BIC National Conference

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I want to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land we are meeting on.

I pay my respects to their Elders, past present and emerging.

And I extend that respect to other First Nations peoples who are here today.

Thank you to Tony Hopkins for the kind introduction.

And let me acknowledge Julian Gurney, who is with us today.

I know Tony and Julian work hard for your industry – as Chair and Vice Chair of BIC.

I’d also like to acknowledge some of today’s other speakers:

  • My colleague, Senator Tim Ayres, who is the Assistant Minister for Trade, and for Manufacturing.
  • The Hon Mark Bailey MP, who is the Queensland Minister for Transport and Main Roads; and
  • Mr Neil Scales, who is Director-General of the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.
  • And Bridget McKenzie, the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development.

It is a pleasure to be here.

I know that Minister Catherine King delivered a message to you earlier.

I’d like to use my time to expand on some of the issues the Minister flagged.

Among them are the transition to zero emission buses, Heavy Vehicle Law reforms, disability standards and jobs and skills.

These topics, of course, fits well with the theme of this conference

‘Moving people, Navigating change’.

Let me start with climate change.

Within 75 days of our election, the Climate Change Bill 2022 passed the House of Representatives and it passed the Senate a month later.

It enshrines in law an emissions reduction target of 43 per cent below

2005 levels by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050.

In doing so, we are joining more than 70 countries who have set a net zero target by around mid-century, covering about 76 per cent of global emissions.

We are also bringing certainty to industry.

Meeting these clear targets will require change, but will also create opportunities.

I want to acknowledge that BIC is active role on this issue and with government funding support through the Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative – to develop Codes of Practice, guidelines and advisories for Zero Emission Buses.

We know where we are going.

Let us talk about what we’re doing to help get us all there.

What we’re doing on vehicle standards, energy supply, and backing local manufacturing.

Last month, our Government announced the introduction of tighter emissions standards for new trucks and buses.

The new Australian Design Rule will be phased in over 12 months from the beginning of November 2024. 

It adopts Euro VI and equivalent emission standards.

This measure will help reduce emissions and demand for liquid fuels while zero emission vehicles become more viable and more widely adopted.

And, you, as operators are a huge piece in the puzzle.

These standards will help give certainty to the heavy vehicle industry.

Particularly at a time when delivery times on new orders are stretching out as long as two years.

And make it more viable for manufacturers to offer the more advanced safety and fuel-saving technologies other countries already have.

We appreciate the leadership of many manufacturers who have already brought these advanced powertrains and safety technologies to market. Despite the previous uncertainty.

With this interim measure in place, we are now working on two new Australian Design Rules, following a request from your association and the Truck Industry Council.

Or, if you prefer, a request from BIC and TIC!

The department has commenced work to address standards for electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell safety.

These will make it safer to both service and maintain these vehicles, and will be based on international standards.

Of course, there are many vehicles already on our roads which comply with the standards in force when they entered the market.

As states and territories regulate in-service vehicles, their cooperation will be necessary to progress any measures targeting them.

It is also worth noting that – with a funding envelope of almost $128 million – the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is supporting fleets to embrace new zero emissions vehicle technology, over the next four years.

Heavy fleet operators are eligible for funding towards enabling infrastructure and some support for vehicle costs.

The department has also been consulting on a safer freight vehicles package, which is considering increased width limits for trucks and trailers fitted with additional safety features.

I’d like to turn to the question of the production and supply of green energy.

This is something Labor has given considerable thought to in the Powering Australia Plan we took to the election.

Powering Australia is focused on bringing cheaper renewable energy to homes and businesses.

It includes the $20 billion Rewiring the Nation policy, aimed at rebuilding and modernising the Australian electricity grids – to ensure they can handle more renewable energy.

Another element of the Powering Australia Plan is the National Electric Vehicle Strategy.

Public submissions on this closed at the end of October, and officials in a number of departments are working closely to progress the development of this strategy.

In the meantime, ARENA is already looking to fund projects that incorporate hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and refuelling infrastructure.

ARENA will continue to support the development of the new vehicle technology sector, including the EV sector, under the government’s Driving the Nation Fund.

Some heavy vehicle ‘zero emission vehicle’ projects are receiving funding.

ARENA has also committed funding to Viva Energy’s project to develop, build and operate the New Energies Service Station in Geelong.

There, a two-megawatt electrolyser will be powered by renewable energy to support the uptake of hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in heavy fleets, including buses.

This service station will also include electric vehicle charging facilities.

We are also providing $20 million to the Hume Hydrogen Highway from Melbourne to Sydney, through our Driving the Nation Fund.

In this venture, we are pleased to be supporting the New South Wales and Victorian Governments, who are co-delivering this project and investing $10 million each.

These projects illustrate our commitment to diversifying the energy supply for transport in Australia.

Unlike the former Government, this Labor Government is aware and proud of the commitment so many companies, operators and local Governments have made in moving towards electric vehicles.

Finally, you have a Government living in the 21st century.

