Speech to annual conference of Transport Workers’ Union
Joondalup, Western Australia
The Hon Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure & Transport
Leader of the House
Federal Member for Grayndler
16 May 2011
Working with unions to build a safe, smooth and effective national transport system
Unions are one of the foundations upon which this nation is built. No other institution has done more to define Australia as a fair and decent place than the union movement.
Fair wages, decent working hours and conditions are achievements that have made a profound difference to lives of everyday Australians. That is why there will always be a place for unions in this country.
The Gillard Labor Government knows this.
And we know it’s particularly true of the TWU.
Your 90,000 members work across the country – in aviation, oil, waste management, gas, road transport, passenger vehicles and freight logistics.
These are difficult and at times dangerous occupations.
They also lie at the core of our nation’s economic activity and prosperity.
Working with Unions to Deliver Our Agenda
The transport sector generates up to 14.5 percent of Australia’s GDP and employs in excess of a million people across 165,000 companies.
This means that efficiencies in this giant sector inevitably result in cheaper costs for consumers and national productivity gains.
The Gillard Government understands this.
And we welcome our relationship with the union movement as a long term partner driving our economic productivity.
A partnership which acts in the interests of the many, not the few.
The fact that this relationship annoys Tony Abbott so much is just a bonus.
The Government’s Infrastructure and Transport Agenda
Let us look at the ways this Government is supporting your sector.
And I must say it’s an exciting time to be the Federal Transport Minister.
We are tending to the nation’s immediate transport infrastructure needs with our $36 billion Nation Building Program which we announced in 2008 to improve our roads, rail and ports.
Numbers roll of the tongue but the amount of $36 billion should not.
Because it is the largest every transport infrastructure investment in Australian history.
We have doubled the roads budget.
We have increased spending on rail more than tenfold.
We’re rebuilding one-third of the interstate rail freight network.
We have spent more on urban rail since coming to office in 2007 than all previous governments – collectively – since Federation.
In total, there are 158 major road and rail projects underway in every State and territory in the country.
We have also addressed more than 600 black spots and dangerous rail crossings, helping make our roads safer for everyone.
And in last week’s Federal Budget we allocated just under $1 billion in further funding for the Nation Building Program, on top of $390 million for projects in the Regional Infrastructure Fund – all good news for drivers, making our roads better and safer.
The Budget provide over $1 billion additional funding for the Pacific Highway bringing our total commitment to $4.1 billion. This represents more than triple the funding in half the time compared with the Howard years of neglect.
We brought forward 5 projects on Queensland’s Bruce Highway, in addition to the massive resources going toward reconstruction from the natural disasters early this year.
Here in the West the investment we’re making is almost twice what the former
Howard Government spent over a similar period of time.
Projects we are providing funding include:
• New funding of up to $480 million for the Perth Gateway Project
• $280 million to widen the Great Eastern Highway from four to six lanes between Kooyong Road and the Tonkin Highway
• $154 million to realign the Great Northern Highway at Port Hedland
• $236 million for sinking the railway line through Perth’s CBD, a central component of the visionary Perth City Link project which will reunite the City’s retail district with the Northbridge entertainment precinct.
• $118.6 million to extend the Bunbury Port Access Road and constructing the first stage of the Bunbury Outer Ring Road.
• $350 million for planning on the Kewdale Intermodal Rail Supply Chain and constructing a rail passing loop outside Fremantle Port, the first part of the Perth Urban Transport and Freight Corridor Upgrade Project.
• $60 million to upgrade road and rail access to Esperance Port.
We’ve also continued a range of initiatives designed to make our highways and local roads safer:
• $7.5 million to eliminate 46 dangerous black spots on local roads;
• $2.5 million to build and refurbish rest stops and the other roadside facilities used by truck drivers.
So you can see, it’s a busy time in my portfolio.
The stark facts are that when Labor came to office in 2007 infrastructure development and nation building was not on the agenda.
Australia ranked 20th out of 25 OECD countries when it came to investing in public infrastructure as a proportion of national income.
This lack of investment was cutting almost one percent off annual growth.
Put simply, many of our roads and rail networks were not capable of meeting the demands of the rapidly growing Australian economy.
In three years, we have turned this around by lifting expenditure on public infrastructure as a proportion of national income by more than 30 percent.
We know there’s still a lot of work to be done.
And we always said it would take more than one or two parliamentary terms to put right a decade of neglect.
That’s why during the course of our second term we are building on our program of reform and investment.
We Are now finalising the implementation plan for the first ever National Ports Strategy which the Prime Minister and I launched here in Perth in January.
We have released the draft of the first ever National Freight Strategy.
