In an era of unprecedented change and challenge, the success of our transport sector will be crucial to the success of our nation.
As the Opposition’s Transport spokeswoman I genuinely seek to contribute to positive solutions in transport policy.
The one thing Catherine King and I agree on is that the Minister turning the sod on transport and infrastructure projects won’t necessarily be the Minister cutting the ribbon on completed projects.
So I wish to play a constructive role, but also use my position in Opposition to challenge imprudent, or impractical policy decisions.
Which is why I have been so vocal about the Government’s current proposal to impose up to 10 per cent per year for three years increase in fuel taxes and registration charges on the nation’s truckies that would cost the sector an additional $2.6 billion over three years and add to inflationary pressures.
By 2025-26 our truckies would be paying $1.35 billion more per year under Labor’s 10 per cent truckie tax.
I hope that in the coming Budget the Government steps back from what appears to be a reckless and easy cash grab from the industry.
I grew up in a trucking household.
My father was an owner-driver from a young age, delivering milk and later transporting timber logs – not an easy job.
My Dad also worked part-time with my cousin’s family business as bus driver for McKenzie Tourist Services, which was started in 1927 by my grand uncle Lorenzo Reilley McKenzie, and which still runs today.
Lorenzo famously cut a five-seater Packard in half into which he inserted an extra section comprising three seats, and the family has boasted ever afterwards that this was Australia’s first stretch limousine.
Further down the track, Lorenzo McKenzie and my grandfather Kenneth, later extended the chassis of an eight-seater vehicle to an eleven-seater, and then to a thirteen-seater – which became a minibus.
And yet while I grew up in these businesses, and though I loved nothing more than sitting up high beside my Dad in the truck as a young girl, like most other young people, I chose a different vocational path into teaching, academia and into politics.
I say this because attracting workers to the transport sector is challenging.
You hear a lot about low emissions being the single greatest challenge to this industry, but I actually believe that the momentum of technological advances, of market forces and market competition combined with sensible government policy decision-making, are going to take us to that destination anyway.
The rapid take-up of EVs including rigid trucks is testimony to that and it shouldn’t be the job of policy makers to climate-shame or penalise everyday Australians trying to make a living into buying EV utes or trucks that are currently unavailable or unaffordable, especially when there isn’t yet the infrastructure yet there to support them.
There are around 59,000 trucking businesses in Australia and demand for new vehicles has never been higher.
And yet while hydrogen powered trucks are in all probability going to become a part of our transport industry as an example, there are only a handful of hydrogen prime movers in the world.
While this transition is an issue, in fact I believe, as an industry, the real single greatest challenge as leaders is to engage, to train and to retain people in this industry.
The truth is for people in the transport and logistics industries, careers are often a second or third career choice.
And yet once reaching that point the people in it love the industry and make a long-term career in the industry.
There is currently a short-fall of 6,000-7,000 drivers in the transport sector.
As policy makers and business leaders we need to work better, invest more and be more innovative in the way we recruit people into the industry.
We know that just 3 per cent of truck drivers are female.
I congratulate the VTA for its recent Women in Transport Program with more than half the participants women including older women.
The VTA is a fierce advocate also for proper recognition of skills.
This has also been raised with me by leaders in other states.
And while licencing is a state-based issue getting young people behind the wheel and training them properly should be a priority – for competency and safety’s sake.
Licencing drivers should not be a tick-a-box activity for regulators.
Owners of businesses want to know people who are licenced to drive actually have the skills and competency to do so.
Making sure they can reverse a trailer would be a good start!
You want to know your truck is in good hands.
In the words of Mike Lean, President of the VTA, well-trained employees are safer and more productive employees, they reduce workplace risk and produce safer outcomes for themselves, their colleagues, and their community.
The former Government initiated for example a new truck driving apprenticeship, a Cert III in Driving Operations, to encourage the states to add driving apprenticeships to their training programs.
And while I am on the subject, the Federal Government, if it is serious about skills shortages, should progress the industry’s proposal to add the heavy vehicle driver classification to Australia’s priority migration skilled occupation list.
This is important to attract competent and (importantly) qualified heavy vehicle drivers from overseas.
Driver safety is pertinent in 2023, and so it should be.
However, we have to make sure road safety is the focus for the entire industry, not just the major freight arteries, which gain the most attention.
Just 5 per cent of transport is inter-state, and 15 per cent intra-state, while 80 per cent of the transport industry is engaged in movement of less than 100 kilometres.
If there is one thing policymakers could do better, and this is something I will be urging throughout my period in this job, it would be to bridge the divide between industry and government regulators.
The aim should be to train people, not to regulate people.
Our departments, both state and federal, must engage more collaboratively with industry because the lived experience for many in industry is that their views are not heard in the formulation of policy.
Regulators and industry should, as far as is possible and feasible, be working toward shared goals.