Time to lose toll phobia
THERE is no shortage of infrastructure projects which would enhance the productivity of South Australia, former prominent public servant Rod Hook says. What is lacking is a bit of ingenuity and courage about how to pay for the projects. Mr Hook will tell the Civil Contractors Federation this week that SA should get over its phobia about road tolls.
SOUTH Australia is not short of economy-boosting infrastructure ideas, but the State Government needs to start “grappling” with decisions on funding them, former transport department chief Rod Hook says.
Mr Hook, who was sacked from the top job in May last year, said there was nothing to get excited about in last week’s budget from an infrastructure point of view.
“We walked away from an enormous opportunity to get a complete redevelopment of the courts precinct,” he said. “The budget simply continues funding for what’s (been) around and already committed to.”
He said it was time to “grapple with our investments” and find ways to bring the private sector and other parties to the table.
Funding models like userpays/toll on major road projects, privatisation of assets and getting developers to part-fund infrastructure that lifts the value of their projects needed consideration, Mr Hook said.
“I think governments of both persuasions have had an anti-toll phobia. They see it as an election loser and they fall over themselves to avoid it.”
The State Opposition last year said that it has an open mind on tolls for freight vehicles, but remains opposed to motorists paying.
Mr Hook said a review of the whole tax system for motorists – looking at what they pay in registration and other fees – would need to be undertaken to come up with more equitable pricing.
“Currently, the system is unsustainable. Someone who uses a car once a week to drive to the supermarket pays the same fees and charges as the person using the car every day,” he said.
Mr Hook said there were challenges going forward with striving for a budget surplus while paying for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital for 30 years once it comes online.
Mr Hook is one of the speakers at the Civil Contractors Federation of SA’s inaugural state industry conference on Friday.
CCF SA chief Phil Sutherland said that it was a “frustrating” time for an industry which is facing a “Marianas trench”, where the gap between major projects is decimating the industry.
“Private spending is at a 20-year low and while public investment is better than in the past, more needs to be done,” Mr Sutherland said.
“The defence industry talks of the Valley of Death, we talk of a Marianas Trench. We need a quick line-up of projects, such as accelerating the North-South Corridor.
“Also, on tolls, the National Freight Council will accept paying to use the road. I can’t understand why the government is not looking at it.”