Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association 2014 Conference Opening Address: Panel with Barnaby Joyce and Duncan Gay



07 March 2014

Tamworth Regional Entertainment & Conference Centre

It is certainly a pleasure to be back with you again at the Livestock and Bulk Carriers conference on such a beautiful Tamworth day.

I was thinking as I was wandering around Tamworth this morning what a difference the weather is to last year's conference in Newcastle. I remember it was absolutely pouring and we would get wet just going from one building to the other. Not just wet, soaked. It poured all the way through your conference. Well, that's Australia, isn't it? What we would give to have a little of last year's rain this year.

But I guess from Barnaby and my perspectives, there's one thing we don't want to trade in from last year and that is the fact that this time we're in government, last time it was opposition. We were able to talk about commitments, but we were not really in much of a position to deliver. Now the challenge is ours to try and put into place some of the commitments that we made to you 12 months ago and the commitments we made to the Australian people, and let me assure you we are determined to do that.

It's particularly good to be here with Barnaby and Duncan. All three of us are sons of regional Australia. We grew up on the land—Barnaby, of course, born here. And for all of us, our goals and objectives in public life are to help deliver benefits, especially for those who live in regional communities.

Now, today I want to talk to you a little bit about those objectives and what we plan to do in relation to the roads portfolio, which is a part of my ministerial responsibilities. I want to particularly focus on what's happening nationally in the transport infrastructure space and in our infrastructure investment programme, particularly the investment on roads.

Regional Australia is strongly represented in the new Coalition Government ministry and the Coalition Government includes the overwhelming majority of regional members of parliament. Now more than ever the regions need to be front and centre of our national consciences.

The government is committed to improving social and community infrastructure and supporting small business entrepreneurship, including in the rural trucking sector, and facilitating access to education, health and other services regardless of where people live.

The national freight task has quadrupled over the past four decades and forecasts indicate that there will be no slow down as we strive to meet the demands of a growing population and the logistics challenges of our import and export industry.

At the bottom line, this means that getting the settings and the supporting infrastructure for the heavy vehicle industry right becomes increasingly critical.

In a major step forward in getting the settings right in terms of productivity and safety and reducing red tape, the Heavy Vehicle National Law has come into place across Australia.

This important initiative will make a big difference for the interstate heavy vehicle industry, particularly in the eastern states, reducing red tape, promoting productivity, and making our roads safer places for heavy vehicle drivers and other road users.

The heavy vehicle sector plays a vital role in Australia's economic strength in adapting to changing economic conditions, including the shift in global economic power to Asia.

Unfortunately, the benefits of the national approach have been overshadowed by the troubled start to the over-width, over-mass permit system. Clearly the systems which the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator had in place on 10 February were inadequate to do the job and I share the concerns expressed about the delays in processing access permits, which has seen many operators adversely impacted.

Last week, transport ministers met to discuss a way forward to ensure that the regulator's performance meets operators' expectations surrounding access permits.

As you will be aware, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia have resumed processing of access permits on a temporary basis. A lot of repair work is needed to fix the regulator's systems and processes to ensure that they're up to standard expected by operators and, for that matter, governments. In this regard, ministers have agreed that the current interim permit processing arrangements will remain in place until we are confident that that standard is achieved.

In spite of these initial problems, the Australian Government will not be walking away from this reform because we know it offers enormous productivity benefits to the future. Indeed, it's amongst the highest ranking beneficiaries to the economy of all of the reforms that COAG is attempting across the national economy.

So the focus now must be on getting it right and making the systems work to ensure that the benefits can be realised. And I urge industry and road authorities to maintain the strong support you have provided and to work collaboratively with the regulator to deliver the modern and efficient regulatory system that the heavy vehicle industry in Australia deserves.

Governments are working closely with industry to consider how best to meet the needs and the challenges of the future freight task. An important part of this work is consideration of heavy vehicle charging and investment reform.

The Australian Government is also committed to the continuation of Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Programme.

Under round three of the programme, the Australian Government is contributing around $16 million here in New South Wales for high priority roadside rest areas on the Newell, Sturt, Great Western, and Hume Highways to help drivers manage fatigue.

Projects specific to your industry as part of the one off round three initiative will also provide improved infrastructure, including 60 new or upgraded stock ramps and loading pens, 10 lighting upgrades, and three upgraded truck wash facilities.

We also understand the need to upgrade many local bridges around the country that are in a state of disrepair and no longer able to cope with heavy vehicle traffic. Through our new Bridges Renewal Programme, we have committed $300 million of Commonwealth money to restore and rebuild local bridges with an emphasis on freight routes and community access.

