Transcript - speech - Trucking Australia 2023 conference



I begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the Sunshine Coast – the Gubbi Gubbi and Jinibara peoples. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and I extend that respect to any First Nations people who are here today. This is the year of the Voice and I am so proud to be part of a Government that’s committed to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full.

Thank you, David, for your kind introduction. [David Smith, Chair of the Australian Trucking Association] It is a pleasure to be here today at Trucking Australia 2023, on the beautiful Sunshine Coast. Trucking is one of Australia’s essential industries. Day and night. In the sun and in the rain. On public holidays and on weekends. Through droughts, floods and even pandemics. From the cities to the regions and the remotest corners of Australia. Everywhere and everyday – all Australians rely on trucking. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true – without trucks, Australia stops. As the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government – as well as a regional Australian myself – I see every day the work and dedication of Australia’s transport workers, truck drivers and transport companies. A major part of my ministerial role is making you and your trucks safer and more efficient, and our supply chains more productive. Road transport is a major contributor to our economy – some $31.1 billion in the twelve months to June 2022. And, as you all know, road freight has been growing each year. In 2020, there was around 223 billion tonne kilometres of domestic road freight. This is forecast to rise to 337 billion tonne kilometres by 2040. These statistics both underline the importance of the road freight industry to our economy – and the importance of us investing in the future of your industry and the roads that you drive on.

Delivering that infrastructure is exactly what the Albanese Government is doing. For me, the working year began early in January, announcing the finalisation of the detailed design of the Coffs Harbour bypass. A milestone which clears the way for major construction to start this month. The very next day, I announced additional funding for the Nowra Bridge, opening up the south coast to travellers and truck drivers alike. Across Australia, we are investing in roads just like these. WestConnex in Sydney. The M80 Ring Road in Melbourne. Projects up and down the Bruce Highway. Adelaide’s North South Corridor. The Bunbury Outer Ring road Bridges across regional Tasmania and projects in remote Australia like the Tanami. These are just a few of our investments – but they are all projects that will unlock economic growth and increase the productivity and safety of our nation’s trucks and our nation’s roads. Better roads mean less time in transit, leading to reduced transport costs and cheaper goods for consumers. For Australians, building better roads is a win for all of us.

Better roads should also mean better rest stops. Heavy vehicle drivers in Australia deserve access to decent facilities when they need them—just like every other worker. This is why in our first Budget – in October last year – we committed an additional $80 million to support new and upgraded heavy vehicle rest areas. This delivered on an election promise which I made less than twelve months ago and it brings the Australian Government’s dedicated funding for heavy vehicle rest areas up to $140 million. It is expected that applications seeking funding as part of the heavy vehicle rest area initiative will be invited in the first half of this year. The program Steering Committee is chaired by Senator Sterle – who still occasionally drives trucks – and features industry representatives including five active drivers. For the first time in a long time, this steering committee will give truckies a voice in shaping the projects which are funded through this initiative. Trucks keep Australia moving – it is only fair that the men and women who drive them get the facilities they deserve.

Of course, though, none of these investments come cheap. In the current economic environment, that is the elephant in every room You will hear a lot of misinformation about the heavy vehicle road user charge. And, after lunch – when you hear from the opposition – you will probably hear a bit more. In fact, some of you might already be familiar with the content. I’m sure it will be a cracker of a speech – a scare campaign right up there with $100 lamb roasts, electric utes ending the weekend and foot and mouth disease flooding the country. The reality is, road upgrades cost money. Governments across Australia are planning to spend around $33 billion on roads in the 2023-24 financial year alone. In total, cost recovery from heavy vehicle operators is set to raise $3.8 billion over the next twelve months – with roughly 60 per cent of that coming through the road user charge. At the same time, the fuel tax credit – a measure the previous government put in jeopardy by not consulting with you when they dropped the fuel excise – sees $8 billion returned to the industry every year. Any decision state and commonwealth ministers take will be designed to lock in certainty over the next three years. We all want better roads – nobody more so than truck drivers – but we have to be able to fund them. Particularly as we have the Victorian Farmers Federation, the Local Government Association and the Automobile Association calling for billions of dollars in additional funding, particularly on our regional roads. That’s what responsible governments do – they listen, they deliberate and they take decisions in everyone’s interests.

