Address at the Australia and New Zealand Driverless Vehicle Initiative 28 October 2019

Michael McCormack:… a good mate of mine, Andrew, always has been, always will be. Good morning and welcome. Monday morning. Listening to a couple of politicians to start your week, wow, what a way to start your week. Hands up all the overseas visits in the room. Quite a few, well done. Thank you. Is this your first time to Australia? If not- if it is, don't make it your last. Please come back, return. We’re really, really, proud and privileged to have you in our country. It's a fantastic place. We love it.

As Andrew said, we want to make the best of technology. We want to make the best of our transport infrastructure. And you coming here to this important event only strengthens that, strengthens our international appeal, it strengthens what we need to do both here and I guess abroad. And the fact is, whenever you have these sorts of conferences, whenever you have these sorts of conventions, it's perhaps sometimes not what you hear from the person at the lectern. It's sometimes the person that you sidle up to at the coffee urn, or the water cooler, who probably gives you that little bit of a take-home message that is so important. And that makes you change the way you see things and change your perceptions of things. And I know that Michael and his team are doing a great job. Alan and the rest of the company, the rest of the group, are really- they’re making sure that for Australia that transport, that infrastructure and technology certainly dovetail and merge together.

I acknowledge the traditional owners of our land. I acknowledge any servicemen or women – both past or currently serving – who may happen to be in the room. And I acknowledge the fact that it is Monday, and it’s a start of a what will be, I think, a great week. I think it's the start of a great  summit. The International Driverless Vehicle Summit that's going to make such a difference for those people in the room, knowing that the governments – both at state and federal level – are indeed behind this sector, behind what Michael and his team are doing.

And I know that the Australian and New Zealand- hands up those from New Zealand. I commiserate with you about the rugby, I really do. I- gee whiz. Tackle down, goodbye England. Not only [indistinct] ignominy of actually losing less wickets and scoring the same number of runs but having the World Cup cricket pinched from you, now you've got to be content with not winning the rugby. But you are, whatever happens, you’re still one of those great rugby nations, if not the best rugby nation. But anyway, maybe I should just move on.

[Laughter]

Just a little recently, just prior to the election, I was actually the Acting Prime Minister. When you’re the Acting Prime Minister, you get all the security detail and they watch your every move, and I was addressing a group called the Inner Wheel. Does anybody know what the Inner Wheel are? A few. Yes, so Inner Wheel is the women's equivalent of Rotary. So when women were not allowed in Rotary, they formed their own group. Good on them. And of course, now where women are allowed in Rotary, and that's great. But the Inner Wheel has continued. They do a marvellous job for local charitable organisations, they do a marvellous job for advocacy. And they really are the heart and soul, like Lions, like Rotary, like all those other fantastic organisations.

But we had the national convention, and I was addressing it. But as I went to get up on the stage, this woman – let's just call her Muriel – grabbed my jacket. And I was due up, I’d been introduced just like any- and just didn’t, as I made way, she grabbed my jacket and wouldn’t let it go. She said, did you know, Acting Prime Minister, that we have a great thing in the Inner Wheel. She said we actually elect a new leader at every year, and I said oh, very good Muriel. And she said gives us fresh ideas, innovation. You know, she said we've always done it, and I'm assuming we always will. And said that's great Muriel, yeah. So I got up to the stage and I said fantastic, Muriel's just told me that Inner Wheel changes its leader every 12 months. I said, don't feel so special, Muriel, we do the same in Canberra. But thankfully, we're not going to now because the Prime Minister’s doing such a great job. And the fact that they’ve put measures in place to ensure that we don't change our leader every 12 months. There’s a few Americans in the room, appreciating the fact that you have elections only once every four years, and generally you give your presidents in the main eight years. But here in Australia our democracy – whilst it’s I think one of the greatest on earth, if not the greatest – it's just a tad different.

But look, this is great to be here at this particular conference. What better place than to discuss such possibilities than a sporting and cultural venue, where the construction of which helped mark the new millennium in Australia. So this actual precinct marked the new millennium. It’s a city which is home to multiple automated vehicle trials. And of course you’ve heard the announcement from Andrew this morning about what New South Wales are doing and I commend New South Wales for not just what they’re doing in the driverless space, but indeed what they’re doing in the infrastructure space. And I often talk about our $100 billion infrastructure roll out over the next decade across this land, and it’s a massive country, and of course it needs the right infrastructure in the right place for the right time – and the right time is right now, we are in the age of infrastructure.

But New South Wales, showing what you can do with a surplus, is spending $94 billion. So in conjunction with what we're doing, they’re spending $94 billion and a recent survey showed that

Australia has as many cranes over not just our metropolitan capitals, but indeed, many of our regional capitals such that it's actually at the same rate as the USA, and that's something to be proud of. We're spending a lot of money on infrastructure, a lot of people are benefiting from that. We've had 36 months now of unbroken jobs growth in this country so that's something that we're very, very pleased with.

