Deputy Prime Minister - Transcript - Speech - Victorian Transport Association State Conference - Phillip Island, Victoria - 25 March 2019

Thank you very much Peter. Have a look at the back of your tags – see these sponsors shown here. They have brought this conference to you, and if you can I would really ask you to support them. If you can, and you should, please go down to the stallholders out the back and chat to them. I think sometimes at these sorts of conferences and conventions we learn more talking to one another around the water cooler, having a coffee, over lunch, at the dinner and certainly listening to and engaging with the stallholders than you probably will listening to us politicians!

But I’m looking forward to talking to you about our plan, our vision for the nation. I acknowledge David Davis, I acknowledge David Hodgett and Roma Britnell MP, my State colleagues. Certainly they have a plan, they have a vision, as do all of you. I thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedules to come to this important conference. It is important, whether you learn more from people at the microphone or indeed doing what I suggested earlier: making sure you support the sponsors, making sure that you support the people who put these conferences on – but making sure that you get around and talk to one another, talk to like-minded industry people about the sorts of things that are affecting your State in the very near future or indeed the sorts of things that might affect the organisations and companies to which you belong. These sorts of conferences are important.

In a week or so the Federal Government is going to produce a Budget surplus. So Tuesday week, we’re actually going to bring down a surplus Budget for the first time for about 12 years. That’s going to be really significant.

We’ve just seen at the weekend a State Government returned because they actually had a plan and a vision for infrastructure across NSW. Three weeks ago they were written off – commentariat, media said they couldn’t, they wouldn’t win. But you know what they did, because they have a $90 billion infrastructure plan over four years that they’re rolling out across the State. They have a transport vision that is making a difference. Yes, our cities are congested, yet our regional areas in many cases are looking for more people. So obviously we need to ease the congestion in our cities but at the same time boosting our regions because you know, and I know, that when the regions are strong so too is our nation. And when we can sort congestion out in our capital cities – and with Melbourne set to become the largest capital city in Australia – we sort through that, and we make sure that our regions have the people, have the employment, , have the community growth capacity that they need whilst at the same time making sure that there are less traffic hold-ups in our Melbournes, Sydneys, our Brisbanes and elsewhere – our capital cities – then we break through that great nexus, that great problem that is confronting our nation.

Federally we are rolling out a $75 billion infrastructure plan over the next 10 years. I’m really looking forward to the Budget next week to unveil, reveal even more exciting news as far as our infrastructure plan is concerned. I’m also pleased that we have been able to broker, as a Government, Free Trade Agreements with South Korea, with Japan, with China, more recently with our northern neighbour Indonesia, to enable our goods to be able to go into those markets, into the growing South East Asian markets. What does that do? That also places additional pressures but additional opportunities.

What we need to do is to address the freight supply chain task. We know that supply chain demands are going to double in the next 10 years. Australia is the signatory nation that achieved the massive Trans Pacific Partnership 11 Agreement; that delivers us a great market opportunity of around $13 trillion. The naysayers said it couldn’t be done – but we achieved it. So the next task is to make sure that we take advantage, that we capitalise on those business opportunities, on that increased activity by getting the right roads, by getting the rail projects.

We’re going to be able to do that with your help, with your advice, with your support. We can’t do it without your support, and that’s why conferences such as this are important; that’s why the job that you do, for and on behalf of your organisations, for your companies and for your state and nation is so important.

Our next task is to anticipate the surge in business activity and to take advantage of it. We have the capacity to produce the world’s best agricultural products, the world’s best mining products – and we’re doing it. We’ve got the markets. We have the opportunities. We just need the right infrastructure in place, and that’s what we’re building. We must turn the opportunities into real action, and that starts with our infrastructure vision.

The big picture includes many big projects like Western Sydney International, the Nancy-Bird Walton Airport now under construction. It’s happening. It’s going to create tens of thousands of jobs, not just in the construction phase but indeed thousands more from Sydney’s second biggest airport, Western Sydney’s first big airport. Just a fortnight ago, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined Premier Gladys Berejiklian to turn the first sod there. And just a fortnight ago as well, Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined the Premier Daniel Andrews here in Victoria to formally sign off on the Melbourne Airport Rail Link, through a Heads of Agreement for this $10 billion joint project.

