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Speech at the ATA Annual Conference, Cairns.



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The Hon. Mark Vaile, MP Minister for Transport and Regional Services

VS06/2007 12 April 2007

ATA Annual Conference Cairns, 12 April 2007.

A few weeks ago, I hosted transport minsters from across the Asia Pacific region as part of this year's APEC meetings.

It provided Australia's transport industries with a fantastic opportunity to show APEC delegates some of the innovative technologies that are being deployed to improve road freight efficiency.

Lindsay Fox's B-Double stood out at the APEC showcase and got a lot of interest from APEC Ministers. The B-Double was an important demonstration of what Australia has done to lift productivity and safety through innovation.

The challenge for us is to get the idea of boosting productivity into the forefront of state and territory regulators' thinking.

It is one of the keys to improving our broader economic prosperity, as is making sure that our road network can handle Australia's growing freight task.

AusLink

Through our $15 billion AusLink initiative, the Australian Government is funding essential land transport infrastructure across Australia.

The first five years of AusLink, from 2004 to 2009, includes some 164 major construction projects. Of the 164 projects, 66 have been completed and another 48 are underway. The rest are generally in the late stages of planning.

In the 2006-2007 Budget, we provided an extra quarter of a billion dollars for a range of projects on the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Cairns, including an extra $48 million for works to improve flood immunity in the Tully and Murray floodplains.

As you well know, flooding of the Tully and Murray Rivers can cut the Bruce Highway for a number of days - delays which truck owners and operators can ill afford.

The remaining $220 million in extra funding is for a range of improvements to the condition of the Bruce Highway to improve the safety and efficiency of this important link.

Our other major projects in Queensland include our $3 billion plan to fix the Ipswich Motorway. We will:

• Widen the motorway to six lanes between Darra and Wacol; • Finish the new interchange between the Ipswich and Logan motorways; and • Build a new six lane freeway between Dinmore and the Logan Motorway interchange.

Our plan will separate the commuter traffic on the Ipswich Motorway from your long distance heavy vehicles, which will make the route safer and quicker for both motorists in private cars and your drivers.

It's true that our plan is more expensive than just widening the Ipswich Motorway. It's always more expensive to do things right the first time.

The Australian Government can afford to fix the motorway and do it right: it's one of the dividends of our strong economic management over the last eleven years.

We will also be able to make a massive investment in other roads throughout Australia under AusLink 2, which will run from 2009 to 2014.

We have already announced that we will extend the Black Spot Programme to at least June 2014 as part of AusLink 2.

The Black Spot programme fixes dangerous locations on our roads, by installing safety treatments like roundabouts, crash barriers and lights.

We will spend an extra $345 million on the programme over the six years from June 2008 to June 2014, in addition to the $45 million we are already budgeted to spend in 2007-08. We will also increase its funding from $45 million a year to $60 million a year from June 2009.

Our decision to extend the programme will fix about 2,300 black spots, which will save lives and reduce the number of road accidents.

Rail

It is also important to mention that a viable rail freight system is crucial to meeting Australia's future freight demand and increasing the efficiency of the AusLink National Network.

Where rail can perform the task more effectively and efficiently, it should contribute to the freight-handling task.

The Australian Government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation have committed more than $2.4 billion to upgrading Australia's major rail infrastructure over the five years to 2009.

Heavy Vehicle Charges

Whilst investing in transport infrastructure is critical to meeting our future freight task, it is also important that pricing signals are right in relation to accessing transport infrastructure.

The Productivity Commission's September 2006 road and rail freight infrastructure pricing discussion draft found that the current heavy vehicle charging system is broadly adequate, given the currently available technology.

There is, however, a need to update the data used in the current heavy vehicle charges determination and to update the charging system methodology.

These views are reflected in the final Productivity Commission Report, which was handed to COAG in January for consideration at its meeting tomorrow.

Subject to CoAG's deliberations, I am confident that the Australian Transport Council will be given primary carriage of implementing and initiating the outcomes of the response to the Commission's report.

The next ATC meeting in May will enable ministers to communicate a set of policy positions on heavy vehicle charges to the NTC, and will allow us to discuss options on the way forward for a new determination.

I was grateful to receive the charging principles the ATA put to me in a letter earlier this year. I will take these into consideration when the ATC discusses the pricing principles that NTC will use to develop new heavy vehicle charges.

