Transcript - Trucking Australia 2024 speech, Canberra

Acknowledgement of country

I acknowledge the Traditional Owners of this region – the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples.

I pay my respect to their Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to any First Nations people here today.

Trucking by its very nature touches every single community around this great nation – from the remotest community in outback WA or the NT, to the middle of our most vibrant major cities.

Every single day you are interacting with every Australian community – and it is important that we continue to acknowledge the roles played by First Nations communities.

Introduction and thanks 

It is a pleasure to be here today, once again at a national trucking conference.

And it is a privilege to be introduced by David Smith.

What a four years it has been.

Drought, fire, flood, pandemic, AdBlue shortage.

David, your two terms in this job have had it all.

Importantly though, you haven’t just dealt with the problems of the day, you have found solutions and driven reforms that will last for decades to come.

Personally, I want to thank you for the constructive and respectful way you have always dealt with me, my office and my department.

Without you, we couldn’t have landed Euro 6, we couldn’t have addressed truck widths, and we couldn’t have provided certainty over road user charging.

I know as well that my predecessors in this job would say that you have been an invaluable partner through the challenges that the 2020s have thrown at us so far.

I wish you the best with whatever is next – and I hope it involves a little time relaxing at home.

I would like to extend those thanks to all of you who are joining us here today.

Not only do I want to thank you all for keeping Australia moving, but I want to again acknowledge the Australian Trucking Association as a central and an engaged stakeholder who is always ready to come to the table, to provide advice, provide input and provide ideas to government.

As a minister, I know that good policy doesn’t happen without the full engagement of industry.

And as a part of a government determined to improve the lives of working Australians, I know your work has been essential.

In particularly, we’ve seen the fruits of your engagement through recent amendments to workplace relations law, with the passage of the Closing Loopholes legislation.

Through this process, I know the ATA participated in several roundtables held by the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations. 

Your input has been instrumental in developing the Closing Loophole reforms including feedback that will:

  • ensure minimum standards do not conflict with matters regulated by other laws. Such as the Heavy Vehicle National Law and Work Health and Safety laws.
  • And, ensure the Fair Work Commission has regard to the commercial realities of the road transport industry when setting standards. 

So, thank you for your constructive engagement on this issue.

I know that I can continue to count on your engagement as we develop a range of related regulations, as well as a Road Transport Industry Termination Code, which is necessary to implement the new unfair termination protections for road transport contractors.

Road safety 

At the same time, I want to work with all aspects of the industry as we tackle the largest challenges we collectively face – road safety.

The Australian Government is fully committed to improving road safety and reducing road trauma across the nation’s road network as we work towards Vision Zero by 2050.

We’re pursuing this vision – that no one should be killed or seriously injured using our roads by 2050 – through the National Road Safety Strategy and Action Plan.

This Plan sets out the key actions all governments will undertake to 2025, in pursuit of agreed priorities. 

Sadly, last year Australia had a catastrophic number of road fatalities – 1,266 people were killed on our roads. This is a 7.3 per cent increase compared to the previous year. 

And around 15 per cent of all road crash deaths in Australia involved a heavy vehicle.

While heavy vehicles do crash less often than other vehicles, these crashes are more likely to result in a serious death or injury – regardless of fault – due to the greater mass involved.

I know that many in this room will know personally some of those killed or injured on our roads – and my thoughts are with you all.

That is why heavy vehicle safety is a priority under our government and under the Action Plan. 

This is a shared responsibility, requiring action from all levels of government, road safety agencies, industry and the community.

A meeting of my ministerial colleagues from states and territories in December last year noted our concern at this increase. We agreed Road Safety Ministers would engage with Police Ministers to discuss emerging trends and investigate short term actions which could be taken to stem the rise.

I look forward to hearing the outcomes and discussing their recommended measures with my ministerial colleagues.

Level crossings 

In the road safety space, I know as well that there has been a lot of attention on level crossing safety.

Heavy vehicle drivers are significantly over-represented in railway crossing incidents, including near misses, collisions and fatalities - representing 18 per cent of passive level crossing collisions, despite only making up 4 per cent of the overall registered vehicle fleet. 

According to Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator, the primary cause of accidents at railway crossings is driver behaviour. 

This isn’t about blame, it is about keeping all workers in our transport sectors safe.

As a Government, we are committed to improving safety at level crossings. 

A Roundtable was held in Brisbane last month, led by the National Level Crossing Safety Committee, in collaboration with the rail and heavy vehicle regulators and TrackSafe.

Heavy vehicle stakeholders also participated in this meeting, including the ATA. 

I want to thank you for your full participation in that roundtable, which

delivered commitments to a number of actions that will either be progressed by industry or have an impact on the industry. 

