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Address to the Australian Trucking Convention 2009, Gold Coast.



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Warren Truss MP: Address to the Australian Trucking Convention 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Source: Warren Truss MP

Speech by Warren Truss Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Transport

Australian Trucking Convention 2009 Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre Thursday 23 April 2009

Chairman of the Australian Trucking Association, Trevor Martyn, Chief Executive, Stuart St Clair, sponsors, distinguished guests and delegates, it is a pleasure to be with you today to address the Australian Trucking Convention - the national peak forum on road transport issues.

Let me congratulate you on all your efforts in making this conference work and the thoroughness of your program. It is extensive, covering the economy, national transport reform, local government, business development, transport safety and of course, the National Trucking Industry Awards. I congratulate the 2009 winners, and I commend the sector for recognising those who display exceptional commitment to develop the trucking industry.

Economic importance of the sector

The Federal Coalition acknowledges the importance of the trucking sector and states without qualification that it is your friend and supporter. We all know that the heavy vehicle sector plays a key role in Australia’s economy, moving freight and people across a large country with markets separated by long distances. More than most countries, Australia relies on

trucks to keep the economy turning, with road transport carrying more than 70 percent of the total tonnage of freight moved nationally.

It is also an industry that employs a significant number of Australians. According to Australian Government figures , there are almost 180,000 truck drivers engaged in the industry running a fleet of over 400,000 heavy vehicles. These labour figures do not include all those thousands of other Australians, such as mechanics who service these vehicles, or the

schedulers, consigners and fleet managers. It is an industry that contributes approximately $18 billion to Australia’s national income.

Put simply, Australia cannot do without you. Yet you face significant challenges. The first is safety and you are correct to devote much of today’s program to this key issue.

Safety

We all know that road transport is not a particularly safe job. According to a National Transport Commission report, road transport in Australia, North America and the European Union accounts for the highest number of work-related fatalities in any given year. Apparently, the occupation of truck driver ranks in the top six of the most dangerous occupations.

In the calendar year of 2007, 1603 Australians died on our roads. In the same year 282 people died in crashes involving buses, heavy rigid and articulated trucks. That means two years ago, 17 percent of road fatalities involved heavy vehicles. In 2006 the percentage was about the same, with 269 Australians dying in accidents involving heavy vehicles out of a total of 1602 road fatalities. I suspect this year the percentage of fatalities involving heavy vehicles will be no different. The trend lines are not particularly encouraging either. Even as overall fatalities have fallen by about 16 percent over the past decade, fatal crashes involving heavy vehicles have remained at roughly similar levels.

Clearly, it can be dangerous to drive trucks.

We no longer accept deaths in the workplace - such as in mines or on construction sites - yet drivers of Australia’s trucks continue to die.

There are no easy answers, but a Coalition Government will strive to make your workplace - Australia’s roads - a safer place.

Heavy vehicle driver fatigue reforms

A Coalition Government will support the national heavy vehicle driver fatigue reforms agreed to by the Australian Transport Council in early 2007 and rolled out from September last year. I commend the truck industry for its commitment to give these reforms a go.

It must be remembered that the states have the responsibility for the regulation of heavy vehicles and were required to pass the heavy vehicle fatigue management laws and implement them. Essentially, they are a state responsibility.

But despite the promises, the laws are not being implemented nationally. Tasmania and the Northern Territory are still considering the legislation and will not be ready to apply the laws until 2010. Western Australia does not intend to implement them at all. New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia rolled them out from 29 September last year.

Unfortunately, the states introduced variations to the national reforms, complicating the life of any road operator who operates in more than one state. For example, under section 47 of the model law, a driver working standard hours must take a short break after 5 ¼ hours of work. A driver may make a defence against a breach of this provision if the driver could not find a suitable place to stop but then found one within 45 minutes.

But in NSW and Victoria this is not a defence.

This is in spite of the fact that a recent audit of 12,700 kilometres of Australia’s national highways found that the states and territories have largely failed to meet the National Transport Commission guidelines regarding the provision of rest stops.

For example, according to this report, the Princes Highway does not have one major rest area along its entire route in NSW. I call upon NSW and Victoria to be more flexible in the management of these reforms, since they have essentially passed laws requiring truck drivers to stop at rest areas that do not exist.

I am sure you are aware that the model fatigue law requires diaries to be kept by drivers operating more than 100 kilometres from their base. In Queensland the requirement is 200 kilometres, in New South Wales it is 160 kilometres for primary producers and 100 kilometres for every one else. Typically, New South Wales scores a unique double - it has

passed laws cementing inconsistencies both nationally and within its own jurisdiction.