In Sydney, where you are now, is growing at a pace that we need that infrastructure. In the year to July 2018, Sydney grew by more than 93,000 people – a 1.8 per cent – at a rate outstripping the likes of London, Paris and New York and that's pretty phenomenal. But the same is going for regional capitals, I know in my hometown of Wagga Wagga it's also growing at a reasonably rapid rate and so we need the right infrastructure. Whether it's capital cities such as Sydney, Melbourne or indeed  one of our regional capitals and I come from a region just like Andrew. And so for us, rural and regional Australia is very, very important because we know that indeed, rural and regional people are all too often overrepresented in our road toll and if we can do anything in the space of infrastructure, anything at all. Whether it's through driveless automation, whether it's through better roads, better rail, whatever the case might be, it's all about not just getting people home and to business sooner and safer but most importantly saving and protecting lives. And we're doing a lot in this space of course through technology, through the wonderful companies that we've got building cars, and the wonderful people building not just vehicles, but indeed, developing better roads. And I know Michael does a lot in this space, him and his team, but we need to make sure that we reduce that road toll. Of course all nations have that vision zero, that towards zero, that push to make sure that we don't have anybody dying unnecessarily on our roads because one death is one too many.

The kind of growth that we’re experiencing requires smart responses if we're to keep Sydney and other places not just liveable, but loveable, and that's what we want to do. In this year's budget, as I say, committed an unprecedented $100 billion dollars on making sure that we've got the right infrastructure in the right place and of course that meant significant spending as well on urban bust- congestion busting. Last year I spoke to the AEVI, the summit in Adelaide about the opportunities automated diesel technology to improve road safety, and it is the focus of our Government, I know it's a focus of all governments – and so it should be. And the good thing, the beauty about road safety is that almost always it’s bypassed. So what I say, you probably hear from Anthony Albanese. What I say, you’d hear from state and opposition, government and opposition leaders at both state, local, territory, and indeed, Commonwealth levels.

Now, we've put an additional $2.2 billion for road safety through the local and state government road safety package, that contributes to this goal. Since 2013, black spot funding has saved any number of lives. We estimated about 280 – but who knows – and every life saved is also something that contributes to our economy. You should never really, I suppose, look at the two but it is a considerable saving. But those people whose lives are saved contribute so much to our country because they are each, you know, living, they are continuing to contribute, they are continuing to take part in life. And honestly, when you think about the fact that last year we lost 1100 on our roads that really hits home, particularly at times like Christmas – not far away. But when you have that empty seat at the table, and everybody in this room would know somebody who's either had a tragedy and lost their life on the road, or indeed being incapacitated by a road accident. And what we want to do as a Government and as a nation is ensure that we don't have that trauma and tragedy on our roads.

Automated vehicles and connected infrastructure around them can obviously directly contribute to making our roads safer and that's what it's all about. Whether it's the safe system approach, placing emphasis on both vehicle and infrastructure design as to present- prevent death and serious injury, connected and automated vehicles having the potential to contribute to a safe system through providing and analysing data. And when we get that sort of data, we need to make sure we use it; when we get that sort of data, we need to make sure that we use it to develop better vehicles and better roads and better road services. It’s not just always about making sure that we've got the lines and the barriers in the right place; it's also very much about the surface of the road and how we [indistinct] contribute to a greater safe, surface quality because certainly, in regional areas of our nation, just like many nations, but even perhaps more so, is subject to various weather and climate extremes.

And when you have roads that are built better, you have roads that last longer. And when you have that, you have safer roads and obviously it's cost saving for governments. Freight technology always obviously generates a wealth of data and I’m very pleased to know and even see firsthand in many instances and circumstances, our trucking companies which do such a great job for Australia in this huge nation. I always say that they deliver just about everything other than babies in our nation; they contributed greatly to the data that leads you to the overall process. And delighted that we've got some fantastic transport companies. I won’t start naming them but let's just say Toll are very good and you know, Finemore’s and the like are very, very good at making sure that they make their data available; they make sure that Government knows that when their drivers are doing the right thing and they generally, 99.9 per cent of the time are, that leads into a better road system network as well.

I think sometimes truckers get way too much criticism for whenever there is- something goes wrong in 90 per cent of the cases, it's not the truck drivers fault when you do have a serious accident, and we should pay and recognition and due credit to our transport companies for embracing technology, for embracing better vehicles, safer vehicles, and using the data that those vehicles can now provide them to improve their practices and their driving times and their ability to freight goods around this nation.

The Australian Government’s committed $8.5 million to settle the design of the National Freight Data Hub. The Infrastructure Department is progressing the hub project in [indistinct]… review Australian freight data needs and an industry reference group has been appointed to advise on its delivery. So I look forward to seeing where that takes us and what sort of options that opens up, not just for our infrastructures department but indeed for the Government that also leads to reduced freight costs. And when you have reduced freight costs, but the opportunities and the savings are passed on to customers and so that's good. Trialled to prioritise freight vehicles and traffic signals on [indistinct]… key freight routes have - I could probably say key fruit rates as well because there is a lot of fruit certainly from my electorate being transported to city areas.

