ADDRESS TO THE NATIONAL ROADS CONFERENCE, 31 AUGUST 2018
Subjects: Investment in roads, rail and freight; tackling congestion; Roads of Strategic Importance; Pacific Highway; Coffs Bypass; Newell Highway; Bruce Highway; Broome Cape Leveque Road; Black Spot Funding; Oversize Overmass Review
(Various introductions and acknowledgements)
I am the acting Prime Minister at the moment. Third in a week. We're going to start taking straw polls as to who might be the best. But the fact is you've got me so I hope that I can present a good start to your very important deliberations, your very important conference. What a venue. I’m sorry I’m all suited up….in this suit and tie. You out there look far more at home and far more comfortable than what I'm wearing. But I hope you get to enjoy some of the pleasures of this magnificent holiday resort and tell others to come back here because it is one of the best parts of Australia. Thanks for the kind introduction. You are the lifeblood of our nation, make no mistake. You and our farmers. No two better sectors in our entire nation, farmers and truckies, you keep our country going, and well done to each every one of you. And NatRoad has a huge responsibility to provide advice and information to the trucking industry and the Government. I was heartened by that video of a family trucking company from Goulburn just down the road from my home town of Wagga Wagga. And that's the sort of company, that's the sort of business that makes your sector, your industry great. And you, through NatRoad road, provide advice to government and you should never shy away from that. You should always keep feeding any information into us, the decision makers, the legislators, about what your sector needs, about what your people need, because you are important to Government. And being the leader of the National Party, and being a reasonable person myself, I know just how important your sector is and I know the important role that NatRoad plays in it.
The main message of my address today is to every business owner that your business is Government’s business and when you're strong so too is our nation. We need to make sure that we keep your wheels turning, your sector going, your sector thriving. Analysis shows us that the freight task is projecting to double in the next 20 years. That's a tall order for our nation's infrastructure. It's a big task ahead of you. And nationally coordinated investment and reforms will be essential to deliver the necessary productivity improvements and gains that I hear you talking about, Warren in his intro talked about cross border anomalies. I'm going to Albury-Wodonga just this afternoon – I wish I was staying here – but I’m going to Albury-Wodonga. I know James McTavish, as the Cross Border Commissioner, has played a pivotal role in making sure that some of the legislation that we see that when we cross borders is affecting your industry and so many others. Besides, I’m delighted that two councils in Albury and Wodonga have decided on a Two Cities One Community campaign and we're working to break down some of those barriers which affects not just your industry but many others.
The Liberal Nationals Government is investing heavily in infrastructure, a $75 billion rollout over the next 10 years and we must and we can and we will do more besides that. In fact, in this year’s May budget, there was $24.5 billion of new money for such programs as the $3.5 billion for the Roads of Strategic Importance; $1.5 billion is dedicated to Northern Australia, so north of the Tropic of Capricornia. It’s so important this. We want to develop the North, we will develop the North and we’ll do it through projects and programs such as ROSI and such as the Beef Roads Program. But elsewhere around the nation, we're also investing, not just in the national highways, but indeed those secondary roads, those vital linkage points to get your trucks, your people, indeed all people, home sooner and safer and to their destinations sooner and safer. That’s what it's all about.
Now, just a few weeks ago, Australia reached a 25 million population milestone. That was significant. And so we've got a huge landmass, indeed, it’s roughly the same size as America, but they've got 325 million people. We've got just 25 so we need to make sure that we plan and we do the infrastructure bit right. Ninety per cent of the Australian population is an urban dwelling population. That's quite incredible when you think about it. So, we've got a lot of land, a lot of roads, a lot of infrastructure needed and not much population but we need to get the goods, the food, the fibre, the mining wealth from those areas and to our ports, into our markets and we need to do that on the very best roads possible. You all know that the best way to move our freight efficiently and safely is through better roads, wider bridges, and more rest areas for heavy vehicles as well. It’s obviously getting the rail task right. But to respond to all those pressures, infrastructure is at the very top of the government's agenda and through this agenda, we’re putting in place the right infrastructure for Australia's needs, not just now but into the future. Our government, as I say, is investing $75 billion in infrastructure and we're committed to making sure that that pipeline of investment continues over the next decade through those programs I mentioned, but also a billion-dollar urban congestion fund, which will invest in projects to overcome those last mile constraints that so beset our economy, so constrained our ports, our airports, and our intermodal facilities. And a $250 million major project business case fund to engage early on in the next phase of major priority projects that will be required to keep the country moving. That's your job. You do it very well and we need to do our job too to make sure that you can continue to do the fine job and outstanding job that you do for our nation.
