Speech to the Australian Bus and Coach Industry National Dinner – ‘Buses & the Journey to a Better Future – Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Thank you for inviting me to speak tonight at the Australian Bus and Coach Industry National Dinner.
In a country as vast as ours, the bus and coach industry plays a critical role when it comes to keeping the nation moving.
Our heavily populated urban cities…
Our regional and remote towns…
And of course the millions of international visitors we receive each year all rely on buses and coaches to get around.
American-English poet T.S Eliot once declared that, ‘the journey not the arrival matters’.
Now I would contend that the arrival is of some significance.
But anyone who has travelled by bus or coach in Australia understands that there is something to be said for the journey, which brings people together and allows you to take in the sights without the pressure of driving yourself.
Just last week I read an opinion piece by Peter Fitzsimons about a bus driver in Sydney who, on a regular midweek evening trip home, suggested turning off the interior lights when on the Harbour Bridge so that everyone could see the Vivid Lights of Sydney.
We all have good stories from our travels, whether that’s simply to school or work, or further afield with long distance coach travel.
Put simply, buses contribute to the success of the nation.
And I am pleased to see such a critical industry constantly working for better policy outcomes.
The two conferences – Coach Connections and the School Bus Summit – display the diversity of the bus industry sector.
Indeed, the bus industry plays a critical role in our education system, our tourism economy and our cities and regions.
Whether it’s a coach in Townsville transporting tourists to regional destinations…
Or a bus in Hobart, taking commuters to work and students to school…
Or in Bathurst, a bus transporting an older person from home to medical appointments and social events…
Buses serve every city and every region and are integral to the way Australians live our lives.
For many people the school bus is their earliest memory of public transport.
For myself, I was a 459 or 470 student in Sydney.
But the way students travel to school is changing.
Consequently integrating school transport with our broader public transport network makes economic sense.
Crucially, it also teaches young Australians how to move around our city using active transport, which creates the public transport patrons of the future.
I am glad to see that you have dedicated time to enhancing this travel to learn concept.
We know that public transport is still not the preferred option for many school students travelling to and from school.
The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children and National Secondary Students’ Diet and Activity Survey found that only 12 per cent of students between ages 9 and 10 use public transport for all school travel.
This only increases to 32 per cent for children aged 12 to 17.
So we must make public transport viable, safe and effective for students, to create lifelong public transport users and I am heartened that you continue to pursue this goal.
Australia’s tourism economy has been identified by Deloitte Access Economics as a super growth sector.
It generates more than $100 billion in economic activity for Australia.
And each year the number of international visitors to Australia grows.
Indeed, this figure reached nine million for the year ending April 2018, an increase of 6.3 per cent from the year before.
Domestic and international visitors are drawn to regional Australia for the Great Barrier Reef, for Uluru, the Bungle Bungles, Blue Mountains, Monkey Mia and the Barossa Valley.
We are a land of unparalleled physical beauty.
These remarkable destinations support local economies.
And it is the people in this room who make these destinations and the economies they support thrive.
Coach travel is enjoyed by almost half a million international tourists and more than 1.5 million domestic travellers.
This sector is a critical building block in Australia’s tourism future.
But there are still gaps to be filled, particularly when it comes to promoting regional dispersal.
While more domestic travellers visit regional Australia than capital cities, less than half of Australia’s international tourists visited regional Australia in 2016.
We need to make sure regional tourism is offered strategy and vision.
And we also need to consider how we can improve coach access in our cities and regions so that visitors can be more easily transported from hubs like airports or cruise terminals to tourist destinations across the country.
A national strategy for regional land transport tourism, as suggested by the Bus Industry Confederation, is one approach worth investigating.
Such a strategy would connect different levels of government needed to enhance our regional tourism economy, promoting not just flying between Australia’s icons but travelling through Australia, enhancing regional communities across the nation.
A thriving public transport network is at the core of a successful city.
Buses can and must play a part.
If we are to achieve a 30 minute city, not just for the inner suburbs but for people living in the outer suburbs of our major cities, we need a strong bus network that transports people from their home, to work or school, or to a transport interchange.
Buses play a critical role in reducing urban congestion, which benefits not just the productivity of our cities, but also their sustainability.
That is why the work of your organisation in thinking strategically about the future of our bus system is critical to the success of our cities.
However our cities are changing.
While much of this change is disruptive, and presents challenges for the concept of mobility as a service, we should be thinking about how we can use technological advancements to our advantage…
So that it is an opportunity, and not a threat and I know the Bus Industry Confederation has a strong focus on this future mobility challenge.
Smart technology has the ability to radically shape how people live, move and work in their cities.
For instance, the ability to pay for public transport on a smartphone, smart watch or directly by credit card could make moving around the city more seamless for residents and visitors.
In its 2018 Budget the Queensland Government committed $371 million to trial this new smart way to pay and develop the service over the next four years.
But we can and must go further in ensuring smart technology works for residents, businesses and government nation-wide.
To maximise the benefits of these technological advancements we have to be strategic.
Small trials of technological innovation should not exist in silos across the country.
Collaboration is required between different levels of government, the public and private sector as well as across jurisdictional boundaries to make technology work for us.
That’s why Labor is committed to a National Urban Policy and will embed a smart cities agenda in our focus.
We also know that regional bus operators across the country are critical despite often running low volume services.
Regional bus operators move students from home to school, helping ensure students have easier access to education.
They also connect older regional Australians to medical appointments, social events and other critical services – reducing social isolation for older Australians in regional communities.
Your sector keeps these communities moving.
We must continue to support regional bus operations.
They are fundamental to the viability of our regional economies, supporting the health and access opportunities of people living in regional Australia.
Thank you for taking the time over these two days to turn your minds to some of the biggest policy challenges we face.
Supporting education, growing tourism in regional and remote Australia and keeping our cities moving is critical to our national success.
The work you all do, in moving children, commuters, domestic visitors, international tourists and all people young and old, supports these sectors.
I have read your draft policy document from today’s Coach Connections Summit and want to commend you for your focus on regional tourism.
Travelling across Australia is such an important experience, for both domestic and international visitors, and I look forward to working with Michael and the Bus Industry Confederation to grow regional dispersal.
I also look forward to continuing to work with you on shaping the future of public transport, which our cities depend on for their productivity, liveability and sustainability.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.