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The Australian Road Forum, soon be relaunched as Roads Australia, has moved to strengthen its role in policy development for the road transport sector, according to ARF Chief Executive, Ian Webb.

The change of name to Roads Australia has been approved by ARF members and ASIC, and Mr Webb told Roads Magazine the association was aiming for an official launch around the end of August.

The Australian Road Forum/Roads Australia is a not-for-profit, non-political industry body which covers stakeholders in the Australian road transport sector. Its members include companies in the sector, industry associations and road authorities.

Mr Webb said the ARF had developed in the past couple of months policy chapters of members to concentrate on three major issues. He said the policy chapters dealt with congestion, capacity and sustainability.

“The chapter covering capacity focuses on skills shortages and the industry’s capacity to build the projects government would like to build, and the chapter on sustainability looks at climate change type issues,” Mr Webb said.

“The policy chapters run parallel to the portfolio responsibilities of state ministers who are on the Australian Transport Council. Tim Pallas (Victoria) has national responsibility for congestion, Pat Conlon (SA) has responsibility for capacity and Alannah MacTiernan (WA) has responsibility for sustainability.”

Mr Webb said the ministers had agreed to a request from the ARF for them to nominate a representative from their roads department to work on the policy chapters.

“We’ve created for the industry what is really a unique beast; policy stakeholder committees on which governments are equal players. This is an instance of the ARF starting to work within the ‘policy tent’ and government has indicated we have a place inside the tent.”
Mr Webb said the ARF had never set out to be an advocacy or lobbying organisation. “If you’re involved in advocacy it suggests you’re adversarial and creates the impression that you’re going to do a lot of squawking after the fact.

“We don’t want to be in that situation; we want to be part of policy development. We want government to take us into their confidence and give us a chance to contribute to policy. The end result is going to be better for everybody.”

Mr Webb said the ARF was encouraged by developments under the Labor Government such as the establishment of Infrastructure Australia and the new Australian Transport Council with new roles for state ministers.

“Without being political, by the time we got to the end of the Howard Government we had a series of locked in positions all around Australia. We had Labor governments in every state and a conservative government federally, and basically they were all locked in.

“So when the change of government occurred, there was a very noticeable flow-on in terms of greater cooperation. One of the good things we’ve seen in this new spirit of cooperation is a willingness by government to listen to what stakeholders have to say. One of the reasons for setting up Roads Australia is to put that willingness to the test.”

Mr Webb said roads were a key component of infrastructure development in Australia.

“Roads are critical because they more or less self select. The overwhelming majority of freight carried in Australia is carried by road. To that extent, even if IA (Infrastructure Australia) wishes to focus on things like public transport and other deliveries including ports, our road system self selects as being always the highest priority.

“All the nation’s other systems depend on roads. Communities, the services we provide for them, accessibility of employment and our entire economy depend on roads. The need for roads as an integral part of the economy is going to continue and won’t change.”

Mr Webb said there had been a movement over the past few years within the road transport sector to a more responsible, balanced policy view. He said the industry had to look at a roads system that was part of an overall transport network.

“If anyone thinks that major road companies now see public transport as a competitor to roads; they’re wrong. We don’t see it as a question of spending a dollar on roads or public transport. In fact, for our roads system to succeed, we need a much better public transport system than we have now,” he said.

“We would like to see more people who don’t need to use roads use other transport because there are certain things, like freight, that have to travel on roads, particularly inner city freight delivery.

“The major players now realise their projects involve alliancing with other companies and are part of an integrated system: for example, Melbourne’s EastLink project with its community and environmental aspects right down to freeway artwork and landscaping.”

Mr Webb said the planning and construction of sustainable roads was becoming increasingly important and was being driven, in part, by government requirements for major projects. “We can expect to see sustainability issues reflected in contracts as customary requirements and companies that can’t meet those requirements will lose their competitive advantage,” he said.

“These kinds of movements start at flagship level where projects involve billions of dollars. These standards, in a slightly diminished form, will eventually filter down through all levels of the industry.
“And that’s not just in relation to the sustainability of the completed project,” Mr Webb said. “It also involves the resources used in constructing the project – the wastage or otherwise of water in construction, whether or not construction causes congestion and what steps can be taken to reduce the congestion. Sustainability also goes to putting in place proper traffic management plans that enable projects to be completed quickly within certain hours.”

Mr Webb said every road builder and operator was living in a much more complex environment than existed many years ago when Melbourne’s King Street Bridge was built.

“We might have roads in our name, but our perspective is much broader. I would say transport system is a more appropriate description of what we’re involved in.”

RA Road News is featured on page 87 of this issue of Roads Magazine.

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