Of course, when we talk about challenges, seizing the opportunities to decarbonise transport is one I know you are all up for. Climate change is the challenge we confront across the economy. Taken together, transport makes up 19% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. 4% of our emissions come from the heavy road sector. And given the difficulties involved in abating emissions in this sector, transport is predicted to become our largest source of emissions by 2030. With our commitment to net-zero emissions, we need to drive these down – whether it be through hydrogen highways, electric trucks, or cleaner fuels. I know that industry is ready and wanting to do your part – in fact, after this speech I am taking a ride in an electric truck right here. This ingenuity is why I am confident that Euro VI emissions standards can be phased in for new trucks and buses, from November next year. This will bring Australian noxious emissions standards closer to those already in place in the UK, Europe and elsewhere. In making this change, I am conscious of the development costs faced by industry to meet steer axle mass and vehicle width limits when introducing low and zero emission heavy vehicles to their fleets. That’s why our Government is working closely with the heavy vehicle industry through the National Transport Commission and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to settle any outstanding concerns before the implementation of Euro VI. We have to take these steps – even when they might be difficult – because the alternative is too damaging.

Anyone who has dealt with recent adverse weather events – particularly the recent, widespread flooding – will have no doubt about climate change. The floods across the Kimberley – and the damage they did – was simply extraordinary. And I do want to acknowledge the dedication of the road freight industry in meeting this challenge. You kept communities connected and, frankly, you kept some communities alive. Last month I visited Fitzroy Crossing to see the damage for myself. I am sure many of you have seen the pictures, but the destruction of the Fitzroy Crossing Bridge is incredible. In response to this crisis, our government worked with our colleagues in Western Australia, South Australia and the NT to allow Class 3 vehicles to access roads they cannot usually operate along. But honestly – that was the easy bit. The hard bit was down to the truck drivers who had to drive the thousands of extra kilometres to get the goods and supplies to market. So thank you. Working with the WA Government, we will rebuild the Fitzroy Crossing Bridge to be better and stronger than ever – but in the meantime I thank you for your continued patience and hard work. We are working to identify the pinch points and most vulnerable parts of our road network so we can rebuild them now, not wait until disaster strikes.

To this end, there is some important work being undertaken by the Bureau of Infrastructure and Transport Research Economics, within in my Department, on responding to the risks posed by severe weather events. In February this year, BITRE released Phase One of the Road and Rail Supply Chain Resilience Review, identifying the biggest risks in our network. For me it was startling reading – and I am sure that some of the findings won’t surprise you. The critical freight routes that cross our continent are vulnerable. The Stuart Highway, the Carpentaria Highway, the Arnhem Highway and the South Coast Highway in Western Australia – all are integral to our nation and all are vulnerable. In Phase 2 of this Review, my Department will develop options for strengthening the resilience of road and rail networks, in consultation with stakeholders and other levels of government. Through this, we will have better information on where to direct road funding.

Finally – I want to update you on National Heavy Vehicle Reform. We have been in office for ten months, after the other side held office for ten years. Over those ten months, we have made real progress. As you know, last year Infrastructure and Transport Ministers agreed to implement a package of reforms to the Heavy Vehicle National Law. Our goal is a completely revised Heavy Vehicle National Law that is more flexible, risk-based and that makes better use of new technology. With the NTC taking the lead – and Ken Kanofski remaining involved – a comprehensive Regulation Impact Statement has been prepared, and is going to Ministers next month for consideration. There are a lot of complex interrelated pieces to get right, but a draft bill should be coming together by the end of this year. Through this process, Governments have agreed to automate, as far as possible, the system through which heavy vehicle operators apply for restricted vehicles access on certain roads – and have begun work together towards that end. Austroads is coordinating work towards a national, single seamless system for heavy vehicle access. Victoria is leading work on cost-benefit modelling of providing as-of-right access for high productivity freight vehicles. And the National Transport Commission and the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator are developing further detail of the new two-tiered system for managing driver fatigue. We will be sharing a fuller update on all those actions shortly and – with many of these measures being considered out of session – it gives us time to talk to you but also to get on with our focus on large scale economic reform. In order to keep industry informed, I am pleased to announce that heavy vehicle industry representatives will now be invited to attend select Steering Committee meetings to provide their views directly to senior decision makers on particular topics and to discuss progress. These reforms matter to you, so you should be involved. At the same time, I know that the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations has started consulting with industry on the Fair Work Commission setting fair minimum standards to ensure the safety, sustainability and viability of the Road Transport Industry. This included a roundtable between Minister Burke, Woolworths, Coles, Uber, DoorDash, major transport operators, industry associations and the TWU in September last year, where all parties backed a shared set of principles calling for reform to set enforceable standards across the industry This ongoing consultation is the first step on delivering on our commitment to ensure the safety of driver and helping ensure the long-term viability of your industry. I encourage you to continue your engagement throughout that process.

With all that said, thank you very much for having me here today and thank you for the work you do every single day in every corner of this country. All the best with your conference.