2014 Australasian Bus & Coach Conference & Expo—Moving People: Driving Excellence



29 September 2014

Gold Coast Convention Centre



Thank you for the warm introduction Wayne (Patch, Chairman BIC) and good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I understand that this is the first time that you have hosted a combined National and State conference and I would like to begin by acknowledging Tony Hopkins, President of the Qld BIC and Executive Director, David Tape.

Thank you for the invitation to join you for your 2014 Bus Industry Confederation Annual Conference.

It seems to me that the vital role that buses and coaches fill in our national passenger transport task is not always given the credit it should in the media or public debate.

Planes and trains are always in our minds but when we consider that one bus can take 30 or 40 cars off our roads, we should be paying closer attention to the role buses can play in easing urban congestion and moving people from place to place.

The Tourist and Transport Forum, or TTF, of which a number of you are members, proposes that a well-run public transport system is at the heart of ensuring Australia’s major cities are productive, sustainable and inclusive.

Infrastructure Australia has also stressed the need to find an optimal balance between the amount of private car travel and public transport use.

Your industry will play a key role in achieving that task.

Yours is an industry employing more than 50,000 Australians and your membership is diverse.

There are bus operators, bus manufacturers, some are in the business of supplying parts and services to the industry.

Although I confess that I won’t be travelling back to the capital by coach, it is significant to note that the coach sector of your industry moves more than 1.5 million domestic travellers around the country each year.

Speaking of passenger numbers, I am pleased this morning to release three information sheets prepared by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics—the research arm of my Department.

The first sheet, on recent trends in urban public transport use, shows that, based on reported patronage levels from the various urban transport operators for bus, train, light rail and ferries, close to 1.6 billion passenger trips are undertaken each year in the eight capital cities.

For the 2013 financial year, this figure includes 692 million bus trips on scheduled route services including urban school services.

If expanded to include all urban bus travel—on charter, hire and other private use of buses and minibuses—this represents 6.4 billion passenger kilometres a year.  

The second information sheet looks at long-term trends in urban transport use

It shows how urban bus use has grown over the years from about 1.8 billion passenger-kilometres a year following the Second World War to current levels of around seven billion passenger-kilometres a year.

The third information sheet looks at city travel by mode in metropolitan Australia, and compares these trends to city travel in the United States. It shows a common pattern of a saturating level of daily travel per person in the cities of both countries.

The information sheets are available on the Bureau’s web site.

In reference to your conference theme—Moving people: Driving Excellence—Australia is a vast continent and we are talking about a road network extending more than 900,000 kilometres, including around 670,000 kilometres of local roads.

It stands to reason that your members know just how critical the state of our road network is in supporting supply chains, driving national productivity, keeping communities connected and keeping your businesses running.

However, as we all know, the condition of the road surface and the number of traffic lanes, bypasses and on and off ramps are not the only issues for road builders in this day and age.

Improving the safety and efficiency of our roads to serve us into the 21st century is a multi-faceted issue.

The quality and efficiency of the surrounding infrastructure—the lighting, the barriers, the signage, managed motorway technology and the like—is also vital in ensuring efficient traffic flow and the safety of all road users.

We recognise the complexity of the task and the pressing need to be thoughtful and strategic in planning, prioritising and funding Australia’s infrastructure and land transport networks.

Recognising the link between effective, safe and efficient transport networks and enhanced global competitiveness is sheer common sense.

The Bus Industry Confederation shares the Government’s recognition of this fundamental connection.

In that vein, I congratulate you on the considered responses and reports you continue to provide on transport issues and policy initiatives to lift the momentum of the Australian economy through an improved transport system.

The bottom line is we have to have better, safer roads. We need better, safer roads.

That is why the new Coalition Government has made a $50 billion commitment in priority national transport infrastructure capable of the greatest productivity impact.

In a tight fiscal environment, Treasury estimates that our investment will leverage over $125 billion in public and private investment in infrastructure.

Our priority includes major projects in all states and territories. May I just focus on some of the projects that I know are of special interest to BIC members.

In Sydney, WestConnex and NorthConnex are set to be game changers for Sydney traffic.

We are providing a concessional bridging loan of up to $2 billion for WestConnex, to help bring forward delivery of the second stage of the project by up to 18 months.  It brings the second stage into alignment with the first, reducing the reliance on capital recycling from the first stage to see the project completed.

The loan is being provided in addition to a $1.5 billion grant committed to WestConnex in the Budget.

NorthConnex is another innovative private public partnership which will ease congestion on Sydney’s Pennant Hills Road—removing 5,000 trucks a day and providing a free flowing connection between the M1 and M2.

We are also investing in $35 billion worth of road upgrades and the construction of a new M7 to The Northern Road motorway as part of the road network necessary to serve this fast growing part of the city, including the new Western Sydney Airport.

$3 billion will be provided to the East-West project in Melbourne, including $1.5 billion to fast track delivery of the western section.

The East-West link is expected to reduce travel times by 20 minutes for 100,000 vehicles every day. The eastern section alone will bypass 23 sets of traffic lights.

In Perth, the Gateway project is ahead of schedule and the new Perth Freight Link will provide a new freight link connection between the Roe Highway and the Port of Fremantle.

In Adelaide, we are building the South Road—at both ends—and the first work on the project has begun.

And in Queensland, work has also begun on our $1 billion extension of the widening of the vital Gateway Motorway North project.

But our infrastructure commitments are not in the cities alone. We have big plans also for regional roads.

