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Introduction and overview

1. Year in review

Business Division significant activities 2007-08

These sections summarise the significant activities of each of the Department's business divisions in 2007-08. A full report of these activities, addressing the Department's outcome and output structure, is provided in chapters 3 to 5.

Local Government and Regional Development

In May 2008, the Australian Government closed the Regional Partnerships and Sustainable Regions programs to new applications and announced a package of new approaches to assist Australian regions. This package includes, the Better Regions election commitments, the Office of Northern Australia; Regional Development Australia, the Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program, and the Australian Council of Local Governments.

The Department continued to improve its processes for the administration of regional programs and is working to ensure that the implementation of new and existing projects is consistent with all relevant requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Regulations 1997, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) best practice guide and the recommendations from the ANAO's performance audit of the Regional Partnerships program.

The Regional Development Council met in August 2007 in Cairns, Queensland, identifying a number of areas for ongoing cooperation between the Australian Government and state and territory governments.

The Department completed its work as the lead agency on the Council of Australian Governments' trial of government service delivery arrangements with Indigenous communities in the East Kimberley region - Balgo, Billiluna, Mulan and Ringer Soak. Formal responsibility was transferred to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in the latter part of the year.

The Remote Air Services Subsidy Scheme subsidised passenger and freight services to 239 remote Indigenous communities and properties such as cattle and sheep stations across four states and the Northern Territory.

In October 2007, the Department completed changes to Area Consultative Committee (ACC) boundaries following the boundary review conducted in November 2006. The changes have ensured that the boundaries of rural ACCs better reflect areas of common interest and that the distribution of metropolitan ACCs is appropriate.

The Department worked with ACCs to assist their transition to Regional Development Australia (RDA) committees by consulting widely on the future role of RDA with state and local governments, other stakeholders and the committees themselves.

A total of $1,765.8 million in Local Government Financial Assistance Grants was distributed to 612 local governments, including councils that were newly established in Queensland following council structural reforms. About 70 per cent of the funds went to councils in rural and regional Australia. The Department also administered supplementary funding of $13.6 million to South Australian councils for local roads.

The Department promoted local government's achievements through the National Awards for Local Government, which attracted 287 entries across 15 categories.

The Office of Northern Australia was established in the Department in March 2008 to provide high-level policy advice on sustainable development issues across Northern Australia. The Department also advised the Australian Government in relation to the establishment of the Council of Australian Local Governments and the findings of the Productivity Commission's report Assessing local government revenue raising capacity.

In addition, the Department contributed to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's policy work on regional development, through representation at meetings held in France and China in November 2007.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau

The ATSB continued to initiate aviation, marine and rail accident investigations and release important investigation reports, including the final report into the grounding of the Panamanian-registered bulk carrier Pasha Bulker at Newcastle, New South Wales.

The Code of the International Standards and Recommended Practices for a Marine Safety Investigation into a Marine Casualty or Marine Incident (the Code) was adopted by the International Maritime Organization on 16 May 2008. It is expected to come into effect on 1 January 2010. The ATSB played a major role in both initiating the development of the Code and drafting its provisions. When it comes into effect as a part of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the Code will represent a major advance in international maritime safety investigation.

A comprehensive audit pursuant to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Universal Safety Oversight Program was conducted in February 2008. The audit focused on all the Australian agencies which have a responsibility for aviation safety oversight and service. The final report of the audit is yet to be received, although the results are expected to recognise the ATSB as a best-practice agency in a range of investigation activities.

Under the Indonesia Transport Safety Assistance Package (ITSAP), the ATSB assisted the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee with several aviation investigations. These included the investigations of fatal accidents that occurred in the Makassar Strait in January 2007 and at Yogyakarta Airport in March 2007. The ATSB also provided marine investigation analysis assistance.

In addition, the ATSB conducted training in Indonesia, presenting courses designed to provide the knowledge base for conducting and reporting investigations according to ICAO standards. In May 2008, an Indonesian investigator completed the ATSB's Canberra-based 12-month diploma-level training as an aviation safety investigator. The project was jointly funded by the ATSB and an AusAID Fellowship. The ATSB expanded its program of capacity-building assistance to Indonesia during 2007-08, providing new opportunities for international aviation and marine investigators. This will include an expanded diploma program for Indonesian investigators in 2008-09.

