvements, with funds collected as a levy on vessels entering and exiting the harbour. Funds collected must be used for the benefit of customer groups being levied and is subject to normal government business case approval.

Infrastructure in northern WA, if not built to a certain standard, is vulnerable to cyclone and flood damage. When damage occurs, opportunities for betterment, rather than reinstatement, need to be fully explored to provide infrastructure that is sustainable in the long term. This will involve constructing infrastructure to a higher standard than previously existed in order to reduce the risk of failure resulting from subsequent events. Considerations should include bridge length, height and width; road formation and off road drainage. Investment in road infrastructure, such as floodway improvements, that maintain accessibility for freight during the wet season may result in heavy vehicles traversing partially flooded roads that, although accessible, are still vulnerable to damage. Asset management and ongoing infrastructure maintenance in the face of severe weather conditions is imperative to maintain existing assets to an acceptable standard.

A.2 Services

Northern Territory Specific Transport Service Programs

The Northern Territory is undertaking two innovative programs in remote parts of the Territory.

DriveSafe NT Remote is a driver licensing program for remote and regional areas. The driver education and licensing program helps to improve access to jobs, training and services; reduce the high number of Indigenous people killed or injured on our roads; and reduce the high number of Indigenous people charged with driving related offences. The program includes support to gain required identification documents, theory and practical lessons on a range of driving and road safety topics such as drink driving, seat belts, overcrowding in vehicles, emergency first aid and speed. In the first two years of the program, over 1300 Territorians received their learner licence and 350 of these have progressed to a provisional licence.

The Remote Bus Program delivers operational funding assistance (subsidies) to remote bus transport operators, allowing operators to explore additional routes in remote areas that may not be commercially viable in the short term. Grant funding provided through the program has also enabled robust vehicles to be purchased so that operators can access remote areas on unsealed networks.

Queensland Specific Transport Service Programs

The Queensland Government is completing a review of long distance passenger transport services on ten air routes, 16 long distance coach services and two rail services that the government regulates or subsidises. The purpose of the review is to improve the value for money of those long distance services subsidised by taxpayers and to consider whether restrictions on competition are still warranted in these markets.

Following extensive consultation, the Queensland Government recently announced the deregulation of three air routes and the outcomes in relation to long distance coach services and the rail services will be announced soon.

The Queensland Government and Austroads are trialling a new approach to addressing driver licensing issues in the Indigenous communities of Napranum and Old Mapoon. The trials aim to overcome existing legislative barriers (such as literacy-rich road rules testing and minimum on-road driving hours) that restrict

Indigenous people from progressing from a learner to a provisional licence.

South Australia Specific Transport Service Programs

Legislation was recently passed that enables an exemption to be granted to an Aboriginal person who resides on the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands or Maralinga Tjarutja Lands from certain requirements to obtain a driver licence. Implementation is currently being developed with key stakeholders.

The exemption process will support individuals to progress through the licensing system and overcome barriers without compromising road safety. The key example where the exemption power may be used is to reduce the number of supervised driving hours required to progress to a provisional licence. No exemptions have been issued to date; however, the method proposed is individual case management.

The Motor Vehicles Regulations have also recently been amended to allow a person who holds a full car licence to act as a qualified supervising driver for a learner who resides in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands or Maralinga Tjarutja Lands (previously they were required to have held a full car licence for two years without being disqualified) and providing the Registrar of Motor Vehicles with the power to remit booking and licence fees.

South Australia, along with other jurisdictions, is working with Austroads on national projects with the aim to improve the low driver licensing rates of Indigenous people living in remote communities. The first project produced a learning to drive toolkit which is currently being used by TAFE SA across the Lands to prepare individuals to undertake the learner theory test as an alternative to literacy based learning. The second project is trialling an alternative driver licensing model, supporting the attainment of on-road driving hours, in the community of Amata.

South Australia has a dedicated Aboriginal Driver Licensing and Road Safety Unit, which has been working with providers in nine remote Aboriginal communities to provide restraints for children aged up to seven, along with training and support in correctly using and fitting restraints.

The Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure (DPTI) funds a range of public transport services in regional areas. These services are operated under Service Contracts held with the Minister with private operators. There are various models in place with varying financial arrangements. Some contracts include provision for an annual service subsidy and concession reimbursements, while other contracts provide concession reimbursements only.

The department regulates and contributes to funding transport services in some regional areas and fosters regional transport initiatives that provide collective transport solutions identified through extensive community consultation and detailed transport studies. Regular route services operate across regional and remote South Australia and link major centres to Adelaide. Services operate across the state including the mid north, upper north and north east.

Special (medical) services also operate in a number of regions that provide accessible door to door services for people unable to access conventional public transport to travel to medical appointments in the Adelaide metropolitan area. For remote and regional SA, these services operate from the upper north and mid north.

