The Federal reshuffle this week has seen, what can be described as, the Transport Minister thrown under the bus. Darren Chester has lost his job as Infrastructure and Transport Minister, to be replaced by Barnaby Joyce, the Nationals leader in the Parliament.
The reasons for this change are not to do with Chester’s performance, or Joyce’s desire to get involved with the transport portfolio. It has been about keeping the peace within the National Party room in Canberra and ensuring certain Victorians and Queenslanders get jobs on the Government front bench.
Australia’s transport industry associations have welcomed the new appointment after the announcement, but the changes may not be the best for the trucking industry and the process of reform, which has been moving along apace in recent years.
Barnaby Joyce is a powerful presence in the Cabinet, as Deputy Prime Minister, and this does mean road transport will always be represented at the top table. On the other side is Joyce’s own agenda. He represents the seat of Tamworth and has invested considerable political capital in the development of the Inland Rail from Melbourne to Brisbane, as a boost for the economies of rural areas in both NSW and Queensland.
In his time as Minister, Darren Chester has been an inclusive minister. He has tried to drive the safety agenda on our roads and worked collaboratively with the trucking industry to advance both safety and improved productivity.
Working with Joyce may be a little more problematic for the long term aims of all of those representing different sectors of the transport industry in Australia. He is also a mercurial character and likely to head off at a tangent if he sees some political gain to be made elsewhere.
These latest developments do not necessarily mean the trucking industry is going to the see the reform process slow, but there may be some more obstacles appear in the reform path. Joyce is not renowned for being able to stick to the message or try to carry through policies which may meet resistance in sensitive areas.
One thing the trucking industry can be sure of is we are now moving into interesting times, and what was it the old Chinese proverb says?