Through its transport safety investigation activities, the ATSB facilitated the initiation of 196 safety actions by stakeholders across modes and made 22 aviation, 32 marine and 42 rail safety recommendations.

The ATSB website experienced over 1 million user sessions in 2007-08, with an average of almost 57,000 unique visitors using the website each month.

Office of Transport Security

From 1 December 2007, 29 regional airports implemented the first phase of new checked baggage screening measures including the use of explosive trace detection (ETD) equipment. Phase 2 measures involving the use of explosive detection system X-ray equipment will be in place by 1 December 2008.

Amendments to the Aviation Transport Security Act 2004 provided for the creation of an Accredited Air Cargo Agents (AACA) Scheme and for the mandatory introduction of ETD equipment. The purchase of ETD equipment to be used by industry to examine air cargo loaded at specified Australian airports is part of the Australian Government's investment to strengthen security measures for international and domestic passenger aircraft through increased inspection of air cargo.

On 1 July 2007, the Regulated Air Cargo Agent (RACA) Security Training Quality Assurance Service commenced delivering a high-quality, competency-based security training system for the air cargo sector. This system was superseded by the RACA Security Training Framework on 1 January 2008.

The 2008 Maritime Security Risk Context Statement was released at the end of June 2008, providing a new assessment of threat and risk in the maritime sector based on current intelligence.

Following consultation with key stakeholders, the OTS Regulatory Philosophy and the OTS Strategic Plan 2007-2010 were published. These documents state clearly to industry, staff and other stakeholders how the Department will regulate preventive security in the aviation, maritime and air cargo sectors of the transport industry. Work is continuing on the implementation of a national compliance work program which will provide assurance that a single, consistent, prioritised security risk-based focus is applied to all OTS compliance activity.

The Department participated in numerous counter-terrorism exercises and contributed to the extensive security operations that accompanied Australia's hosting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders Week meeting held in Sydney in September 2007 and preparations for World Youth Day 2008 scheduled to be held in Sydney in July 2008.

A Strategic Offshore Oil and Gas Symposium was held in late August 2007. The symposium was convened to facilitate discussion, between the offshore oil and gas industry and relevant Australian Government and state and territory government agencies, on the current and future strategic security environment and how it may impact upon the industry and the security regime within which it operates. As a result, the Oil and Gas Security Forum was established.

The Department participated in a range of capacity-building projects to assist countries in the Asia-Pacific region to develop their compliance with international transport security standards in the port security and aviation security environments.

The Department played a major role in the APEC Air Cargo Security Workshop co-hosted by Australia, China and the United States and held in Thailand in June 2008. Information exchanges focused on best practice solutions to security issues in the air cargo supply chain.

The Department played a leading role in the establishment of an aviation security-related discussion forum known as the QUAD, an informal group of aviation security regulators from Australia, Canada, the European Commission and the United States. The creation of the QUAD has enabled constructive discussion on a wide range of aviation policy issues and has facilitated development of new international aviation security settings and standards.

Aviation and Airports

The Department was engaged heavily in aviation safety review and reform at both the national level and the international level. In September 2007, the Department led the Australian delegation to the triennial General Assembly of the ICAO, held in Canada. Australia has been a member of the ICAO Council since its inception, and the Department administers an office in Montreal, Canada, to provide a permanent base for Australia's ICAO activities.

International aviation safety was also enhanced through the Department's management of ITSAP projects to enhance the safety of Indonesia's aviation and marine transport network. A total of 22 projects have been approved under ITSAP, which is intended to develop local capacity and underpin the development of a genuine safety culture in the Indonesian transport sector.

Mr Russell Miller's review of the working relationship between the ATSB and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority began in October 2007; the report of the review was presented to the Minister in December 2007 and released for public comment in March 2008. The outcomes of the review will inform the development of the national aviation policy that is expected to be announced in mid-2009.