Now you might think this is a little bit odd but I’m going to be a little bit bipartisan here – I will work with any Government. I don’t care about their colour, creed, background, whatever the case might be, to work through to get the best infrastructure deal for the people we serve. That’s how it should be. Let’s not get too partisan about this. Yes, we will always say that the other side makes mistakes. Yes, they do but also they may point the accusatory finger at us and they may point out our shortcomings. But the people of Australia, the people of Victoria expect us to cut through some of that and to just get things done, to put bitumen down, put rail lines down and to bust through some of the congestion. That’s what people expect, want and most importantly deserve.

I will give the Victorian Government credit: They were the first to sign up to the Inter-Governmental Agreement for the Inland Rail, for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail – that 1700 kilometre corridor of commerce which is going to be transformational when it comes to moving freight, not just from the regions to the ports and airports to our markets overseas, but indeed from our capital cities into our regions, for example white goods and the like. So it works both ways.

But to make sure we get that freight happening within 24 hours – that’s going to be transformational. It’s going to be game-changing. It is nation-building. We’re doing it, and we’re doing it with the help of the States. We’re looking to sign up with Queensland. I’m hoping that happens in the not-too-distant future. Certainly the Departments are working well together, our offices are working well together, and I’d like to think that Mark Bailey, the Queensland Minister responsible and myself are working together collaboratively and co-operatively, just as I did with the Victorian Minister Jacinta Allan.

One of the benefits of the Melbourne Airport rail link will be to alleviate congestion on the Tullamarine Freeway for many many road users. Freeways are among a number of projects we invest in; we provided $200 million on Tullamarine freeway widening that was completed last year – it’s not happening, it has already happened. I appreciate that there were quite a few delays getting that project done. But these days when there are witches’ hats out, when there are people in orange hi-vis vests, you know that things are happening, you know that they’re getting done, and that’s the investment which is transformational for and on your behalf as you would expect.

In the 2018-19 Federal Budget we committed up to $132 million to complete the duplication of the Princes Highway between Traralgon and Sale. It’s the main freight route from Victoria’s south east for product destined for the ports of Melbourne, Hastings and Geelong, for export. Now I will give a shout-out here to my good mate Darren Chester, whose Gippsland electorate includes this highway. I know Darren, as a proud Victorian and a former Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, is well known to many of you. Indeed he addressed this meeting when he was Minister. That particular road project in important to him; moreover it’s critical to his electorate; it’s critical to the future success of Victoria.

Also in the 2018-19 Budget, we committed 1.75 billion – that’s thousand million – dollars towards the construction of the North East Link, to give Melbourne a complete orbital road connection for the first time. We’re tackling pinch points through the billion dollar Urban Congestion Fund. I know how much Alan Tudge worked towards that project as the Minister for Urban Infrastructure. The most congested section of the Calder Freeway – the 23 kilometres from Sunbury to the M80 Ring Road – is one of the winners, receiving a $50 million boost from this particular Fund. It adds up to a big effort.

And of course last week the Government announced $2 billion for fast rail between Melbourne and Geelong – now that’s a 30 minute travel saving. I just want to put that in context: Hands up all those Geelong supporters…I’ll make it easier, hand up all those people who don’t go for Collingwood. (Laughter). For you if you’re travelling from Geelong into the city to watch your team playing Collingwood or if you actually are in Geelong for any other reason and you’re travelling in to watch anyone playing Collingwood, that’s 30 minutes of extra delight; that’s 30 minutes where you will get to see your team beating Collingwood, and that’s fantastic. Hands up all the Collingwood supporters. I’ve got nothing for you. But anyway…(Laughter). Well done. I’m now running last in the tipping competition, thank you very much; I’m sure you are going to build on the success that you’ve enjoyed in recent years and I wish you all the very best.

I can’t speak highly enough of the new vision for transport in Australia without mentioning the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail. I know I mentioned it before. It’s underway. It’s happening. I was delighted to be at Parkes in Central Western NSW recently where they dropped off the last 14,000 tonnes of Liberty steel, Whyalla steel, South Australian steel – that’s Australian jobs – to complete the Parkes to Narromine section. Already we are seeing the benefits: local jobs, local companies benefiting. And at the end of the day it is going to be so significant because such an august organisation, an independent organisation as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, better known as CSIRO, estimates that it is going to have an average saving of $76 per tonne; $94 for processed food and also horticultural products – $94 a tonne saving. That’s straight back into the pockets of the farmers, straight back into the pockets of small business, straight back into the pockets of everyday ordinary Australians who are working hard – and that is going to be so so good.

