Keynote Address to the National and State Conference of the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association and the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of South Australia



14 June 2014

Adelaide Entertainment Centre, Hindmarsh

Thank you to all of you for being in beautiful Adelaide on one of our fine winter days. Although it's a lot wetter in my part of the world in the Adelaide Hills than down on the flatlands as we refer to them. Look, thank you for having a conference here in Adelaide. It is an important conference and a very important industry, one that the Abbott Government respects absolutely. The work that you do in ensuring that the commodity-based economy that we have moves as efficiently as it can, is absolutely vital in ensuring that the living standards of all Australians continue to rise.

We need you to be as successful as you can possibly be to ensure our economy is as successful as it can possibly be. I think the work that you do is much underrated in our society. When people sit down to a meal every night it has been moved by your trucks most of the time. When people go to the supermarket and fill their shopping trolley with the material to ensure that their family is sustained, it has been material brought to that supermarket by your trucks and by the work that you do. When our farmers export their commodities to the rest of the world, it is taken to market by your trucks.

And our responsibility as a government is to ensure that you've got the most efficient network of transport that you can have operating in a safe environment to ensure that we can continue to move our economy around the country, and to ensure that we continue to grow our economy, to ensure that our farmers get their products to market across the globe. We will never be prosperous by selling to ourselves. Australia will never be prosperous; it never has been and never will be prosperous by selling to ourselves. So, we must ensure, we must ensure that we've got the networks, the infrastructure networks across the country which ensure that you can do your job well and your businesses can continue to grow along with our economy.

That's why in this Budget there was such an emphasis on infrastructure. A $50 billion investment in infrastructure by the Federal Government—the biggest Australian Government investment in our history in infrastructure. It had projects across the country in our major cities to improve the productivity of our country.

Here in Adelaide, in South Australia, we're spending $2 billion. The biggest ever spend by a Federal Government on infrastructure in South Australia to improve our infrastructure networks. Largely focused on building the North South Corridor, the two projects, the two most priority projects on the North South Corridor. We're investing nearly a billion dollars in this Budget to ensure both of those projects happen and happen quickly.

We get on and deliver them. Not just talk about them and allocate large amounts of money to them but we actually deliver them to improve the productivity for the economy but for your businesses as well. People often forget that while you can invest money in rural South Australia and rural Australia across the country, investment in the cities also helps ensure that the freight movement of our country is as efficient as it possibly can be. If you've got the links to the ports, that you can use more quickly, you can use less fuel, less wear and tear on your vehicles, and that improves the outcomes for your businesses and it reduces the price that we have to pay for our goods and means that we can export and sell to the world in a better shape.

So, we invested heavily in each major city on big projects. The WestConnex in Sydney, the Western Sydney plan, the second Sydney airport, the Toowoomba Bypass in Queensland. We've also invested in East West in Melbourne, in both stages, and developed a Perth Freight Link. We've introduced for the first time a truck toll into Western Australia which will have a dedicated freight link including the Swan Valley Bypass all the way through the Roe Highway, straight to the port, which will be a massive improvement for your industry in that great state of Western Australia. Get the product to the port far quicker and without having to deal with as many suburban commuters when you're doing your job.

Here in Adelaide, as I said, we invested heavily in the South Road; but we want to do more. We want to do more in South Australia because we know that in South Australia it is a commodity-based state. It always has been and it will always be. And that's why I want the South Australian Government to sit down with Federal Government and work with us to look at what we can do with the Asset Recycling Initiative that the Treasurer has announced—that all the Treasurers agreed to at the recent meeting of Treasurers—to look at South Australia and how we can better use assets to invest some of that proceeds of a potential sale into new road infrastructure to improve our economy.

There is an obvious target here in South Australia in my view. Infrastructure Australia knows there is an obvious target and that is the Northern Connector up in the northern part of Adelaide which would in a sense develop a freight link very much like what we have developed with the Western Australian Government in Perth. I think that would add enormously to the capacity of your industry to get materials to port from rural South Australia.

So, I would like very much to work with the South Australian Government and with the private sector to see how we can put in place an arrangement which would get the Northern Connector delivered and so I'm hopeful in the coming weeks and months that we'll be able to sit down with the South Australian Government and start to discuss that without the ideological argument about tolls. The reality is, as your industry knows, if you can deliver better infrastructure, people will happily pay to use a piece of infrastructure if it means it reduces the cost of business, if it delivers better and newer infrastructure, if it delivers better links to ensure we've got a stronger operating framework, then people will happily pay. That's the experience we've seen in Perth, with the Perth Freight Link announcement and I'm sure we can have a reasonable discussion about that here in Adelaide.

So, we invested heavily in a Budget which was difficult. It was a difficult Budget to ensure that we achieve the commitment we made at the election to live within our means. To fix the unsustainable budget that we found. We said at the election that we would do four things for the Australian people last September. We said we'd stop the boats and there hasn't been a boat arrival for six months. We said we'd get rid of the unnecessary taxes and hopefully after 1 July, the carbon tax will go. We've tried twice already in the Parliament to abolish the carbon tax and even though the Australian people spoke vocally and strongly at the election, the Labor Party has thus far refused to accept our election result in that respect.

But we're hopeful that at the change of the Senate on 1 July we will abolish the carbon tax and the associated costs increases that it brings. We said we'd build the roads of the 21st century as I've just gone through; we are well on the way to delivering improved infrastructure across Australia. But we said we'd fix the unsustainable budget crisis and that's what the Budget has laid down. A plan to achieve that. It is a difficult Budget. It puts in place some major changes undoubtedly but it's a Budget we're absolutely committed to because we know it will ensure a stronger Australia in the future.