Some examples of these commitments include:

  • The development of a nationally consistent and sustained driver education program, in collaboration with road and rail regulators, and industry.
  • Exploring options for in-vehicle technologies to provide more information to drivers about level crossings and approaching trains.
  • Work towards national harmonisation of enforcement for driver 
    non-compliance at level crossings, led by the National Transport Commission;
  • Greater collaboration between sectors and governments in sharing data on high risk level crossings.

As well, rail operators, including Aurizon and Pacific National have also committed to implementing the train illumination Code of Practice, once finalised by the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator

I think we can all look forward to seeing this work progress.

Road funding

Now, I know that one of the most important ways we can make our roads safer is by investing to make them better.

Today, the Commonwealth is investing more money in infrastructure across Australia than at any point in our history – with the 10-year pipeline now sitting at a bit over $120 billion.

We are jointly funding more than 440 major projects across the nation, and we have taken a new step of combining projects into corridors to see continued improvements all along our major road network, such as the Bruce Highway, in which we are investing $10 billion.

Just last week, BITRE released its most recent quarterly infrastructure construction figures, closing out the 2023 calendar year.

These figures show that public sector expenditure on road construction was $18.8 billion for the 12 months to December 2023, and public expenditure on rail was $13.4 billion. This was an 18% increase and a 17.6% increase on the previous calendar years respectively.

And for both of those figures, that was the highest level of spending on record.

Not only will that deliver you smoother roads to drive on – it will give you safer roads to drive on.

On top of this, we are investing directly in truck rest stops – for the first time listening directly to truck drivers on where best to invest our money.

I of course acknowledge the work of Michelle Harwood who represents the ATA on the steering committee and is providing invaluable advice to government.


At the same time as investing in safety, we all know that this industry needs to be as sustainable as possible over the years to come.

Our Government is pursuing an ambitious climate change agenda, targeting a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Transport contributes 21% of our national emissions and, in 2023, heavy vehicles made up a quarter of Australia’s transport emissions. 

With the heavy vehicle sector so vital to the operation of Australia’s supply chains – and the heavy vehicles freight task projected to grow 26 per cent to 2050 – we need to take action to cut emissions where we can, particularly with trucks being such long-lived assets. 

Taking all of this into account, the Government is developing a Transport and Infrastructure Net Zero Roadmap and Action Plan. This will be an evidence-based plan to reduce emissions.

We have already undertaken early consultation to inform the development of the Consultation Roadmap during which, among other things, the heavy vehicle stakeholders emphasised the need to:

  • set transition milestones;
  • shift demand away from diesel-powered heavy vehicles; 
  • invest in the roll-out of charging and refuelling infrastructure to support battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles; and 
  • support the increased use of low carbon liquid fuels, which could be deployed for larger payloads and distances until the supporting charging and refuelling infrastructure is in place. 

The Government will be releasing our Consultation Roadmap very soon, to inform the final Roadmap and Action Plan.

At the same time, we are working in partnership with states and territories to progress work on heavy vehicle decarbonisation through the Infrastructure and Transport Ministers Meetings. 

And we are also supporting the demonstration of zero emission heavy vehicles through grants and financing. 

This is being done via the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and has already seen us:  

  • Support ARK Energy Corporation to operate purpose-built hydrogen fuel cell heavy trucks on a 30-kilometre round trip between Townsville Port and the Sun Metals Refinery,
  • In Western Sydney, we are supporting Team Global Express and Volvo to put 60 electric trucks on the road, replacing one third of their fleet.
  • And in Western Australia, our Government is investing over $20 million to back projects to electrify logistics fleets and local government vehicles.

Of course, we also know that renewable fuels will have an important role to play, particularly in the nearer term and over longer distance.

We continue to undertake work in that space to further develop that industry domestically.

Update on widths and weight 

Lastly, I’d briefly like to update you all on widths and weight.

In September last year, I signed off on a package of Australian Design Rules to increase the width limit from 2.50 metres to 2.55 metres.

This significant reform is perhaps better known as Safer Freight Vehicles and applies to trucks wider than 2.50 metres and fitted with additional safety technologies. 

The package of work also excludes certain types of safety devices and sensors from vehicle width and length requirements.

Following this, the Heavy Vehicle National Law was recently amended to ensure consistency between different legislative frameworks.

Then, in October, I announced new Australian Design Rule 80/04. 

This implements Euro 6 emissions reduction technology, and will begin in force this November. 

Euro 6 technology will typically increase the total unladen mass of a heavy vehicle by about half a tonne.

To ensure no loss of productivity for these cleaner vehicles, we are working to amend the regulations to increase the mass limits under which these vehicles can run. 

The National Transport Commission has been consulting on how to achieve that goal, for different axle mass limits and different heavy vehicle combinations. 

The new regulations will be considered in May, and can hopefully be passed into law before the end of this year. 

This will ensure there is no productivity penalty for newer cleaner vehicles that are part of our efforts to reduce transport emissions. 


Thank you very much for your time today – I look forward to continuing to engage with you all as we deliver these much needed reforms to this essential sector of our economy.