Our Infrastructure Investment Programme includes funding for:

  • fixing the Bruce Highway here in Queensland - $8.5 billion including the 20 per cent contribution from Queensland
  • finishing the duplication of Pacific Highway in New South Wales by 2020 ; and
  • The Toowoomba Second Range Crossing at $1.6 billion, the biggest single project ever in regional Australia and possibly the first PPP, plus
  • A $500 million upgrade of the Warrego Highway west of Toowoomba.
  • In Victoria we are upgrading the Western and Princes Highways;
  • In Western Australia we are improving the North West Highway and the Great Northern Highway; and for those of you who want to get off the beaten track
  • we are making long overdue improvements to the Outback Way, known as the world’s longest shortcut, linking Perth with Cairns, traversing WA, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Of particular interest to those of you in the coach sector, we have committed $229 million for a new national highway upgrade programme—upgrades to some of the major highways that are not always in the news.

We are also investing heavily in local roads, last mile projects, and bridges where heavy vehicles have the potential to cause expensive damage which local councils struggle to address.

I am particularly pleased to be able to say that despite months of road blocks by Labor and the Greens, the popular Roads to Recovery programme has finally been agreed to in the Senate, guaranteeing $2.1 billion of vital funding for local roads and streets across Australia—including a double payment to Councils in 2015-16—or an extra $350 million.

In other initiatives, we have committed $565 million—including an additional $200 million - to the roads Black Spot Programme and we have broadened the eligibility criteria to make funding available to more projects to eliminate accident spots.

We have committed a further $248 million for the continuation of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Programme for projects that increase productivity by enhancing the capacity of existing roads and improve the safety environment for heavy vehicle drivers

We have also committed $300 million for a new Bridges Renewal Programme to contribute to the replacement of old bridges serving local communities, and facilitate better access for buses and higher productivity.

My Department is currently assessing a large number of proposals received under these programmes and I expect to announce successful projects later this year.

Vehicle Safety

No discussion around road transport is complete without consideration of vehicle safety.

The Australian Government is committed to international best practice when it comes to the safety of vehicles on our roads.

It has a comprehensive work program for developing national vehicle standards, the Australian Design Rules, which are being increasingly harmonised with international vehicle regulations.

Under the ADRs, new model heavy vehicles have needed to be equipped with Anti-lock Brake Systems or similar advanced braking technology since 1 July this year, and this requirement will be extended to all new heavy vehicles on 1 January 2015.

My Department has now commenced a process to consider mandating Electronic Stability Control, or ESC, on heavy vehicles The goal is to have a draft Regulation Impact Statement ready for consultation with stakeholders in mid- 2015.

To the credit of your industry, BIC has been, and is, a strong partner with Government in improving vehicle safety and you were an important contributor in the development of the current National Road Safety Strategy.

BIC is an active participant in the Strategic Vehicle Safety and Environment Group and other consultative forums on the ADRs and vehicle safety that the Department chairs.

BIC is also a member of the recently formed industry reference group providing advice to the Department on ESC.

It is also notable that BIC has been active in developing voluntary codes of practice, such as its advisory on bus door safety last year and its current work on addressing bus fires.

Seatbelts on Regional School Buses

The Government is also working to improve the safety of younger children living in regional Australia through the Seatbelts on Regional School Buses programme, which is helping to ensure that school students in regional Australia have access to seatbelt-equipped school buses.

This programme encourages school bus operators to upgrade the safety of their vehicles, by offering grants of up to $25,000 per bus.

Assistant Minister Jamie Briggs recently approved funding for seatbelt upgrades to a further 61 buses operating on regional school routes, bringing the total number of buses funded since the inception of the programme to 473.

Disability Transport Standards Review

My Department is also currently undertaking the second five year review of the Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport.

The draft report found that good progress is continuing towards making public transport more accessible for people with disability, with added benefits to the elderly and people with children in prams.

I am very aware of the challenges faced by transport operators and the work being done in states and territories to make public transport more accessible.

I am assured that the draft review reflects extensive consultations with people with disabilities and transport operators around Australia and has attracted more than 150 written submissions.

The draft review report contains recommendations to improve public transport accessibility for people with a disability and we are committed to continuing to work with the industry as well as states and territories to meet the challenges identified.

The draft report can be accessed at the Department’s web site. I expect to release the final report and the Government’s response later this year.

Road Pricing

Before I conclude this morning, I want to update you on the latest work in the area of road pricing.

The work of the Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment Reform Board and the Project Directorate concluded at the end of June.

Ministers on the Transport and Infrastructure Council agreed in May this year to commence implementation of a suite of initial heavy vehicle road reform measures that focus on improving the services that are provided to operators.

I hope the measures will improve trust and transparency between the heavy vehicle industry and governments and lay the groundwork for informed debate on future pricing and funding reform.

The measures include:

  • developing asset registers and agreed service level standards;
  • improving data and demand forecasting;
  • publishing heavy vehicle expenditure plans; and
  • investigating ways for industry to negotiate and pay for improved access.

The recent Productivity Commission Inquiry into Public Infrastructure supports a move towards direct user charging for both light and heavy vehicles and institutional reforms to road funding.

I acknowledge that the public are not so enthusiastic.

The Commission has recommended that state governments hold telematics trials to test potential charging reform options and the creation of special road funds to better allocate and spend road funding.

The Government is currently considering the recommendations of the inquiry in consultation with the states and territories, local government and industry.


In closing, I would like to add my congratulations to locally owned bus manufacturer, Volgren, on the recent launch at Parliament House of an Australian-made bus for export to Japan.

I understand that four buses will be delivered by June next year, followed by a further four in March 2016, and 12 in March 2022. Twenty buses all up.

This is a significant step towards ensuring the ongoing growth and viability of Australia’s locally owned bus manufacturing sector which currently employs in excess of 10,000 workers and is linked to more than 500 local supply and service business.

Thank you again for this opportunity to speak with you and I wish you well with your discussions.