And the Pacific Highway has as you all know been used as a political football for way too long. I was delighted to stand beside Luke Hartsuyker, my colleague, and acknowledging the work that Andrew Fraser, the state Member for Coffs, has done over so many years to announce that Coffs Bypass, $971 million. Not before time, under this government, we've been looking very closely at fast tracking that particular bit of highway, but making sure that we can work in conjunction with our state colleagues. And we can now say that four-lane divided road between Hexham at the Queensland border will be ready to open into traffic in 2020 and certainly, with the Coffs Bypass work beginning in 2020 and lasting four years. A lot of construction jobs in that but also when it’s finally completed, it will be the road that you people, your trucks, your companies need and deserve.
Also in New South Wales, we’re planning for future upgrades and I'm sure that whether it's Crouch’s Transport or whoever it is, is going to be delighted by those upgrades of the Newell Highway. It’s the spine of country New South Wales, the longest highway in the state and a major freight passage and transport connectivity linking Victoria to Queensland will be getting done. I saw firsthand the devastating impact of the 2016 floods. You wouldn't believe it that two years ago right now, the Newell was cut off by floods and now, it's completely bone dry. I mean, we live in a nation of droughts and flooding rains but we need to make sure that we get that particular stretch of road, indeed, the entire highway to the way it should be.
The 1700 kilometre corridor of commerce called the Bruce Highway in Queensland is crucial for moving freight between the states inland production areas and 11 coastal ports, and major regional cities. And we’re investing $10 billion to fund 80 per cent of the Bruce between 2013 and 2014 right through to 2027/2028, for major upgrades, the key pinch points including the Cooroy to Curra section; the bypass at Gympie; as well as identifying known crash sites. And I was delighted to stand beside my colleague, Llew O'Brien, for that $800 million Section D which has been such a bugbear for so many years. And since the program commenced, there’s been, on the Bruce, there’s been a 31 per cent reduction in crashes and a 32 per cent reduction in fatalities. And that’s what this is about – it’s getting people home sooner and safer but also making sure that trucks can traverse those highways absolutely safely as they ought to. As this is Queensland Road Safety Week, we need to remind ourselves that all governments and community can never rest on its laurels and we’ve certainly don’t.
At Toowoomba, the Second Range Crossing, for those who’ve seen it, I mean, it is an engineering masterpiece to look at but it's made great progress this year. And when concluded next year in 2019, motorists will avoid 18 sets of traffic lights, up to 80 per cent of heavy and super vehicles, commercial vehicles will be directed away from the existing CBD; and travel times, savings of up to 40 minutes. So there are significant savings and they reflect on your bottom line. It's all about productivity, efficiency, and for you people, maximising your company profits. That's what it's all about. Another example is $52 million which has been committed to upgrade the Broome Cape Leveque Road, which provides the main link between Broome through the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia. It’s another vital linkage point. Not necessarily a completely major road but something that we need to make sure that we get done and we get done soon, to help with the freight task. This project commenced construction in May this year and following completion is expected to reduce travel times by up to 70 minutes. A saving, again, on your bottom line.
