Time has been set aside to talk about the nation’s infrastructure program, with Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas saying there was scope for a run-out of programs worth less than $50 million.
Much of this could be used for maintenance programs that, while not likely to attract voter attention, would be important given signs the national economy was soft.
“The economy is slowing and it appears that the federal government’s tax cuts have been used to pay down credit cards rather than go into the economy,” he said.
“Anecdotally, we’re seeing more empty shops in our suburbs and in the regions.”
Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the federal government would work closely with the states and territories to identify projects which could be brought forward.
He said longer term benefits would flow by lifting the nation’s overall productivity with the meeting to focus on heavy vehicle road reform, health, skilling the workforce and fast-tracking environmental approvals.
“Our focus will build on work already being done by the Commonwealth and states and territories and will deliver concrete benefits for Australians such as better quality roads, healthier and more productive people and more timely approval of major projects,” he said.
“A key enabler of higher productivity is publicly provided infrastructure, which is why all levels of government need to work together so we can get goods to market more efficiently and effectively, and people to work and home sooner and safer.”
Small-scale trials of new ways heavy vehicles are charged for their use of the nation’s roads and highways, which includes automatic tracking of distance travelled and weight of the goods carried, have been in place for some time and are close to being expanded.
Key elements of a two-year-old report by the Productivity Commission advocated a string of measures such as the introduction of land taxes by states and road congestion charges it said could deliver up to $80 billion a year worth of economic benefits.
Mr Frydenberg said the states had “prime responsibility” for service delivery, arguing 22 of the 28 recommendations made in the Productivity Commission’s report were the sole or joint responsibility of the states and territories.
But Mr Pallas said the large number of recommendations that required federal input meant Canberra could not just leave the commission’s proposals to the states.
He said the government needed to revisit the federal government’s 1990s payments to states that undertook national competition policy reforms.
“They need to look at incentive payments,” he said.
“If we don’t use the Commonwealth balance sheet then this is just not going to work – especially if we’re talking about big changes in tax revenues.”
Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.