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Politics and Trucking: address to the Natroad South Australian Road Transport Association Conference\n

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Politics and Trucking


Martin Ferguson MP

Shadow Minister for Urban and Regional Development, Transport and Infrastructure


Saturday 11 October 2003

I would like to thank Natroads and SARTA for the opportunity to address your conference.

I have been a regular speaker at NATROAD and ATA conferences since I took responsibility for this portfolio in 1999.

It is a valuable opportunity for me to stay in touch with what is important to your industry, but also to give you the opportunity to learn more about Labor’s policies and ideas.

Public Perception: Is it wrong?

The trucking industry is a highly visible industry - on display in the community twenty four seven, around the clock.

It is a profession about which almost everyone has an opinion, albeit not always a good one.

What the broader community often overlooks, or is not aware of, is the constant evolution of the trucking industry.

And we are not just talking about economic efficiencies and technological advances.

We are talking about progressive policy development aimed at achieving better business practices, safer working environments, a better quality of life for families, community safety benefits and cleaner, greener industry standards.

This progress is driven both from within the industry and by those who are tasked with regulating it and they are doing so by addressing concerns through innovative and workable industry-wide standards.

These developments are critical to establishing the professionalism of your industry.

One important milestone achieved in the last twelve months is the drafting of the NRTC’s Compliance and Enforcement Bill.


Having called for reform in these areas ever since taking Shadow Ministerial responsibility for Transport, the very least that I can say is “it’s about time”.

As you are all aware, the fundamental aim of the Compliance and Enforcement Bill is to improve the compliance regime and produce safer roads for all users.

Importantly, by obliging all parties to adhere to road transport mass and loading laws we are levelling the playing field for operators at the same time as addressing safety concerns.

By putting in place a uniform, cross-jurisdictional Compliance and Enforcement regime we will remove competitive disincentives and weed out the minority who seek advantages by taking short-cuts over those who do the right thing.

The Bill, of course, is now in the hands of ATC Ministers and I am sure that you have all encouraged, as I have, the Ministers to get behind it. I think we can be confident that the Council will rubber-stamp it in due course.

The next step is ensuring that the right legislation is put in place at a State and Territory level and that all jurisdictions get o n with implementation.

In this respect it is important that the industry gets on board with the NRTC to help this happen.

As the title of your conference is Politics and Trucking I think that it is only appropriate to remind you of the importance of ind ustry lobbying politicians to ensure things happen in the right way for the industry.

Ideally, we will achieve common implementation dates that will see the Code operational across Australia at the same time to minimise any cross-jurisdictional problems that could be encountered for interstate trucking companies.

I have confidence that we can see this happen, but you can’t always rely on politicians to get to the end of the road in the most appropriate way so you must ensure that the voice of the trucking industry is there keeping them on track.

A further important reform in the trucking industry in recent months has been the implementation of the Heavy Vehicle Safety Strategy and Action Plan.

Again, a strategy the industry was crying out for because it is fair to say that we were reaching a crossroad of sorts in relation to the heavy vehicle industry.

Safety and the increasing freight task.

We are all acutely aware that the freight task in Australia is expected to double over the next twenty years, placing significant pressure on the industry as it moved to cope with increased freight movements.


But it was clear that with increased those freight movements we also needed an increased focus on safety.

One part of the safety strategy is about ensuring that we have the right transport infrastructure in place to cope with increased movement.

I will take this opportunity to express my dismay, and indeed my concern, that our ailing transport infrastructure is still suffering because we don’t have a national land transport plan.

After five years, the Howard Government finally heeded Labor’s calls and conceded the need for a land transport plan.

Labor envisaged that to be an integrated land transport plan worked out cooperatively with all tiers of government and industry under the auspices of the National Infrastructure Advisory Council.

The NIAC would take the politics out of infrastructure decision-making and get rid of the tired practice of pork barrelling for short-term political gain.