And I know when I recently announced a $20 million upgrade to a particular road up in the electorate of Flynn with Ken O’Dowd, leading to the North Rockhampton abattoir, a truckie told me at the time that that was going to save him two hours because he didn’t have to decouple. He didn’t have to (inaudible) from Gracemere to Rockhampton, he didn’t have decouple a truck. He didn’t have to move stock without it. Better for stock, better for road efficiency and better for all concerned. Although I think Kenneth O’Dowd probably went a bit too quickly, when he said ‘everybody will be cheering this. ‘Even the cattle on the trucks because it’ll mean they get to the abattoir two hours earlier. I’m sure they were delighted with that prospect.
Today, I’m pleased to be announcing 93 projects have been successful in receiving $132.5 million of Australian Government funding under the latest round, which is round six, of the Heavy Vehicles Safety and Productivity Program round. And one of the keys to the success of this program and it has been successful is the input of local knowledge to address local road issues. Of these 93 road projects, more than 60 per cent will be undertaken by local councillors and by upgrading these routes and rolling out supporting infrastructure such as rest stops, parking bays, heavy vehicle operators across the country will enjoy safer, quicker, and more productive journeys. Under rounds four and five, 135 projects have been funded across Australia and 86 are already done and dusted. Accidents on our roads cost the economy $30 billion a year, not to even mention the tragedy and trauma of course.
On average, projects being delivered under Black Spot funding are reducing the number of crashes causing death and injury by almost a third. And we need to do more and we will do more and that is certainly the Government’s commitment to you and to our communities in general. One example in the Clarence Valley area of New South Wales, the narrow pavement on a section of Armidale Road meant the trucks and cars that put one wheel off the road to ensure safe passing. Now in the 21st century, that’s simply not good enough. I acknowledge that, you acknowledge that. As a result, there’ve been three accidents involving injuries to road users. Around $430,000 was spent under the Black Spot Program, sealing the road shoulders and upgrading the pavement to a non-skid surface. And in your business, you know the importance of bridges being able to support access for higher mass limit vehicles. Any of you who have travelled on that Kapooka Bridge – the new overpass there near Wagga Wagga, just near the Olympic Way connection to the Sturt Highway – would know what a terrible pinch point that would be. I’m sure Geoffrey Crouch does and it was fixed. It took $55 million dollars, jointly funded between state and federal Governments, but it means such a difference to productivity, such a boost to safety and just making sure we get things done. The replacement of the Burrell Creek Bridge by the Mid Coast Council in New South Wales is another excellent example of the sort of funding that we need to do.
Now we all know we need to meet challenges of Australia's freight task, I said that earlier, in answer to a growing economy – and it is growing, thankfully – and the growing confidence of exporters. And we’ve signed free-trade agreements with South Korea, China, Japan, Peru, the Transpacific Partnership 11, which is a $12 trillion dollar opportunity for our….particularly our regional business and farmers. And Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister is over in Indonesia talking trade at the moment with President Widodo there, so hopefully we’ll have another free trade agreement, hopefully by the end of the day. So we need to be able to maximise that potential opportunity and you people are front and centre of being able to help us do just that. And that’s why I’m committed to the development of 20 year National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy. To be effective, this National Strategy will require the commitment of all governments in Australia: not just the federal but indeed state and territory jurisdictions alike. I know the expert panel inquiry generated significant levels of support within the industry and I’m encouraged that the industry is just as engaged with the development of this strategy. You can have the best infrastructure and the safest vehicles, but unless the regulations that surround their use is manageable, practicable, navigable; well, their effectiveness is diminished and Warren mentioned that in his opening remarks about the fact that we do need good legislation, we do need regulations that don’t impede what you do as a sector.