But fantastic that the New South Wales Government certainly come on board with making sure that we get those green light corridors particularly when you've got a lot of freight moving through at those busiest times; moving freight and moving fruit through increased automation and connectivity, transport technology can have a vital, vital role in reducing congestion costs. And you know, when you are in Sydney traffic or Melbourne traffic, the last thing you want to be doing is competing with B-Doubles; the last thing you even want to be doing is being stuck in traffic just looking at the tail lights in front of you all day.

And that's why we've got that sort of automated technology with your lights and signalling systems. I'm pleased to say the New South Wales Government is doing a lot in that regard. And that's why if trucks can move at times which are more convenient to them to get from A to B in a quicker time, then that's fantastic. We can afford it. We have to afford it and we will be doing everything that we can. I’m pleased that the Government is also dedicated nearly $10 million for the Office of Future Transport Technologies, working with industry; working with such organisations as the ARRB and Michael and his team; working with you people in the room to improve our practices, to make sure that we've got every available means at us to ensure that if there is technology there, it's going to mean that people are getting around sooner and safer, that we use it.

And of course, automated vehicles also promise to boost the quality of life for many people who have restricted mobility, whether through disability, older age or simply a lack of transport services. And as our nation ages, it’s going to become more critically important. More people are living longer and they’re living healthier longer. So you know, I always used to think that 70 was old but as the older I get, the younger that seems. But we want to make sure that for those people, whether they're grey nomads, whether they're seeing our wide brown land and it is very brown at the  moment unfortunately due to the drought. But those people who are getting out and about, that they've got the best available technology, they've got the best available infrastructure and they've got the best available opportunities to live the best lives in their twilight years. Now these benefits as far as driverless technology and the like, we all know it's a step up in improving awareness of transport issues not just in capital cities but in regional centres. Now these benefits, very much reflected in the cities. The trials such as the Intellibus which is happening in Perth, run by the ADVI, a member of the Royal Automobile Club of Western Australia; it's proving popular. There's almost 20,000 people registering for a ride. Post participation surveys from this trial have shown that up to 91 per cent of riders could see how these vehicles would benefit beyond the young, the ageing and the mobility impaired. So if we can do it in a place like Perth which is a very technology savvy city, it's a younger city than perhaps some of our other capitals. If you can do it there and those people can embrace this, then the world's your oyster. The challenge for all of us, of course, government, planners, industry, researchers, the like, is to embrace the technology and to go with it.

Now I recently chaired a meeting of the Transport Infrastructure Council where Australian transport ministers endorsed the National Land Transport Technology Action Plan 2020-23. Don’t you love how when bureaucrats and politicians get together, they give something a title that long, but that is the action plan. Sets out our key priorities over the next three years, building on the trials of research already available; looking at what's being done internationally; looking at what further technology is coming in with driverless vehicles and all those sorts of things; addressing the infrastructure design; safety - critically cyber security, data and privacy challenges. They're all part of the mix. They're all part of those challenges, but I also see them as opportunities for our Government and for your industry and your sector to ensure that we go ahead in the best possible way.

And that's why I did establish the Office of Future Transport Technologies last year to lead Australian Government efforts in this space and to support, perhaps most importantly, nationally consistent reform. Because if we're going to do something, we've got the opportunity in this space to do it on a nationally consistent basis and people in the room from abroad might find it absolutely amazing that when we actually became federated in 1901, and we did it collectively, we did it as a- in a democratically peaceful way, unlike a lot of other countries which are formed by war, we did ours democratically and peacefully. But we had different rail gauges and so we're still confronting the challenges of the fact that there were different rail gauges in our nation leading up to 1901. That even track that was laid down after that process, after that federation, still looked at very much the state parochial rail gauges.

So we have an opportunity in this space, in the driverless space, in future technology space to be as nationally consistent as we can. And I like to think that across the border, even though we've got different political persuasions in our state and territory governments, and of course, we've got a Liberal and Nationals Government in Canberra running the nation, that there is good feelings and approach for nationally consistent reform, nationally consistent embracing of technology and that's great. And I like to think that that will continue and we can only do it when we have groups coming together, like the Transport Infrastructure Council where ministers and perhaps almost just as importantly, bureaucrats who sometimes get a bad rap. But let me tell you, people who work in the public service in the infrastructure space, in the transport and the regional development space, are very, very good, whether they're from my department or whether they're from the various ministers around the country, they’re the [indistinct]. They get on well, they know that there is a challenge there, but they also know that there's an opportunity.

Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming to Sydney. Thanks for coming to this particular summit. I wish you well in your deliberations and your decisions. Looking very much to hearing from Michael who often phones me and it's fantastic that he does, to tell me all about what we need to do as a Government, what we can do as a Government and what we must do as a Government. So thank you for your attention. Good luck with your summit. I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic few hours ahead. Thank you very much.

[Applause]