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VTA State Conference looks into the many ways to focus on the future

The 2024 VTA State Conference, focusing on Future Freight Landscapes, spanned from driver shortages and recent legislative changes to cyber security and the importance that technology can play in the sector’s future

With a theme of Future Freight Landscapes, the 2024 edition of the Victorian Transport Association’s (VTA) State Conference was always going to look at the cutting edge of the transport industry.

Held at Silverwater Resort at San Remo, Victoria, the three-day conference unveiled the numerous ways that the transport industry can prepare for a prosperous future.

Following a pre-conference event that included a sit down chat between VTA CEO Peter Anderson and Senator Glenn Sterle, where discussions began about the recent Closing the Loopholes Bill and the ongoing skilled worker shortage, the opening morning kicked off with a bang courtesy of Anderson, who delivered the keynote address.

“We selected Future Freight Landscapes as the theme as it’s important not to neglect the future,” Anderson said.

“I want to focus on how we maintain our roads to a standard where it’s not costing us time in repairs and maintenance to trucks and servicing customers in order to use the available roads.

“We propose changing the process. We have over 420 slow down spots in Victoria right now. The reality is we can do this better by forward planning, dedicated road crews and a future focus on planning 15 to 20 years ahead with road maintenance.

“We want to keep plugging the holes and it’s not good enough, so the VTA is pushing the conversation to make road maintenance a forward-thinking regime.”

Anderson also discussed the future of decarbonisation and automated trucks in the industry, praising current projects in both spaces while also calling for more sensible innovation. Anderson says the lack of national freight strategy is a key challenge to this growth, as it puts a pause on potential reform.

Image: Prime Creative Media

Following Anderson in the morning session, assistant federal transport minister Carol Brown, via video, provided an update on licensing reforms, with Austroads continuing to develop Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) driver competency framework plans.

“We’re also partnering with business operators to install telematics devices to see how a heavy vehicle distance pilot might work,” she said.

“We’re dedicated to getting decarbonisation right and upgrading heavy vehicle rest areas. All of this serves as a crucial forum to navigate the freight sector and ensure we thrive in an era of transformation.”

Alongside Brown, Senator Bridget McKenzie and Victorian shadow treasurer Brad Rowswell addressed the role that governments need to play in establishing efficient future freight networks.

“Freight is woven into the backbone of our state, so I have three ways in which we can unlock Victoria’s freight potential,” Rowswell said.

“We strongly oppose the Victorian government’s suggested Port of Melbourne truck tax, so we want to relieve tax burdens, solidify the security at the Port of Melbourne and respond to road issues.”

With super updates provided by TWUSUPER CEO Frank Sandy and an economic overview of both the local and global markets from Duncan Smith, the opening session finished with a cyber security presentation from Dr Derek Bopping.

The first assistant director-general of cyber engagement at the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) touched on cyber security breaches against the likes of Medibank, Latitude Financial and DP World as examples of what the local transport industry could do better to protect against cyber crime.

“The rates of cyber crime in Victoria are disproportionately higher than expected when looking at the population,” Bopping said.

“Transport and logistics aren’t in the top 10 sectors being targeted currently, but there’s no reason whatsoever for complacency.”

He said that transport companies provide an attractive target for international cyber hackers, with the rich data present in the industry forming a lucrative opportunity for people wanting to extort companies.

Outside of this online focus, National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) CEO Sal Petroccitto looked back at the NHVR’s 10-year journey of becoming the heavy vehicle industry’s regulator in certain Australian jurisdictions before looking forward to the adoption of Electronic Work Diaries (EWDs) and updated fatigue management technology.

The afternoon played host to a panel discussion on the recent Closing the Loopholes bill for the transport industry, with Senator Glenn Sterle moderating the likes of Peter Anderson, National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) CEO Warren Clark and Jack Boutros from the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU).

“It’s complex legislation, we were originally opposed to it coming into place back in 2016,” Clark said.

“When we heard the industry call for change, NatRoad saw it as an opportunity to drive reform. It’s a quantum shift – it’s such a vital opportunity to drive reform on contracts and viability.

Image: Prime Creative Media

“Each year we lose 200 company member because it’s too hard to keep operating. We have a group now under the expert panel that provides industry input to drive change.”

Sterle agreed with this viewpoint and praised the industry for uniting under the common goal of seeing this bill become a valuable piece of transport law in Australia.

The future freight focus soon shifted from laws and technology to people, with Industry Skills Australia’s Paul Walsh looking at ways the industry can build its future workforce.

“Right now is a golden opportunity to redefine the transport and logistics workforce and create pathways by using technology to remove the risky labour-intensive parts of jobs,” Walsh said.

“We want technology to help change job roles, not make them disappear.”

Alongside the likes of Freight Victoria senior policy officer Jess Murdoch and VTA manager of freight industry training Tim Garnett, industry veteran Greg Cain touched on embracing different ways to boost the transport industry’s workforce, including by looking at skilled migration opportunities.

This turned to licensing, with Armstrongs Driver Education CEO Craig Nicolson discussing his trip to Canada to look at their MELT licensing system and what can be applied to Australia’s sector.

“Australia’s current heavy vehicle licensing scheme is not in line with the world’s best practice,” he said.

“Our industry, with good post-employment programs, can produce better high quality young drivers for the future of our workforce.”

The final session delved into technology and ways to use data to enhance the freight sector, with the likes of John Gordon from Transport Certification Australia (TCA) giving an overview of how telematics devices can drive operational benefits.

Suppliers then took the stage, with representatives from Knorr Bremse, MTData, Volvo Group Australia and NewVolt painting various pictures on what the future of local transport may look like.

Following an industry conference dinner, where Greg Cain was recognised for his service to the VTA and the transport industry ahead of his impending retirement, the second morning dove into a safety and Environment, Sustainability and Governance (ESG) focus.

Starting with Impact HQ founder Dr Richa Vijayraj and National Transport Commission (NTC) CEO Michael Hopkins, the session then veered into safety, with Liam Francis and David Stanley pairing for an intriguing deep dive into how fatigue management technology can lower the road toll for heavy vehicle drivers.

The final session was all about productivity, with an infrastructure session giving the lowdown on the West Gate Tunnel and North East Link projects, while members of Daimler, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), Haulmax Tyres and Hyzon Motors gave insights on the future of vehicle and equipment supply.

From cyber security to data, driver retention, safety and fatigue management, the 2024 edition of the VTA Conference highlighted the industry’s desire to cover more ground to better plan for the sector’s future in Victoria and Australia.

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