Having conveniently mocked Labor’s plans for an integrated approach to transport infrastructure investment, the Minister for Transport, John Anderson, in a flurry of press and promotion unveiled his own plan to address the transport infrastructure challenge.

That was in May last year.

Since then, John Anderson has produced nothing but talk about AusLink. We keep being told that the AusLink White Paper is “on its way” and that it will be released “sometime soon” yet we continue to wait.

We keep waiting for it but nothing eventuates. We are now asking the question: Is AusLink dead or is it just barely breathing?

We’re hearing plenty of noise about the disgruntled “money men” of Cabinet stopping AusLink dead in its tracks because they don’t want to provide the necessary funds.

Labor has long suspected the AusLink option is a politically motivated attempt to shift Federal transport funding responsibilities to the states and local government.

We know that AusLink is doomed to fail without more money. We all agree rail needs more money but it can’t come from our national roads budget. Returning to the Road Map for Heavy Vehicle Safety, I commend the NTRC, the state transport agencies and the Australian Trucking Association for their work in getting this strategy in place.

Of particular importance, I believe, are the moves to address driver impairment and the need to improve speed enforcement.


In the past we have been exposed to the litany of horrific consequences of drivers working inhumane hours for negligible returns, drug taking in the industry and its impact on the health and lives of drivers and the lives of other road users. All in all, an unforgivable toll on Australian families.

Similarly, the pressures placed on drivers to meet unrealistic deadlines generated a culture where excess speed was a part of doing the job, again often with tragic consequences.

In keeping with the theme of your conference, all too often the trucking industry, for the reasons I’ve just outlined, is used as a political punching bag in relation to safety in the industry.

But let’s be fair. The roads are your lifeblood and as I mentioned earlier you are a highly visible industry that operates in the community in a potentially dangerous way.

For that reason I believe you do have a serious responsibility to adopt a culture of continuously and progressively monitoring your performance to correct the perception that it’s every truck driver for themselves and to hell with the rest of the road users. You have to keep demonstrating that you are a professional outfit - from your mechanics, to your drivers to your management practices and expectations.

Time is money in any industry, but it is false economy if it is at the expense of lives and the credibility of your industry.

The recognition and ongoing entrenchment of the “chain of responsibility” is a vital whole-of-industry approach.

When I addressed your conference in 2000, I stressed that the concept of “chain of responsibility” in relation to safety was not just an industrial issue. I also noted that an industry code of practice was needed and that it must be enforceable.

For all the good will that is displayed by industry when it comes to codes of practice, the fact that they are not enforceable can be their very undoing.

That is why I remain disappointed with the Minister for Transport’s failure to mandate compliance to the National Heavy Vehicle Safety Strategy.

To achieve real results in areas as important as this we have to stand up to the minority who won’t comply through good will alone and force their hand. For all the effort that the majority are willing to make to comply with voluntary codes, those who choose not to conform to widely accepted new practices can easily reduce that effort to nothing.

We should make no mistake about the issue here: road safety is paramount in an industry where road transportation is its key function.


That said I believe the “chain of responsibility” is not something that starts and ends in the transport industry. I am not forgetting that you share the roads with many other vehicle users.

Just as your industry has a focus on keeping the roads safe for all users, so to do all drivers need to be educated in keeping the roads safe for trucks. This, I believe, is an area that needs further exploration.

Politicising the road toll.

It is all too easy to use road deaths for political purposes. We become vulnerable to the opportunity for the quick political hit of saying “not enough is being done to reduce the road toll.”

I believe there is a perception, particularly among the academia and the policy makers, that we are becoming immune to the “safe driving” messages about speeding, wearing seatbelts, fatigue and drink driving.

I don’t necessarily know if that is true. All we really have to go on is the facts.

Australia is no longer among the top ten OECD nations in regards to its road safety performance and the fatality ratio to population has increased in recent years.

Last year 1,725 people lost their lives on Australia’s roads and the significant reduction in road fatalities experienced over the past several decades is now stagnating.

