Listening to our Federal Minister, Darren Chester, when he departed from his prepared script, talking to the ALC Forum dinner guests in Melbourne, he made a point about needing less change, to get more change. This may be a difficult objective to achieve, but we seem to be heading down the right path, for now.
The point he talks to is well made. The road transport industry has suffered at the hands of our crazy political cycles with state and federal elections seeming to come up just about every other year. This is no way to run a trucking industry and no way to run a country.
There is so much chopping and changing, the kind of major reform needed to enable trucking to function at its best is hard to achieve. To get stuff like the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, sensible road pricing or a National Freight Strategy up we need co-operation between the feds and the states over a long period of time.
These kinds of projects need years of planning and development and then several more years of open water to sail out and get the job done. Only then is their existence taken as given and the kind of improvements we are looking for can flow through.
Looking at the example of the NHVR, there is no minister still in place, who was involved in the inception of the regulator. The teething problems the NHVR went though were, in part, self inflicted but the subtle sabotage from some states created an atmosphere in which it was possible to fail.
Luckily for the trucking industry, those initial issues have been sorted out and the fact the the NHVR exists is taken as given and even the most intransigent of the states are playing along with the process.
We still have to wait for the kind of national consistency and rational enforcement we were promised at the start, but there does seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel. More importantly, major change in Canberra, or any of the state capitals is unlikely to derail the regulator now.
Minister Chester spent some time talking about the churn in Canberra and whether it would disrupt the development of a single National Freight Strategy. In his opinion, if the strategy can get to a point where it has been signed off at both state and federal level, there is a chance it will provide certainty for future investment in trucking as well as form a basis on which infrastructure spending can be targeted to improve the lot of freight transport.
This seems plausible, but we are not near enough to the finishing post to rule out a change in one government somewhere might not knock the whole thing off course.
Even less certain is the route to a new, more rational and fair charging system to replace the rego and fuel excise regime we have at the moment. This is one of those areas where both federal and state players have a stake in the game and territory to defend.
Fine words will not get us far if the political class get into an infighting mood, like they have been in for the past six or so years. As a trucking industry can we afford to sit by and watch another set of good ideas disappear in the meleé, caused by another leadership tussle in Canberra or an unpredictable election result in one of the major states?