A Coalition Government will work with the States to eliminate these ridiculous anomalies in the fatigue laws - a task the Rudd Government has squibbed.

Rest stops

A Coalition Government will address the problem of the shortage of rest stops. In last year’s Parliamentary debate regarding the Road User Charge, we put up a set of amendments that directed the Government to build enough rest areas to bring our highway system into compliance with the National Transport Commission Guidelines.

The Government’s so-called Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Package of $70 million over four years will not go far enough. We do not know how many rest areas this amount will build - the Government won’t tell us. Even if its builds eighty - a very generous guess - it is not enough.

The Coalition stands by its amendments that the Government rejected. We will build an additional 500 road side stops over the next 10 years at an approximate cost of $300 million to bring the 22,500 kilometres of Australia’s national highway into broad compliance with the guidelines of the National Transport Commission. That means, in the long term, operators like you will not be pressing down the highway worrying about an impending breach of the fatigue laws while you look for a roadside stop that isn’t there.

A better road system

The third way to achieve a safer workplace for Australia’s heavy vehicle operators is to build a better road system. To achieve this goal the Coalition will renew the Commonwealth’s support for AusLink - the Australian Government’s framework for Australia’s national transport system. Prior to the last election, the Coalition committed to spend $31 billion on

the national road and rail network. Labor cut that back to $26 billion.

It is a sad fact that nearly two years after the election, we have not seen one new road project started. I can only shake my head in wonder at a Government that has promised so much and delivered so little.

It is also sad to see so much of the Federal Government’s cash-splash being squandered on short-term stimulus packages are that are disappearing without trace and leaving our children with crippling interest rate payments and higher taxes. Wouldn’t it have been better if this deficit spending had left a benefit that lasts longer than the interest bill?

For example, the recently announced $42 billion fiscal stimulus package includes a tax bonus to eligible recipients of up to $900. This is at an impost to the tax payer of about $8 billion - the same price as the cost duplicating the Pacific Highway from Newcastle to the Queensland border. What would you prefer - $8 billion in a short term cash splash or $8 billion dollars on a piece of infrastructure that will save lives, increase productivity and provide a permanent benefit to travelling Australians for generations to come?

Specific road projects

A Coalition Government will restore funding to AusLink and concentrate on long-term infrastructure projects; particularly those neglected by Labor. These projects include the Pacific Highway, which a Coalition Government would duplicate by 2020. The Bruce Highway has also been forgotten by Labor. A Coalition Government will upgrade this highway between Cooroy to Curra to four lanes by 2022. The Coalition also remains committed to the F3 to Branxton Link Road in NSW. This project, quietly dropped by Labor,

will do much to relieve congestion on the New England Highway and provide a high standard road for the Lower Hunter. Similarly, a Coalition Government will build the F3 to the Sydney Orbital by 2020. Building the missing link to replace the current Pennant Hills Road

connection will do much to facilitate the efficient movement of road-based freight around Sydney.

These are only a few key projects that must be completed as part of the Coalition’s determination to build a modern, efficient and safe national highway system.

So rational, uniform fatigue laws, more road side stops and a better road system. That is a good start to improving safety in your industry.

But there are other matters facing the road freight sector of particular interest to the Commonwealth.

Further policy issues - uniform regulations

The first is uniform regulation. Aside from the heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws, there are other baffling contradictions - “inefficient agonies” I think my predecessor John Anderson called them.

Regulatory inconsistency cost Australia’s GDP nearly $2.5 billion in lost productivity every year. After nearly twenty years of national regulatory reform, the matter is not resolved.

The National Transport Commission in 2006 found that after one decade of development, only one third of the over-size and over-mass provisions have been implemented in a nationally consistent way. This means, for example, that an operator carrying hay bales and loaded to its allowable three metre width in Victoria will be over width in New South Wales where the maximum width is 2.83 metres. This can be a problem, since in Australia, drought and seasonal variations generate large amounts of hay movements across state borders. Beware the farmer in Victoria who dares load his truck with hay as wide as legally possible and ventures into New South Wales.

Another frustration is the differing approaches by the states to approving higher mass limits

for trucks. As far back as 1996 the states and territories agreed with the Commonwealth that Australia should develop approved routes for trucks with advanced pavement-friendly suspension. Indeed, since model national legislation supporting higher mass limits for heavy tri-axle equipped vehicles was approved by the Australian Transport Council in 2000, truck operators have spent nearly $250 million in Higher Mass Limit compliant equipment.