These are long term blueprints which will guide future public and private investment in our roads, railways and ports.
What this will provide for the people of Australia is:
• a freeing up of bottlenecks at our ports
• planning certainty for long-term expansion at and around our ports
• and the first truly national, integrated freight system, linked by a series of intermodals.
These intermodals – or freight transfer points – mean that goods going to or coming from our ports, or from interstate via the national road and rail network, will be redirected to their ultimate destination in the fastest time, with the minimum of handling.
So faster, smoother movement of freight around our nation, reducing freight bottlenecks, saving the transport industry time and money.
The Gillard Government’s productivity agenda is not merely about new infrastructure.
It’s about getting more out of our assets through use of smart infrastructure and better regulation.
In the Budget we announced $61 million for a National Smart Managed Motorways Trial.
This program will fund smart infrastructure road projects identified by
Infrastructure Australia as demonstrating high benefit cost ratios and improving traffic flows in our major cities.
We are also tackling something that has beset the transport industry since Federation.
I probably don’t need to remind any of you here today about the multitude of transport safety laws in Australia.
For the road freight sector alone, there are a vast range of different laws and regulations from eight different jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, governing the safe operation of heavy vehicles.
That means competing and sometimes contradictory rules, requiring mounds of red-tape and excessive compliance costs.
For example, truck drivers transporting hay bales in Victoria can carry more across the width of their truck than in NSW.
So, if you’re unfortunate enough to have to cross the border, you’ve got to rearrange your load – if you don’t and you’re caught, there’s a fine and loss of points.
Every one of you knows that the fatigue rules vary greatly, depending which state you’re driving through on any given day.
And on some roads, B-double trucks are fine, but drive across the border on the same road and you’re breaking the law.
In 2006, the Productivity Commission estimated that getting rid of these antiquated and farcical inconsistencies would raise our GDP by two percent, or in dollars terms, by $2.4 billion.
That is why we are working towards the introduction in 2013 of single national safety regulators – three in total – one for heavy vehicles, one for rail safety and one for maritime safety.
So, a single set of uniform rules – and a victory for common sense – that will have taken a bit over 110 years to achieve.
Another important piece of work underway is the move towards safe rates for drivers.
I know it is an issue that the TWU is committed to and has campaigned strongly on.
While it falls under the portfolio of the Minister for Workplace Relations, Chris Evans, I can assure you that the Government as a whole takes the issue of safe rates very seriously and we continue to work towards a solution to this complex matter.
To this end, Minister Evans has given Senator Jacinta Collins active responsibility for it and I understand she will be holding further talks with you this week during the course of this conference.
Heavy Vehicle Rest Areas
I have had positive feedback from many of you who sit behind the wheel of the improvements we have made to rest stops.
We’re spending $70 million over four years to upgrade 104 existing stops and to build 47 new ones.
The Heavy Vehicle Productivity and Safety Program is the first Commonwealth dedicated program of its kind and I am proud of it, although I recognise there is much more to do.
Long distance truck driving is a tough and often lonely job that takes you away from your home and your family.
A safe spot to park your vehicle with toilets and facilities is one way this Government can help make your job a little easier.
And of course, a decent rest means a safer trip for drivers and everyone else on the road.
Finally, let’s look more closely at road safety, something I know is close to all your hearts.
Each day four people are killed and 80 people are seriously injured on our roads.
Every year, about 1,500 people die and a further 30,000 are hospitalised as the result of road crashes.
The cost of all this to Australia is $27 billion.
The Gillard Government does not believe these figures are acceptable.
We don’t believe any death on the roads is acceptable.
In December, my Parliamentary Secretary, Catherine King, released a draft National Road Safety Strategy for 2011 to 2020 for public comment.
It has been developed collaboratively by all states and territories and looks at our whole road transport system and the interaction between its constituent parts: roads, vehicles and, of course, the people who use them.
It puts forward a range of practical and evidence-based steps that we can take to start creating a genuinely safe system of road travel. Governments cannot achieve this alone.
I appreciate the support the TWU have given to help Australia reach this important goal.
Let me conclude by assuring you that this Labor Government will never cease in our efforts to build a stronger, fairer, more productive Australia.
And I know it’s a goal that we share with you – the TWU.
We are supporting you with unprecedented spending on our transport infrastructure and through the introduction of single national transport regulators.
We are also introducing new strategies at our ports and to improve the way we move freight around our nation.
And we are supporting you through our commitment to safer roads.
We look to all of you here today –– to work alongside us while we roll out these important reforms.
Whatever sector of Australia’s vital transport industry you work in, I look forward to working with you – and all 90,000 of your members – as we achieve these important reforms.
Thank you for the opportunity to outline them to you today.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.