Airports continued to invest in developing Australia's aeronautical infrastructure. The planning for these developments was subject to new requirements introduced by amendments to the Airports Act 1996 (Airports Act) in May 2007. These amendments harmonise planning approval processes across all leased federal airports and provide for greater flexibility in granting approval for major developments.

Airport economic regulation was also enhanced, in response to the Productivity Commission's recommendations in its Review of price regulation of airport services, and demand management at Sydney airport was brought into line with international practice with the passage of the Sydney Airport Demand Management Amendment Act 2008.

In April 2008, the Minister released an issues paper to begin the process of developing a national aviation policy. The Department received over 280 stakeholder submissions in response to the issues paper.

An aviation green paper outlining possible policy directions, settings and reforms for the Australian aviation industry will be released for public comment in late 2008. After this second round of consultation, the Australian Government will finalise the policy and release an aviation white paper, which will provide greater planning and investment certainty for the industry while addressing the wider community and environmental impacts associated with aviation. The process will be completed by mid-2009.

Infrastructure Investment

In 2007-08, the fourth year of AusLink, the national land transport plan, the Department administered $3 billion in direct and indirect grants to replace, upgrade and maintain the quality of land transport infrastructure on behalf of the Australian Government. The Department worked cooperatively with counterpart agencies in all states and territories, which allowed sound progress on projects across all programs.

A number of national projects were completed in 2007-08, including duplication of the Brunswick Heads to Yelgun section of the Pacific Highway, the Pakenham bypass, the Tugun bypass and the Clackline bypass. National projects which began in 2007-08 include the Ballina bypass, Bonville deviation and duplication of the Karuah to Bulahdelah (Stages 2 and 3) and Coopernook to Moorland sections of the Pacific Highway; the western bypass of Geelong; construction of an improved rail link to the Port of Melbourne; construction of the Logan Motorway-Ipswich Motorway interchange; and construction of the Perth-Bunbury Highway.

The Department worked with state and territory governments to implement consistent best practice cost estimation processes to support future project planning and development. In addition, bilateral negotiations with state and territory governments commenced on projects and funding arrangements for the land transport investment program for 2009-10 to 2013-14.

The Department progressed the establishment of Infrastructure Australia (IA), including by working with state officials to determine the work program for IA and developing the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008. IA held its first meeting in June 2008; the Department provided corporate support to ensure its effective operation.

Secretariat support was also provided to the Infrastructure Working Group established by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in December 2007 to help develop an initial work program for IA.

Additionally, the Department administered $37.3 million under the AusLink Black Spot Projects program to improve road safety at identified crash sites, resulting in 313 new black spots being approved for treatment. A further $361.2 million was provided to local communities under the AusLink Roads to Recovery and Improving Local Roads programs.

During the year, 28 projects were completed under the AusLink Strategic Regional program, including the Rock Bullenbung construction, Lockhart Shire, New South Wales; Manks Road construction, City of Casey, Victoria; Highams Bridge upgrade and rehabilitation, Mackay Regional Council, Queensland; replacement of the Hume Bridge at Corowa, New South Wales; reconstruction and rehabilitation of main roads 301 and 101 north of Newcastle, New South Wales; and upgrading of Chappel Road, north-western Victoria. In total, 209 projects have been approved for funding under the program; total expenditure in 2007-08 was $121.7 million.

In the 2008-09 Budget, the Australian Government announced funding of $559.3 million in 2008-09 for 45 'early start' projects under three AusLink programs: Investment, Strategic Regional and Funding for road projects other than under the AusLink (National Land Transport) Act 2005. Negotiations began with states and the Northern Territory to ensure rapid commencement of the projects.

The 2008-09 Budget also saw the government announce a series of major studies in its $75 million Tackling Urban Congestion and Planning measure. The Department negotiated with the governments of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia to allocate funds for the studies and ensure their early commencement.

Infrastructure and Surface Transport Policy

The Department led the development of legislation that:

  • allowed the integration of the Australian Maritime College and the University of Tasmania to proceed on 1 January 2008 - the integration will provide significant benefits for both organisations, through new strategic opportunities, operational synergies and cost rationalisation; and
  • implemented in Australia the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage - the convention will ensure adequate compensation is available in the event of an incident involving pollution from a ship's fuel bunkers.