Funding for this programme begins this year and will be matched by state and territory and local governments and should make a real difference in repairing and upgrading our nation's bridge networks where as  little as a few metres of roadway can block the reasonable access to a whole highway system.

Now I'd like to touch on the national infrastructure investment that the government is planning.

In parliament this week, I introduced legislation which will underpin our $35.5 billion commitment to road works over the next six years. It'll be the biggest road and rail construction program in the history of our country and should make a real difference to our nation's road network.

We're working with the states to implement a number of really nationally significant road and rail projects. Here in New South Wales alone we've committed $5.6 billion to finish the duplication of the Pacific Highway, $1.5 billion to the WestConnex project in Sydney, and $405 million for the F3 to M2 link project.

We don't just need to build the roads of the 21st century. We need to ensure greater efficiency and connectivity of land freight and ports capacity. Significant progress has been made towards a national approach to freight, both through intergovernmental action at the Council of Australian Governments and jurisdiction specific policies and freight plans.

A particular feature of the recent policy initiatives has been the recognition that transport network planning for freight has to cross traditional modal barriers and fully capture issues associated with ports and broader land use planning. So the Commonwealth is working closely with the states and territories on port and freight initiatives to ensure that these critical linkages are recognised and strengthened.

Now, I know that local roads also play an important part in the national freight task and I know that you are particularly concerned with the state of local roads right across the country and local road access, and so I want to also touch on the government's Black Spot and Roads to Recovery Programmes.

Recently, my colleague, Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Jamie Briggs, appointed John Cobb to chair the New South Wales Black Spot Consultative Panel. They will oversight the selection of Black Spot projects to be funded under the next program.

You may be aware that the Black Spot Programme was actually introduced in its current form by the Howard Government 1996. It provides $60 million each year to address roads that are high risk areas for serious accidents.

We have extended the Black Spot Programme through to at least 2019 with $60 million per annum to be provided over five years from 1 July 2014 as a part of our commitment to reduce road accidents that may be attributed to the state of the road system. New South Wales alone will receive $117.7 million for Black Spots projects over that period.

The Roads to Recovery Programme, which we established in 2001 has come to play an absolutely vital role in assisting local governments to maintain over 650,000 kilometres of local roads. Since its inception, this programme has really endeared itself to local government and local communities with the really practical work that it has done on those last mile projects.

A total of over 44,000 projects around Australia have been constructed under the Roads to Recovery programme and almost $4.5 billion of Federal Government funding has been provided. That money does not have to be matched by local government or anyone else, but it has boosted the capacity of councils to undertake important local road and street work.

Now, we will ensure that this highly successful and much needed programme is adequately funded into the future. Legislation that I introduced to the parliament will commit a further $1.75 billion to the roads programme over the next five years through these kinds of local Roads to Recovery projects.

No discussion on road freight can be complete without looking at the issue of heavy vehicle charging and that issue has already been raised on this platform. In the long term, reforms to heavy vehicle charging and investment arrangements will be necessary to ensure that the road network can sustainably meet the expected growth in freight.

Transport ministers met at the end of February to discuss the National Transport Commission's final recommendations regarding the new determination and the impact on a range of operators, including livestock and bulk haulage operators.

A decision is yet to be made concerning the implementation of the new determination and the specific impacts of the new charges on operators will, of course, as always, depend on the type of vehicles your members are using, their fuel consumption and total kilometres travelled.

However, as I'm sure you're all aware, the NTC recommendations appear to be favourable to long haul, multi-combination operators. While registration charges for some categories of heavy vehicles would increase, these increases will be offset by savings from the higher fuel tax credit, assuming the recommendations are accepted. In fact, most operators will see their combined registration and road user charge liability fall under the new determination.

The NTC's modelling, for instance, suggests that double road trains travelling 150,000 kilometres per year will pay five per cent less under the determination and seven per cent less for triple road trains. A B-double travelling the same kilometres could expect to pay around six per cent less, while B-triples face a reduction over nine per cent.

Transport ministers are carefully considering both the outcomes of the public consultation process and the NTC's recommendations and their implications.

It is fair to report to you, however, that this determination, if implemented in full, would, in fact, slash revenue to governments by several hundred million dollars. So the implications for state and, for that matter, the Federal Government, are quite significant and naturally are attracting quite a bit of attention, not just from transport ministers, but also from our treasuries. I expect to see a final vote on this issue later this month.

It's a pleasure to be with you again. I look forward to answering questions as a part of the panel.

Thank you for the opportunity to report briefly to you on the issues and the work that we've undertaken since coming into government, and I look forward to continuing to work with your sector to deliver a more efficient national transport network and to work with you to help upgrade our national road network and to achieve your other aims and objectives.

Thank you.