Transport changes – what impact will a new government have on the industry?

It’s a new dawn for Australian politics following the federal election last weekend. But the transport industry is also coming to terms with what the results mean for the sector going forward.

Transport changes – what impact will a new government have on the industry?
The new PM will have to tackle emerging transport industry issues

When Anthony Albanese took the stage on Saturday night and confirmed he would become Australia’s next Prime Minister, many industries wondered how their relationship with federal politicians would change. The transport industry wasn’t excluded from this. There are many issues facing the sector including a lack of AdBlue, fuel tax credits and lack of skilled workers.

For Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chair David Smith, the changing of the guard in Australia’s federal politics is cause for hope.

"This change creates an opportunity to advance the transport industry and re-engage with new people to try and resolve recurring issues," Smith told ATN. "We tend to look forward and not back. It’s an opportunity to move forward and realign, refocus and re-engage."

Although Smith says he went into last weekend’s election thinking both parties were on an even footing, the Labor party (ALP) stormed to victory. With ‘teal’ independents winning vital seats and the ALP claiming enough seats to form government, the previous Liberal and Nationals coalition no longer holds dominance in parliament.

For many it can be just politics, but this change can have a profound impact on the transport industry.

Just before the coalition was replaced by the ALP, major transport issues including the lack of a fuel tax credit and potential AdBlue shortages proposed challenges to the industry. Despite there being a rejig of seats in Canberra, there’s yet to be a transport minister announced in the new government. When a minister is finally named, Smith is looking forward to working with them on these pressing problems.

"I’m quietly optimistic so far that we’ll see change under this government," Smith says. "We have had good engagement with the ALP at this stage. It’s so interlinked.

"There’s so much reform on our plate at the moment that you have to wonder if we’re going to be the most reformed industry in Australia in the next couple of years."

Despite this optimism, Smith says he is still in the dark when it comes to the new government’s plans for tackling transport issues. From the ATA’s standpoint, they haven’t heard from any politicians about what they want to do to resolve the rising fuel price issue. If no changes emerge from Canberra in the coming weeks, Smith is resigned to the fact the industry may have to wait out the next six months and suffer accordingly.

Smith also says there’s only around five weeks’ worth of AdBlue supplies left. Combined with the previous government’s plans to shut down the Gibson Island distribution plant, Smith hopes the new government doesn’t "sweep the issue under the carpet".

But when Smith first meets with the new transport minister in the coming weeks, these issues won’t even form his biggest priority.

"I’ve got to say that safety is still our number one objective," Smith says. "The ATA’s target is no deaths and no injuries and that has to be number one.

"To move into that area we really need a much more effective risk-based modern law. It then becomes interlinked with the other problems that face our industry."

Other issues that fall under Smith’s umbrella of transport challenges that he’ll present to the next transport minister include a "massive skilled driver shortage", driver health and safety, licencing systems and the ongoing heavy vehicle national law (HVNL) reform. Smith says the ATA have so far had constructive discussions with Labor minister Catherine King about the myriad of matters the transport industry needs to address with politicians.

With the ALP also committing in a pre-election move to inject $80 million into building improved truck rest stops across the country, Smith is optimistic about what the next few years can bring for the industry.

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"I’m definitely looking forward to engaging with the new government and progressing the industry further," Smith says. "The chats we’ve had with them so far have been general discussions where we touched on individual issues but never really drilled right down.

"The ALP’s rest stop commitment and their moves to repair more regional roads make me hopeful of what will come when we sit down with the new government."

While nationally the transport industry is adjusting to this change of government, no state has been disrupted more than Queensland. Although all but two seats were retained by the LNP, a heavy swing towards the ALP and Greens parties in most Queensland seats means the political nature of the state is changing.

ATA chair David Smith

Queensland Trucking Association (QTA) CEO Gary Mahon is working quickly to adjust to the new party in charge and its preferences for the transport industry. After looking through the ALP’s intentions for the sector while in government, Mahon sees them heading in a certain direction.

"I think the biggest impact in a direct sense of business is in the minimum standards and pay rise movement," Mahon told ATN. "If that’s the case then there will be more room for operators to negotiate and reasonably agree rather than hoping it happens.

"There’s also a broader question on what direction they’ll take with the HVNL reform and if there’s a philosophical shift on how it gets applied."

One key difference Mahon has already noticed from the new government is their change of stance on road infrastructure investments. It formed the backbone of the coalition government’s transport initiatives, but now Mahon is seeing the ALP already heading in a different direction.

Instead, Mahon says the incoming government has an "imminent question about the fuel issue and its commercial viability on road freight businesses" facing the ALP. While this problem lingers, Mahon isn’t sure whether the government can focus their attention on any other transport challenges.

"We’re waiting to hear about what steps they will take on all of these issues," Mahon says. "The fuel tax credit problem is having a significant impact on businesses right now.

"It needs to get resolved so then we can move on to other issues."

Mahon says it all revolves around a skilled workers shortage that must be addressed before it slips even further. For immediate rectification, Mahon suggests the ALP elevates truck driving from a level four to level three ANZSCO code to make it easier for skilled migrants to enter the industry.

When it comes to road safety problems, Mahon has some key works in mind for Queensland that he would love to see.

"We currently feel short-changed in road infrastructure investment," Mahon says. "We would like to see commitments made quite early to the Inland Freight route to get those upgrades underway.

"We would also like to see the second North-South corridor being made that’s freight specific and as close to an all-weather road as you can get."

Much like the ATA, Mahon is hopeful that the change of government can be the catalyst to kickstart new vital transport projects in the coming years. When it comes to the ALP resolving transport issues, Mahon says the government should remember the importance of the industry to the everyday running of Australia.

"The best way of expressing it is that we have no particular concerns that the government won’t focus on economic growth and a growth-friendly environment for business," Mahon says. "Our road freight industry is full of good employers and it’s vital.

"We’ve prevailed and done an exemplary job in recent times. We expect the government to respect that and work with us to instil proposed changes."

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