Initially it was going to be a saving of $10 a tonne for goods on the Inland Rail. To get the saving up to $94 a tonne is so significant. So we’re incredibly proud of that investment and so should everybody else be. Yes there are still some points where it obviously needs to impact upon landholders who are a little bit worried and concerned; and yes we still have to deal with ‘last mile’ issues’ – but we will get there. Nothing this major happens without good collaboration between Governments, without good co-operation between stakeholders and Governments and without some sort of pain along the way. I understand that. We do live in a nation where building things sometimes takes quite a bit of effort and some pain, but the overall benefit outweighs anything else.

I am pleased to say that we have invested $38 million towards a $58 million shuttle network to improve the movement of containerised freight by rail between the Port of Melbourne and suburban intermodal terminals. In know how important that is to many of you in this room. Two port rail shuttle network projects have been announced to date –
they are the investment we’ve made at Austrak in Somerton, $16.2 million, and a $9.5 million investment at SCT Logistics in Altona – to help ease congestion and shift containers from residential streets and onto dedicated routes to the port. That is significant.

Transport infrastructure is, and always has been, at the top of the Government’s agenda and we will continue to do that. We’re witnessing an infrastructure bonanza that is great for our regions, it’s great for Victoria.

I just wanted to touch on the 20 year National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy. I know many of you have a key stake in that particular investment. I’m proud of the goodwill shown by COAG, the Council of Australian Governments, right across the board, based on making sure that we get the right policy at the right times in the right places and obviously for the right people. And the right people are you; the right people are your companies; the right people are those for whom good supply chains and good infrastructure is key.

More than 150 industry stakeholders attended focus groups around Australia in November and December – many of you may well have participated – to test key elements of a draft Strategy. We are nearing the end of this process now, with all Governments – Commonwealth, state, territory and local – those at the coalface of delivery – committed to agreeing and then implementing a National Strategy and Action Plan, to implement a co-ordinated strategy. We’re taking a long-term perspective over a 20 year timeframe because all too often Governments do get criticised for not having that long-term plan. All too often we have to, because of the election cycles, because of what people expect these days – we live in an instantaneous society, and the trouble is everybody wants things built in the here and now without wanting to have a too big, a too clear vision for the future. That is a problem. The problem probably started well before the iPhone was invented or made popular in 2008, but then everybody these days wants everything in the right here and now; we want it yesterday – whereas Governments really have to have a plan for the future, and I know that’s what we’re working towards.

These action areas are focused on the sorts of things that you would expect us to be focused on, such as:
o smarter and targeted infrastructure investment;
o improving supply chain efficiency;
o of course, better planning, coordination and regulation – when I say regulation, we all want to have less bureaucracy, less red tape – and you just want Governments to get on with the job; and
o better freight location and performance data.

Of course as we get more modernised with better technology – there’s more technology in those trucks out there than there probably was on the Apollo mission that went to the Moon, quite frankly – that is the way of the future. But there’s more technology in our mobile phones than we probably had, collectively, world-wide in the early 1970s via cmputers. So we live in the age of technology; we live in the age of information; the job is to harness that technology, that innovation, and just get on with the job.

We’re looking forward to implementing that national action plan.

On the Review of Heavy Vehicle National Law, I appreciate that the introduction of it in 2012 was a good first step; but we need to do more, and we are. As Chair of COAG’s Transport and Infrastructure Council, I was pleased that the Transport Ministers recently agreed to a review of this law, from first principles, by the National Transport Commission. I know that Paul Davies, from the NTC, is here today. I acknowledge his presence. I acknowledge what he’s doing to make that a reality.

An Expert Panel – with a mixture of industry, government and academic experts, because not everybody has all the right information, so we pool together that list of great minds – has been established to provide independent advice that is so important to that process. I acknowledge that Peter Harris, former chair of the Productivity Commission, is going to chair that process. I would encourage the VTA to engage in the review, to make your views known through the consultation process; and anybody who wants to have input, please put your hand up and make sure that you are involved.