The Department implemented the Australian Government's scheme to subsidise the fitting of seatbelts on school buses which operate on high-risk routes in rural and regional areas. The scheme, which commenced in September 2007, allows eligible bus operators to apply for funding of up to $25,000 per bus to fit lap sash seatbelts in existing buses and to subsidise the purchase of new buses fitted with Australian Design Rule 68 - compliant seats and seatbelts.

The Department continued to monitor and report on road safety progress under the National Road Safety Strategy 2001-10, and carried out initial scoping work on the development of a new national strategy. It also published 23 road safety research and statistical reports, and released an updated edition of A Simple Guide to Child Restraints, a comprehensive consumer information booklet on the selection and use of child restraints in passenger vehicles.

In April 2008, the Department convened the national Motorcycle and Scooter Safety Summit, with the theme 'The Road Ahead', bringing together over 100 delegates from community, industry, research and government organisations to discuss a wide range of strategic motorcycle safety issues.

The Department continued to support the role of the Australian Transport Council (ATC) in delivering effective progress on COAG's transport reform agenda. During 2007-08, the ATC focused on developing a national approach to transport policy and taking forward a national action plan. The Department's activities in support of the ATC included providing advice to government and engaging with the National Transport Commission, state and territory governments and industry stakeholders.

Other work by departmental officials on the COAG transport reform agenda included progressing the new heavy vehicle pricing determination and productivity reforms consistent with the COAG delivery timetable, and managing and delivering COAG research outputs.

National Transport Strategy

In May 2008, the ATC gave in-principle support to a number of proposals that will move Australia towards a single, national transport policy, through better planning and investment in infrastructure to serve freight supply chains and the movement of people, particularly in major cities, and greater uniformity in national regulatory structures. The ATC also recognised the need to achieve environmental outcomes, in the context of the government's climate change agenda, and to improve road and rail safety.

Council members agreed to consider regulatory reforms including:

  • a single national system for the regulation, registration and licensing of heavy vehicles;
  • more uniform arrangements for rail safety regulation and investigation;
  • a single, national approach to maritime legislation, covering commercial vehicle survey, certification, crew competencies and operational practices; and
  • the establishment of a national road safety council to provide advice on effective road safety measures that could be implemented on a national basis.

Responding to this initiative, the Department commenced work on developing a national transport policy and progressing the reforms. The Department is a member of nine cross-jurisdictional working groups collectively developing the policy framework. The working groups are led by Ministers, with the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government oversighting the governance working group.

Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics

The Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE) released major research publications on the long-term passenger growth outlook for Australia's capital city airports and on trends in air transport services in regional Australia.

In March 2008, BITRE released Australian transport statistics yearbook 2007. This was the first of a new series of annual compendiums of transport statistics and trends. The yearbook will be expanded to include infrastructure statistics from 2009.

With the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), BITRE participated in a joint review of Australia's transport statistical needs, to inform future national statistical collection priorities. The review was made available to the ABS's Australia Transport Statistics Network and is informing the development of a national transport strategy.

In June 2008, BITRE held its third Regional Perspectives conference in Canberra, on the theme 'Understanding sustainable regions'. The conference was attended by approximately 160 delegates, and covered such topics as understanding community wellbeing, understanding growth and change across Northern Australia, and understanding regional adaptation to climate shocks.

BITRE's eighth Transport Colloquium, on the theme 'Australian transport - Building Capacity and Competitiveness', also held in Canberra in June 2008, attracted around 200 delegates. The colloquium included sessions on the transport infrastructure challenge; coping with growth in Australian aviation; climate change and international transport; and transport security.

BITRE leads Australia's engagement with the International Transport Forum, which was established out of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport as a global platform for transport, logistics and mobility issues. In May 2008, the Secretary of the Department led the Australian delegation to the inaugural International Transport Forum, held in Germany, on the theme of 'Transport and Energy: the Challenge of Climate Change'.

In March 2008, the Climate Change Task Force was established as part of BITRE, to lead the portfolio's engagement with the Australian Government's climate change policy agenda.

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