Just as Peter Costello in 1996 confronted a challenging budget environment; just as Peter Costello in 1996 faced opposition from all quarters to the measures he undertook at that time, we know that if we stick to what is the right plan, we will achieve the same economic and political results because people in the end will see a stronger country. You will have stronger businesses; and our country will continue to grow.

So, our investment in infrastructure was a key element to what we're trying to achieve in growing our economy, creating more jobs and ensuring we’ve got a stronger Australia. And we invested heavily, as I said $50 billion. We invested also in some particularly shorter-term measures to get projects underway and to lift the productivity capacity of our country, on a local level, targeting regional areas. For instance, we invested an additional $350 million in the Roads to Recovery programme for local government over the next two years for them to invest in their local networks, the last mile if you like, to improve the network to the bigger roads to get to the ports and also the Black Spots Programme. A very good programme which is a $60 million a year programme. Over the next two years, we'll invest $200 million extra in that programme. $100  million each over the next two years to ensure that we're improving those parts of our road network which have proven to be the most dangerous or indeed will prove to be the most dangerous. One of the things, as part of the additional money, we are looking to do with the Black Spots funding is look at the criteria to make it easier for smaller regional councils, often where you operate, to get access to some of the Black Spot funding because currently the criteria makes it a little too prescriptive for them when they don't have as much activity on the roads as metropolitan roads, for instance will have. We want a bigger emphasis on safety audits, potentially so that smaller regional councils can improve dangerous intersections, dangerous parts of roads, so you can operate more safely and we can have better productivity outcomes. So we'll have more to say about that in the next little while.

It's been touched upon, but of course, we have inherited some changes, which we support and we worked through with state ministers at the Ministerial Council just recently in relation to the Heavy Vehicle Regulator. And of course we all acknowledge that it didn't start as well as we would have hoped and no doubt there is blame to be shared by all, but the really important thing is that we are continuing to be committed to that regulator, we are committed to the purposes of the reform. We want to see it work. And I agree with Stephen Mullighan that we need to, as the state and federal governments, in conjunction with good people in industry, such as Liz and yourselves, sit down and work through the issues we have confronted. I think the permit system really was a small function of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and it was disappointing that a small part of the job that we wanted the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to do led to so much unease and criticism being levelled at it in the early part. So we need to fix that and we think we have a team now in place, which will ensure we have better outcomes. It is being tested, but good reform doesn't always work well at the beginning, but it is worthwhile pursuing it. We will ensure that we continue to pursue it. And we will absolutely, through the Deputy Prime Minister and myself, continue to talk to your industry and to all the industries affected because ultimately it's about improving how you operate. It's about improving the operation of our transport system across the country. And equally with heavy vehicle charge, no doubt heavy vehicle charging will have its ups and downs and it has had some delays because of some concerns. We want to get it right. If you look at the Productivity Commission review into public infrastructure – the Productivity Commission handed their final report to the government. In the draft report it makes the point that the way that we charge and price the roads will not be sustainable into the future. So we do need to give consideration in better outcomes so you're getting better infrastructure and better networks so we are again committed to ensuring the heavy vehicle charging is brought into place.

Vehicle standards of course is a very important part of your industry and again. Can I thank Liz and your industry for the cooperative way that you've worked with the Federal Government and with me in particular on ensuring that we have vehicle standards which are appropriate, forward looking and ensuring the safest outcomes we can have for both you and the commuters on our roads. We continue to work very closely with your industry association and the industry more broadly on ensuring that we're getting the highest possible standards that we can without putting overly onerous regulations on you or onerous costs on your businesses. So, we will continue to work very closely into the future to make sure we are getting better outcomes for you.

You do face unique circumstances, undoubtedly, compared to other trucking organisations. Where you're operating, the types of vehicles, the loads that you're carrying, they are different and we absolutely acknowledge that and it is important we don't put standards on you which make the way you operate your businesses impossible into the future. That is not the aim of improving safety outcomes. The aim is to get better safety outcomes, but not at the expense of your business. So we will continue to work closely to ensure that we don't put you under undue pressure in that respect.

Finally, can I mention about the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. I know it's an issue that many of you have concerns about and it has been raised consistently with us since we took government from September last year. As you would know, we've had a review conducted by my colleague Senator Eric Abetz, the Minister for Workplace Relations, into this issue and shortly he'll have some announcements to make about the Government's intentions.

But can I say, that we have always been very uncomfortable with this regulator. We have always found it odd that the former government thought that its workplace relations system wasn't good enough to be able to manage transport and it needed a separate body to do so. And it always seemed to me, and I contributed to the debate on this in Opposition, that this seemed to be an issue driven by one very powerful stakeholder for the former Federal Government than it was broader industry demand. And it is that way we look at how that regulator was brought into place in the first place that I think you can see the direction that the Government is intending to take. We think over-regulation of your industry doesn't help outcomes, it just adds cost, it doesn't improve safety, but it just means your businesses are harder to operate. We're not in the business of making your businesses harder to operate. We want you to be as successful as you can possibly be so I assure you that we've got more to say in respect to the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and we'll have more to say very soon. I think that you'll be comfortable with the approach that the Australian Government will take on this tribunal.

Finally, can I thank you again for being here in Adelaide. It's always great to have major national conferences here in Adelaide. We don't get enough of them, but I'm sure Stephen and the State Government are working very hard to attract more. It's good not to have to travel to speak to you all and I can get to my little girl's netball game by lunchtime which is terrific. So thank you for being here today. It is a very important industry and an industry, which as I said at the beginning, is I think very under-rated in our society. You are very important to the daily lives of all Australians. We want you to be safe. We want you to be successful. And we want you to be prosperous. Because if you're safe, successful and prosperous, then Australia is safe, successful and prosperous.

Thank you very much for listening.