ALRTA president Liz Schmidt, executive director Mathew Munro, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Thanks for the invitation to speak to you today.
One of the great joys of public life is the opportunity it provides to meet people from across the spectrum of society and industry.
I’ve had a long association with your organisation over the years and I’m really enjoying the chance to meet your members again tonight.
Whether you are running a national trucking company or a smaller trucking outfit focused on your local community, all of you represent the critical first link in a global supply chain that in central to this nation’s economy.
For most of its history Australia has been a key player in global food production.
But its role will expand further in coming years as the economic growth in our region lifts millions of people out of poverty.
Once people are lifted out of poverty, their income allows for a broadening of their taste in foods, which inevitably sees them increase their intake of protein.
The Department of Agriculture predicts that the global middle class is expected to increase from 1.3 billion people in 2010 to 3.2 billion in 2020 and 4.9 billion in 2030.
Eighty-five percent of this growth expected to happen in Asia.
The Department expects the value of world food consumption to be 75 per cent higher in 2050 than it was in 2007.
And it notes that the food products expected to be most sought-after by 2050 will be beef, wheat, dairy products, sheep meat and sugar.
So strap yourselves in.
The next few decades will be a time of opportunity for Australian farmers, particularly meat producers, and the associated service industries like yours.
That means your organisation will be central to ongoing national prosperity.
At the moment there are at least 600,000 registered trucks in Australia.
They carry 70 per cent of domestic freight and the industry provided more than 200,000 jobs.
Given the opportunities that lie ahead, it is fascinating to speculate how big your industry will be in say, 30 years’ time.
But these figures are also sobering for governments.
They highlight the scale of the challenge our nation faces in ensuring that our roads, railways and ports will be able to handle the increased export volumes.
When many people think about infrastructure in this country, they think about big-ticket items like tunnels under cities, ports or major new railway lines.
But I suppose that when members of this organisation think about infrastructure, they think about safe and efficient freeways and, just as importantly, safe and efficient roads in rural and regional areas.
We can and should always pay attention to the efficiency of our ports because they are gateways for our exports.
But we should never forget that every piece of food we export to our hungry and growing world originates from a farm.
We can’t get our food exports on the water and headed for overseas markets unless we can first get them from the farm gate to the port.
In government, Labor will always take seriously the responsibility to do what we can to make your job easier through investment in roads and proper attention to the regulatory regimes that affect your industry.
I worked closely with your organisation as a Minister and appreciated your constructive input. I ensured you had access at the highest levels including giving you the right to participate at Transport Ministerial Council meetings.
I even brought log books into Question Time to demonstrate how absurd the bureaucracy of multiple contradictory regulations had become.
LABOR’S RECORD ON ROADS
I’m proud of what we achieved over the six years I worked with you as Infrastructure and Transport Minister.
And while no government gets everything right, I am particularly proud of our investment in the national road network.
When Labor took office, Australia was 20th among OECD nations in terms of infrastructure spending as a proportion of GDP.
We are now ranked 1st.
Our doubling of road funding allowed for the building or upgrading of 7500km of road.
This investment saw the completion of the duplication of the Hume Highway, funding in place for full duplication of Pacific Highway and ongoing repair of Bruce Highway.
While in office, we completed 137 major projects.
Sixty-seven were under way when we left office.
We fixed 1944 Black Spots and funded 17,200 council road projects.
Labor also introduced the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, which along with regulators in the maritime and rail sectors, is expected to deliver $30 billion in economic benefits over the next two decades.
That reform ended the difficulty of having different cattle carry limits in different states.
I acknowledge there have been teething problems with the set-up of the regulator, particularly in respect of oversized trucks.
But while I believe the current Government should have ensured it got the details right, I remain convinced the regulator’s arrival is a positive development for your industry.
I am particularly proud of Labor’s Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program, including our livestock transport industry program.
This has delivered 294 new projects including more than 140 new or upgraded rest areas and 46 new or upgraded parking/decoupling bays.
In 2013 we expanded the program with $10 million in extra funding for 47 livestock transport industry projects.
These are improving the safety and condition of 119 ramps and 42 loading pens.
Lighting is being improved in 16 saleyards and the program has added truck wash points, internal roadways and saleyard security gates right across the country.
This was the first ever dedicated Federal funding program for your industry and your organisation can take great credit for it.
I was disappointed that the only new infrastructure projects funded in the 2014-15 Budget came from cuts to already funded projects.
Apart from re-announcing existing projects, sometimes with a new name, that’s all there was.
It’s the first Budget since 2008 that had not a single dollar added across the forward estimates for the Pacific Highway or the Bruce Highway.
On top of that the Commonwealth has frozen indexation of Financial Assistance Grants to councils which is used for local road maintenance.
The freeze will have a compounding affect over coming years and within seven years, the reduction in funding will be of a scale equivalent to the entire Roads to Recovery program.
That is bad news for your industry.
It means that councils will have to either reduce services like road maintenance, with resulting effects on road safety and productivity, or increase rates.
Over time, that will lead to less maintenance on the nation’s rural and regional roads.
I’ll be keen to exchange views with members of ALRTA in coming years because you will be the first to notice the reduction in road quality should these fears be proven correct.
In the coming fortnight Labor will move amendments in the Senate to Land Transport legislation to ensure the continued operation of the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.
We were not successful with these amendments in the House of Representatives but are much more hopeful in the Senate.
If there was one thing I could leave you with tonight it would be my assurance that Labor understands the trucking sector and remains dedicated to playing a constructive role in Opposition.
In particular, you can expect me to remain a firm advocate of proper investment in infrastructure to ensure that our exporters remain well-placed to extract full benefit from the growing demand for their products within our region.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.