Now, our economy is highly dependent on the oversize, overmass movers to service the mining and resource sectors, agriculture, defence and construction industries. I'm aware that some heavy vehicle operators are experiencing economic losses and delays in being granted grant access which is why in June I announced an independent review. So, we’ll look at that certainly and we’ll see what reforms we can make. We need to sort through the barriers. We have to be efficient transporters of large, but essential materials and machinery and come up with both immediate, practical, and long term responses to the issues. And I know that NatRoad is very much front and centre of helping out where it can and in favour of the Independent Oversize Overmass Review being led by Pascal Felix from consulting firm WSP Australia. So absolutely, a number of themes are emerging such as the need to harmonise – we heard that word earlier – pilot and escort requirements, developing mechanisms to safely short-circuit excessive delays in assessments to get those short-circuited and making better use of technology, so it’s easy for industry to comply. The review is scheduled to be completed by October. It’s clear that achieving real outcomes will require a collected commitment from all levels of government, as well as obviously industry.
The Government also knows that road transport operators and their employees must have a say in the development of transport policies and the laws which affect them. In May 2018, my Transport and Infrastructure Council colleagues and I agreed to a holistic and comprehensive review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law. The current law has been in place since 2012, so it’s the time to take a good look at it. And while it’s delivered improvements, there are some inconsistencies and ideally there would be one regime in place. And I’ll let Paul Retter, the CEO of NTC, discuss the review in more detail and I would emphasise that my Transport and Infrastructure Council colleagues and I strongly support the review commencing as soon as possible. I strongly encourage Industry to take advantage of the opportunities to shape the outcomes. That’s really important.
I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the chair of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, Mr Bruce Baird, who recently announced he would not be continuing beyond his current term. Bruce has made an extraordinary contribution to public life in Australia, in New South Wales state politics, but certainly, in every sphere he’s ever delved in or put his hand in. He’s certainly made an amazing and mighty contribution. His leadership of the NHVR since its inception in 2014 has been inspirational and I know he’ll continue to take a close interest in proceedings and certainly until he steps down in October. I’ve particularly know his leadership in progressing a range of key transport reforms, including electronic work diaries, national services transition and in delivering the Government’s national heavy vehicle safety initiative, program.
I’d like to also acknowledge Paul Retter, who is retiring from the NTC. Because transport logistics is a complex industry, we’re working with State and Territory Governments and the NHVR on a national multi-pronged approach to heavy vehicle safety policies and it includes $16 million dollars over a four-year period to the NHVR to progress a package of implementable, value for money initiatives that can deliver real and significant benefits. And I know that you people will be ultimately the beneficiaries of that, as you should be. Funding for heavy vehicle safety initiatives is redirected from $15.6 million over-four years, originally allocated for the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal. We heard about that earlier. What we don’t want to do as a government, what I certainly don’t want to do as a regional MP – I know I’ve been lobbying on this many times – is force family truck driving, truck owning companies off the road. This is union conspired. This is completely unnecessary and that is why we abolished it and that’s why we will continue to speak up on behalf. We want safer roads but the initiative that those opposite me in Parliament put forward is not going to provide safer roads. It’s just going to feed into their need to unionise the entire trucking industry and I don’t believe that that’s necessary or warranted.
Our Government has provided $828,000 for research into heavy vehicle driver fatigue, to inform the design for future fatigue arrangements for the heavy vehicle industry. And I know many of you are doing wonderful things in that regard and I take my hat off to you for the efforts that you’ve gone to make your workplaces in those cabins, the safest they can be. And we all know that when there are accidents involving heavy vehicles, in more than three-quarters of the cases, it’s not the heavy vehicle drivers’ fault. The fact is, you do a great job, the fact is, you don’t always have that recognised publicly in the media and I do want to acknowledge it from this lectern now. I know, and you know, what a fantastic and amazing and safe job that you do.
We’ve introduced new Australian designed rules aimed at reducing heavy vehicle rollovers and similar loss of control crashes. The ADRs will mandate electronic stability control for new heavy vehicle trailers from July 2019 and for selected new trucks and busses from November 2020. But look, I want to thank you for inviting me again today. I can assure you that the Government recognises how important the road and freight sector is to the productivity of the Australian economy. As I said at the outset, you people are the lifeblood of our nation. We want you to continue to do what you do in the safest, and best and most efficient, most productive way possible. Keep on trucking, thank you very much.