Road deaths cause immeasurable human suffering, but in monetary terms are estimated to cost the Australian community approximately $15 billion annually.

While we can become consumed by facts and figures and the need to analyse, I do believe that it’s important to keep some perspective.

For example, the development of the Australian Truck Crash Database is a positive move.

By gaining a better understanding of the reasons for heavy vehicle accidents, we lay the groundwork for future programs aimed at educating drivers of the risks they face on the road.

The companion to the National Heavy Vehicle Safety Strategy, the National Road Safety Strategy that began in 2001, had been expected to make significant inroads into helping to reduce Australia’s road fatality rate.

Labor is supportive of this approach and agrees that we must address road deaths from a national perspective. Although I will say that Labor remains sceptical at a strategy that while prescribing Action Plans from a national level leaves implementation to other jurisdictions.


However, it appears that the Minister for Transport is now attempting to wind back the projected outcomes of the National Road Safety Strategy despite only having it in place for three years.

The terms of reference of the newly announced Inquiry into National Road Safety clearly point to the desire of the Minister to trim down the 40 per cent reduction target for road deaths by 2010.

While no one should deny that the aim to reduce the number of road deaths per one hundred thousand population to just 5.6 by 2010 was optimistic, it appears the Minister is giving up on this challenge just three years after setting the target.

While I urge the trucking industry to make a submission to the Inquiry, let me be clear: we should not accept the Minister’s desire to reduce that target.

While Minister Anderson may now believe the target is unachievable, I believe that we can harness the support of a ll road users and make a pretty good go of it.

Already this year data shows a 4.2 per cent reduction in road fatalities compared to the same time last year. It is not appropriate for us to simply walk away from the difficult challenges we face in reducing road deaths. Instead we must take the information and the data and use it to our advantage.

Education and Training

I spoke earlier about the need to defend the professionalism of your industry and one of the key parts of that is highly trained and qualified workforce and managers.

We know that businesses that invest in the development of their workers skills are more likely to grow and prosper.

We also continue to revisit the fact that your industry has an ageing workforce that is not being replenished - there is an obvious skill shortage in your industry.

The freight task is set to double and your industry has a skill shortage today! What is that going to mean for the price of freight and the reliability of trade if that problem is not arrested a nd reversed?

I am ashamed to say that this problem is not isolated to your industry. It is across many trades and critical skill areas - nursing, teaching, plumbers, childcare workers, electricians.

The ATA and Natroads have come along way in recent years in the development of a culture of training among members. Individual members need to harness that commitment within their own companies and promote the fact that you are taking these issues seriously.


But this Government must also do more.

Simon Crean has committed to creating 20,000 new TAFE places throughout Australia to help train people in the jobs our country needs, and the transport industry will benefit from that commitment.

Skills growth as a driver of productivity has fallen by 75 per cent in the last ten years and the Productivity Commission has warned that if we are to maintain and indeed improve our current living standards, we must invest in more skills and training.

You need highly skilled and experienced workers to ensure your long-te rm viability in a highly competitive industry - Labor recognises that.

By increasing the focus on skills, education and training we are also building the resource base for all transport industries to take advantage of as technology changes and workplace practices advance in kind.

Today I am asking your industry to work with us in achieving better education and training outcomes for your workers’ today and those in the future so we are ready for each technological evolution.


Government tells us that the freight task is set to double. That is great news for the transport industry.

Yes, rail must pick up more than its current load. There must be a more integrated, inter modal approach to meeting our transport needs. But be assured, the trucking industry will always remain a critical mode and part of delivering for Australian industry and consumers.

Very few other industries have such strong, positive growth prospects - why do you think some of Australia’s leading business people are spending up in your industry.

I always enjoy my dealings with your industry and representatives who do you proud in how they advocate your wares.

As we move forward on the reforms you know are needed, my door is always open.

Thank you.