From my perspective, it is important that heavy vehicle charges send the right message to industry. To this end, I will be seeking to ensure that while the heavy vehicle industry has to pay its way, that there is no over-recovery. This will mean that I will be insisting to my state colleagues that no enforcement costs be included in the charges model.

The trucking industry should recognise, however, that the Australian Government has massively increased its investment in the nation's transport infrastructure in recent years. This will have a flow on effect. As a result of the cost recovery principle of heavy vehicle charging, better roads mean greater efficiency and higher charges.

In addition, it is important that any new determination should seek to achieve cost recovery from the individual classes, although this may have to be achieved over time.

I also strongly believe that we should be looking for mechanisms which, over time, allow us to better link the charging regime with our investment decisions to ensure the investments are in the right place at the right time.

Following the development of a set of charges to apply under a new heavy vehicle determination, the NTC will undertake public consultation as part of the Regulation Impact Statement Process.

I strongly encourage the ATA and its members to involve themselves in this process.

Transport Reform Agenda

I would now like to turn to the national road transport reform process.

As you would be aware, in February 2006 the Council of Australian Governments challenged Australian transport ministers by endorsing a new national reform agenda, which details a number of high priority transport reforms.

Significant progress has been made on a number of initiatives, which I'd like to take a few moments to outline to you.

The first is the Performance Based Standards (PBS) initiative, which will allow innovation in heavy vehicle design, leading to productivity and safety benefits. Rather than focusing on how big and heavy a vehicle is, it focuses on how well the vehicle behaves on the road through a set of safety and infrastructure protection standards.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the ATA and the Truck Industry Council for their participation on the steering committee oversighting this work.

By the middle of this year we should have finalised the relevant safety and infrastructure standards and have a review panel in place to assess vehicles.

The Australian, state and territory governments are also working with the National Transport Commission on an initial PBS network for ATC Ministers to consider next month.

Another major initiative on the horizon is B-triples.

The NTC is looking at B-triple combination based on a standard B-double with an extra A-trailer. This combination can be assembled from existing vehicle and trailer components. Compared with a B-double, it could increase productivity by up to 35 percent.

ATC ministers will be considering a map that outlines a B-triple network, which will be available from 1 July 2007. While this network will be based on the road train network, there will be future scope for its expansion. State ministers will need to show commitment to this reform and truly open up their networks appropriately.

Under the proposed PBS and B-triples policy, these combinations will perform better than current heavy vehicles. They will need to satisfy the stringent PBS safety standards in areas such as stability, high and low-speed tracking and vehicle acceleration and braking. And they will have to comply with the new emission standards. So they will need to be safe, clean and green.

Earlier this month, the NTC voted on the new national quad axle policy. I'm pleased that most transport ministers supported this initiative. I am disappointed that NSW will not be offering a quad axle network, but will instead be initiating a 3 year pilot scheme involving a limited number of companies.

While all three of these national reforms - PBS, B-triples and quad axles - are important innovations, agreement to implement them is largely academic without a commitment to offer useable networks for industry.

Some people outside your industry are worried that trucks are getting bigger and more dangerous. They are not aware of the stringent safety standards that your vehicles must meet.

The state and territory transport ministers don't have that excuse. They must now show the strong leadership the country needs to sustain economic growth. Without new vehicle designs, the road network will become a bottleneck for growth by filling up with more trucks than are necessary to achieve the transport task.

The Australian Government has put its money on the table through AusLink.

I encourage other levels of government to match the Australian Government's commitment to road and rail investment, to enable national initiatives such as PBS, B-triples and quad axle combinations to succeed.

I also ask them to look past short term political gain and not refuse road access to innovative vehicles on the basis of stereotypical views that big trucks are bad or that an increase in axle weights will destroy the system.

I urge the ATA to continue emphasising that big trucks do not mean unsafe trucks, and that the safety record of heavy vehicles is not something we should be defensive about.

From 1990 to 2005 the number of vehicle kilometres travelled by articulated trucks increased by about 55 percent. Over the same period the number of road deaths involving an articulated truck decreased by 41 percent.

I would also encourage industry to embrace positive regulatory change and work with the Australian, state and territory governments to develop sensible, balanced approaches to the issues we face.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you once again for your invitation to speak to you this morning about some of the key issues facing Australia's heavy vehicle industry.

I look forward to working with the ATA, and your member organisations, to make Australia more prosperous by making our transport sector stronger and more efficient.

I wish you well for the rest of your conference.