In 2018 the Australian Government commissioned the Oversize Overmass review, resulting in 38 recommendations. We’re working now with jurisdictions to finalise and implement a number of recommendations. One of these is finalising the National Class 1 Agriculture Vehicle and Combination Notice. It’s being progressed by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. We now have Duncan Gay, a former Roads and Transport Minister in NSW, on the job with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. They’re currently consulting, he certainly is, with all councils and road managers on the new draft notice. Why is it right, why is it fair, why does it make good sense to have trucks going from state to state, between jurisdictions, to the next shire, the next council, and to be held up, hauled up, to have to do all the paperwork. We’re trying to cut red tape as much as we humanly can and we will continue to do just that.

Another piece of the policy puzzle that we’re working on relates to heavy vehicle road user charging. That’s so important – something that I know that many of you in this room will be warmly welcoming, asking the Government to do.

We’re just a couple of hours outside Melbourne. It’s a beautiful part of Victoria, a great part of regional Victoria. And as I said before: when our regions are strong, so too is our nation. As the Leader of the National Party, the Leader of the Party for which the whole and sole focus is on the regional areas, in the national interest, it’s important that I and everybody else recognise that when our regions are strong our nation goes along well as well. That’s why we are committing great investments into Victoria: regional rail lines, regional roads, to make sure that we cut through and help our supply chain. It comes down to projects such as the McAllister irrigation upgrade in Gippsland – those sorts of investments make such an incredible difference to the people who can grow the produce. We know that here in Victoria and elsewhere in regional Australia you grow the very best produce. If we can grow more of it, we can use more of it domestically, we can certainly export more of it and it will make even more money and make our regions grow even further.

We’ve also invested in mobile phone coverage. I appreciate that that too is a big ticket item for all of you in this room. If we get our mobile communications right you improve access and availability for so many.

The diesel fuel rebate is guaranteed when you’ve got The Nationals and regional Liberals in Government, fighting hard. The diesel fuel rebate recognises that diesel used off-road means you’re not contributing to public costs like road wear and tear. Any change to this important rebate may also see additional cost passed through to customers or end users. We don’t want to see that. We will fight hard against that. When you are managing a strong economy, assistance like this is not only possible, but also sustainable.

Let me say again: Under The Nationals and I know the regional Liberals too, the diesel fuel rebate is absolutely guaranteed.

That is a good policy. It makes good sense. And it grows our regional economies.

Now, as former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, warned just in the past week, that will be something that will go under a Bill Shorten Labor Federal Government. They will whack the economy with a 45% emissions target and a 50% or more renewable energy target, and that, while on the surface is easy to read – it only takes a couple of seconds – it will provide such a huge and lasting impact on our economy. It’s one that we don’t need. Nobody’s been told as to who is going to pay for it or how they’re going to pay for it but we certainly know the risk that that would place.

Independent research from Dr Brian Fisher released just last week sounded the bell on this major issue and confirms the need for caution in introducing new carbon reduction schemes that won’t benefit the environment but will hurt our industry sector and certainly all of the people that you hold near and dear in this room.

In summary, let me conclude with this: There are areas of transport policy where the Commonwealth can lead more through influence than power. The Heavy Vehicle National Law is just one example.

One area of very direct power is through our investment choices as a significant funder of transport infrastructure and I’m proud of the Liberals and Nationals’ record of achievement on this. It is no small thing to be the senior Minister in a portfolio responsible for investing more than 75 thousand million dollars over the next decade in projects big and small – everything from a small roundabout to big nation-building transformational infrastructure projects.

We are bringing all of this together through our stewardship of the National Strategy and Action Plan which goes well beyond the next 12 months, right through over the next decade.

This year is going to be a significant year. Of course, as I said, next Tuesday Josh Frydenberg is going to release the first surplus Budget by a Commonwealth Government in 12 years. That’s exciting, because when you’re actually earning more money than you’re actually spending, when you balance the books, it means that you’re getting the economy right and able to spend even more money on infrastructure, more money on busting through congestion as I know Alan Tudge would love to do; more money on regional roads which is something that I have a wont to do and certainly will be absolutely committed to achieving over the next term of Government.

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been very good; thank you very much. I say again, please support those who support this conference. It’s most important that we support those people who support us and support your great industry. You are very important in making sure that we get people home sooner and safer.

For me, road safety is a critical thing. For me, the supply chain issues are really so important. And the job that you do and the role that you play in our transport sector, both in Victoria and indeed right across Australia, is very important and very much appreciated.

Thank you very much.

[ENDS]

Hannah Maguire