Such trucks generate significant savings, allowing a nine percent payload increase for a conventional semi-trailer combination, and a 13 percent increase for B-doubles. After eight years, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and increasing areas of Queensland are developing an extensive approved road network for these types of trucks.

But where is New South Wales? NSW has been blocking this initiative ever since it started, imposing unique and difficult regulations that make it difficult for any vehicle to qualify. The same sad story applies to road trains. Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland have designated road train routes that make it possible for trucks to pull B-triples across these states. As you know, B-triples are highly efficient vehicle combinations that are up to 30 percent more productive than B-doubles. They also help reduce the number of smaller trucks on our roads, since two B-triples are equivalent to five semi-trailers.

Unfortunately NSW refuses to open up its road system to these vehicles. This means, for example, that a B-triple can technically travel in New South Wales, but only from Barringun on the Queensland border to Bourke and no further. This is just bizarre.

Victoria is not much better, allowing strictly limited B-triple use between Broadmeadows and Geelong for trucks moving components for the Ford Motor Company.

I think they are enough examples that suggest to you that 108 years since Federation, Australia still has a less than harmonious national road freight system. This is a significant failure for a country so dependent on road freight.

Carrot and stick with the States

That is why a Coalition Government supports recent moves by the Australian Transport Council to develop a single regulatory body to administer Australia’s national heavy vehicle laws. We support a national heavy vehicle registration scheme, a consistent approach to driver training and testing, a single heavy vehicle licence and a uniform body of national laws.

Plainly, however, expressions of goodwill and cooperation have not been enough. A Coalition Government will therefore look at a system of national payments and penalties to the states, in the same way the Coalition drove reform in key areas of energy, water and business regulation through national competition payments.

Finally, I mentioned earlier that the Coalition is a friend of the heavy vehicle transport sector. I would just like to share with you some of our wins we have secured for you in recent Parliamentary debates.

The first is the Road User Charge. The Road User Charge is levied to recover the cost arising from the use of our roads by heavy vehicles. You pay 38.14 cents in tax for every litre of fuel

and claim a partial rebate of 17.143 cents per litre. The Road User Charge is therefore 21 cents per litre.

The Government would have subjected this charge to annual indexation, based on a road construction index that would have resulted in an automatic increase in the tax of about seven percent a year.

The Coalition has never liked fuel excise indexation, which is why we abolished Labor’s fuel excise indexation in 2001. That is why in Parliamentary debate late last year we opposed the Rudd Government’s attempts to automatically slug your industry every year.

As a result of our amendments, grudgingly accepted by the Government, there will be no automatic indexation of the Road User Charge. Furthermore, the Government accepted our proposal that any future adjustment to the Charge will only occur after full and open consultation with your industry. We were pleased with this result, but also saddened as the Government sees you as a cash cow it was happy to milk of another $2.5 billion over the next decade.

We oppose the automatic indexation of the Road User Charge and promise that, under a future Coalition Government, the money raised by this tax will be spent on roads. We will not regard it as just an addition to consolidated revenue.

Finally, in the Parliamentary debate over the Fair Work Bill that took place in March this year, the Coalition successfully struck out a clause, moved by the Government at the last minute, which tried to impose nationally the provisions of the New South Wales State Transport Award.

Should this have occurred, I am of the view that it would have had a devastating effect on the long-haul road freight sector. Bringing into Federal law the provisions of the health and safety provisions of the NSW Transport Award would have allowed unfettered access by unions to any transport company, regardless of union representation, and would have allowed for the union inspection of sensitive business documents with just 24 hours notice.

It also ran the risk of imposing nationally upon your industry the unworkable and onerous regulatory burden of the NSW occupational health and safety provisions. This is on top of the existing provisions of the heavy vehicle fatigue management laws. If you are buried by red tape now, imagine what your world would have been like?

The Labor Government amendment also offered the prospect that the NSW Bluecard safety awareness training program would become national. Now I am all for suitable occupational health and safety training, but not one provided by a company that, according to persistent media reports, is affiliated with the Transport Workers Union and provides a benefit to that union.

The Coalition is a strong supporter of the heavy vehicle sector. We will work support a safer workplace environment for Australia’s road operators through supporting a rational implementation of the heavy vehicle driver fatigue laws, building more roadside stops and

fully supporting the construction of a duplicated national highway system.

More generally, the Coalition will work with the states, using a carrot and stick approach, to

build a truly national and consistent road freight sector. The Coalition will continue to protect the industry, where it can, from mischievous, tax-grabbing legislation of the kind that we have recently seen.

I am happy to take your questions.