THE Coalition has pledged to spend $35.5 billion on infrastructure over the next five years to fast-track the development of essential projects, offsetting $1.1bn in costs by discontinuing a range of discretionary grants.

Since the release of the pre-election fiscal outlook, the Coalition has committed to an additional infrastructure spend of $8.6bn over the next six years, including $1.6bn in 2017-18 and $1.8bn in 2018-19.

Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss talked up the increase in funding which is to ramp-up from July when the new five-year AusLink program takes effect.

“The Coalition federal government will spend more money on highways and the road system than any government previously,” Mr Truss said.

“The next five-year program which we’ll be negotiating with the state governments is an ambitious plan, one which is bigger than any other previous road program.

“So there’ll be more money for NSW and more money for the other states.”

About $5bn has been fast tracked from the out-years to help boost infrastructure projects around Australia with the key Coalition commitments to upgrade Queensland’s Bruce Highway and the duplication of the Pacific Highway from Newcastle to the border.
The Coalition has also freed up $996 million over six years for eight projects committed to by the Labor government. These include the Great Northern and the North West Coastal highways in Western Australia, road works in northern Queensland and South Australia’s APY lands as well as four projects in NSW, including the $51.9m duplication of the Tourle Street Bridge in Newcastle.

Todd Williams, who heads up Regional Development Australia in the Hunter region, said developing the Tourle Street Bridge was “of national significance”. He said it was the number one priority to improve local productivity.

“What is constrained at the moment is the goods and services coming in and out of Newcastle,” he said. “The airport is at about 30 per cent capacity; the port is at 50 per cent capacity, but the bridge is already at 100 per cent capacity for some of the day. The duplication will mean access to the harbour becomes easier so you’ll be able to bring in larger vehicles and will amount to massive productivity gains,” he said.

In his address to the National Press Club, Joe Hockey said the cost of the eight projects committed to by the Coalition on Monday would be offset by not proceeding with “various uncommitted discretionary grants or spending commitments”.
However, the grants were not detailed in yesterday’s budget update with most savings measures deferred until next year’s budget.