Our Government has committed $250 million to an electric bus manufacturing facility and bus depot in Perth, co-funded with the Western Australian Government.

And this is just the start.

In the National Electric Vehicle Strategy Discussion paper, we asked for feedback on opportunities to unlock further growth and innovation in this field. 

Several opportunities were identified in the paper which included:

  • Expanding extraction, processing and refining of critical minerals.
  • Developing, designing and manufacturing EV components, control systems, batteries and possibly vehicles.
  • Expanding existing heavy vehicle and bus manufacturing capability.
  • Designing and manufacturing EV charging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure and software development.
  • Increasing supply of zero emission vehicles through conversion and retrofitting.
  • Developing intelligent systems and grid integration (supported by modified market rules); and
  • Ensuring sustainable second life EV battery use, recycling and disposal.

I know the next issues are of great interest to the bus industry – the National Heavy Vehicle Law and disability standards for public transport.

I know that BIC has been active in representing your views to decision makers on both of these issues.

Then I’d like to talk briefly about road safety.

I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the substantive review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law, and the reforms developed by Mr Ken Kanofski.

I’m going to give you an update on the key reforms and steps forward agreed by Infrastructure and Transport Ministers in September.

Among the key reforms is the ambitious goal of removing the need for

90 per cent of access permits for heavy vehicles over the next five years – through a digital automated access system.

Ministers also agreed that regulatory instruments and decisions on access issues should always be tested for impact on buses.

From here, senior transport officials will have a crucial role in the implementation process, with ongoing independent advice from Mr Kanofski and the Australian Local Government Association.

Of course, industry will have further opportunities for consultation as this moves forward.

The process will return to Ministers next year, when the National Transport Commission will bring forward a Decision Regulatory Impact Statement on legislative reforms for consideration.

Now to the modernisation of Disability Standards for Accessible Public Transport …

Stage two of this process is also moving towards a Decision Regulation Impact Statement – to be presented to Ministers in the middle of next year.

I want to acknowledge BIC’s active membership of the Taskforce which is supporting work on these reforms.

I am advised that officials in my department will be drawing on data supplied by BIC for this second stage. This will be supplemented by additional data provided through surveys of public transport providers.

And the department has undertaken to meet with BIC for a more detailed discussion about data in relation to this issue.

Now, let me turn to road safety.

The National Road Safety Strategy was released in December last year and we are keen to implement it.

It sets out Australia’s road safety objectives, key priorities for action, and includes road trauma reduction targets for the decade to 2030.

The targets are ambitious – to reduce fatalities by 50 per cent and serious injuries by 30 per cent by 2030 – and I am committed to working together to achieve them.

The strategy also lays the groundwork for our longer-term shared goal of zero deaths or serious injuries by 2050.

Since the beginning of the year, the Australian Government has been working with all states and territories on the Strategy’s supporting Action Plan.

Under the former Government, the Action Plan failed to be implemented after criticism from stakeholders who felt there was too little consultation.

The Albanese Labor Government is getting the Action Plan back on track.

Unlike previous Action Plans, the new Action Plan will be designed to have measurable criteria and clear lines of accountability for action divided between States and the Federal Government.

Before I finish up, I’d like to make comment on jobs and skills, which I know you will touch on over the conference.

The Albanese Labor Government took office at a time of rising inflation, falling real wages, a skills shortage crisis and a trillion dollars of debt without much to show for it.

We inherited a jobs and skills disaster from the former Government, who spent 9 years thinking up things to announce instead of tackling the problems that working people in Australia were facing.

They neglected TAFE, they neglected emerging skill sectors, they slashed apprenticeships and they purposely kept wages low.

Today we have 70,000 fewer apprenticeships and traineeships compared to 2013.

In September, the Government brought people together for the Jobs and Skills Summit to find common ground on pressing challenges around jobs, skills and our economy.

I would like to take a moment to thank BIC’s Executive Director, Roz Chivers, who attended the Surface Transport Jobs and Skills Roundtable, held by Minister King. Roz’s contributions on the day would have made you all proud. 

The summit and complimentary roundtables were the beginning of the conversation, not the end.

Fast forward two months and we’re changing the law to promote job security, help close the gender pay gap, modernise the workplace bargaining system and get wages moving.

We began this process last week, with the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations introducing our Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill into the lower house.

Further, we are acting on our plan to provide Australians with access to Fee Free TAFE and create more university places across the country to tackle the skill shortages that are holding us back.

I am sure my colleague Assistant Minister Ayres will speak more on our Future Made in Australia Skills Plan in his presentation later this afternoon.

As a Government we are committed to fixing the mess the Liberals left behind, and it is work that is already well underway.

In summary, let me end as I began, by thanking you for the opportunity to be here.

I am part of a government which is committed to addressing climate change.

We’re clear about where we’re going, and what we’re doing to get there: -

On vehicle standards, energy supply, and backing local manufacturing.

I’ve stated our support – working with others – for the reform of the Heavy Vehicle National Law and for modernising disability standards.

As well as for implementing the new National Road Safety Strategy.

Thank you for listening.