These supplement regular timetabled services and extend the range of public transport for these communities.

Western Australia Specific Transport Service Programs

Industry representatives share a growing concern over the interaction between light vehicles and heavy vehicles and the number of oversize trucks mixing with road trains. There are also a number of issues regarding the conduct of some 'authorised pilots' escorting these oversize loads.
Main Roads WA is concerned with the frequency of heavy vehicle crashes and has commenced a heavy vehicle safety program that includes an ongoing communications and education campaign. There are three strategies of the program: Heavy Vehicle Public Awareness Program, Heavy Vehicle Enforcement Program, and Heavy Vehicle Industry Education. These programs are expected to commence in 2014-15, subject to funding.

A new Department of Transport (DoT) Remote Licensing program began November 2012, providing driver and vehicle services information to people living in remote Western Australia (WA), particularly remote communities. The program was developed in response to the lack of licensed drivers in remote Aboriginal communities and greatly assists those living in regional areas to obtain and retain a driver's licence. It provides customers with regular access to a range of licensing services locally, benefiting people who previously had to travel long distances to their nearest transport office.

The 'remote DoT teams' are equipped with secure technology that offers the same level of service as WA transport offices, such as accessing the licensing database, processing EFTPOS payments and capturing driver's licence photos. The program aims to increase the number of licensed drivers, reduce the number of driving related offences and empower local communities by creating employment opportunities. The program assists community residents in gaining employment by meeting the requirement of having a valid driver's licence, which is a necessity for many positions, particularly in the mining sector.

Through the program, customers can access most licensing services available through transport offices (such as obtaining a driver's licence, proof of age cards, vehicle transfers, payment of DoT penalties, etc.), facilitation of the payment of fines that may be preventing them from obtaining a valid driver's licence and assistance in meeting identity requirements for obtaining a licence.

A.3 Regulation

Specific Regulation Issues for the Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, economic development and business opportunities on Aboriginal land are complicated by the current NT land rights regime which involves lengthy and complex processes. Indigenous communities benefit significantly from community infrastructure investment (roads, barge landings, airstrips etc.). These communities could provide land tenure and access to aggregate as their contribution to better facilitate cost effective development.

National reforms such as the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator may deliver productivity benefits; however, in the Northern Territory where there is a light regulatory approach, open access and high productivity, the additional regulatory requirements that come with a national regulator do not provide the same level of productivity benefits that will accrue on the eastern seaboard.

The national reform proposing direct road pricing poses difficulties in remote Australia, where there is often no route choice, roads are starting from a lower standard (unsealed), traffic volumes are low, access is limited during the wet season and roads are not economic but are critical from a social equity and access position.

Specific Regulation Issues for the South Australia

South Australia has adopted the Heavy Vehicle National Law and Regulations (including Vehicle Standards, Mass, Dimension and Loading, Fatigue Management and General Regulations), which have been in operation since 10 February 2014. Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which border South Australia's remote and regional areas, have not at this time chosen to adopt the HVNL. This may impact on the resolution of cross border issues.

The Intelligent Access Program continues to be available in South Australia on a voluntary basis.

Specific Regulation Issues for Western Australia

WA chooses to support national regulatory frameworks that best suit its requirements. It has, for example, not adopted National Heavy Vehicle Law (as the benefits of this reform are considered minimal for the State. Also, WA has a different approach to heavy vehicle driver fatigue management compared to other states that takes into account the distances between towns and rest areas. Regional transport operators continue to request more flexible regulations to allow them to deal with remote and regional area issues.

The heavy vehicle industry in WA has raised concerns about the Australian Government's mandate of Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) and in the future Electronic Braking Systems (EBS) under the National Heavy Vehicle Braking Strategy. Concern remains over the performance of these braking systems on unsealed roads. Flexibility for uptake is required where vehicle combinations include older trailers and in remote areas where vehicle servicing resources do not have equipment or experience capable of dealing with the newer systems.

In 2010, the WA State Government commenced a high level governance review to examine the roles and responsibilities between government and the port authorities, investigate structural/ legislative reform, provide guidance on port planning and examine governance and ownership over non-port authority ports. Based on the recommendations, the government decided to implement a number of reforms. Regulatory reform for ports has now commenced and will enable the progressive amalgamation of the 13 non port authority ports into three regional port authorities.

Western Australia is currently in the process of establishing an Intelligent Access Program (IAP) trial on regional roads, allowing heavy vehicle operators increased access on the basis that their route location is monitored for compliance by using telematics. WA has not adopted the IAP model laws but may require legislation for the future operations of the IAP or other telematics schemes.

Last updated: 10 November 2019


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