Australia to invest $96b in roads as part of 'contribute and build' budget

PERTH (REUTERS) - The Australian government will co-fund an A$82 billion (S$96 billion) road infrastructure plan to help stimulate investment and create jobs as the impact of the country's mining boom fades, Treasurer Joe Hockey said on Sunday.

In a television interview ahead of his government's first annual budget, to be delivered next week, Hockey announced the plan to spend more than A$40 billion on roads over the next six years, to be topped up by some A$42 billion from state governments and private investors.

"We are laying a plan for the biggest increase in road expenditure in Australian history," Hockey told the Channel Nine Network. "That is tens of thousands of new jobs, but most importantly, it is going to address the significant drop-off in investment in construction in Australia associated with mining investment coming off."

He dubbed the economic blueprint his government will deliver on May 13 a "contribute and build" budget.

Australia's A$1.5 trillion economy sailed through the global financial crisis, but a slump in mining investment and a sluggish response to record low interest rates has hit government tax income as expenditure continues to grow.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his government have been preparing voters for big spending cuts ahead of the May 13 budget to deal with deficits forecast at A$47 billion this year and totalling A$123 billion over the next four years.

Abbott swept to power last September promising to bring the budget back under control and aiming to become known as "the infrastructure prime minister."

Hockey refused to comment on a widely speculated increase in petrol tax, but said revenue from any such hike would be invested in road projects. "If we are going to make any changes to fuel excise it will go into roads," he said.

In the lead-up to the budget the government has flagged a temporary income tax levy on higher income earners, a compulsory new fee for visiting a doctor and an increase in the retirement age to 70.

The government has argued that all sections of society must contribute to lowering costs and reducing the deficit. It has proposed that the salaries of politicians and senior public servants be frozen, Hockey said. "I think we have got to send a clear message to the electorate that whatever we are asking the electorate to contribute to the budget repair task, we are going to contribute ourselves as well."

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