Politicising road transport is bad for business

Transport operators live and breathe cost management because they are exposed to wafer thin margins that are inextricably linked to unavoidable and heavily fluctuating costs such as fuel, fleet maintenance and utility prices.

Conference delegates therefore appreciated the plethora of information and practical tips they received from guest speakers from business, regulators and government about how to drive their costs down.

Speakers touched on areas as diverse as the role of technology in maximising vehicle and fleet efficiencies, regulatory changes that can reduce red tape and operating costs and the importance of closely observing laws around dismissal and other workplace practices to avoid expensive claims.

While the many topics covered in our formal sessions exposed problems and provided solutions to what is driving costs up in our business, informal conversations and chatter among delegates regularly touched on the politicisation of roads and infrastructure, and how this is bad for all business, not just transport.

Now, politics is nothing new in transport. However, in Victoria the lack of a major new “shovel-ready” roads project, and federal-state politicking over funding, is seeing us lag behind the rest of Australia, and is sapping confidence.

The Victorian Government’s decision not to proceed with the East West Link means the state will not have a major new public road infrastructure project for at least three years.

And while the unsolicited Transurban bid for the Western Distributor is welcome, uncertainty remains about the project’s viability should federal funding for it be withheld.

Equivalent Victorian government funding for the project will inevitably be a condition of federal support. Complicating this, however, is that so much of Victoria’s budgeted and unbudgeted infrastructure funding is tied to Port of Melbourne lease legislation being passed. And in our toxic political environment, this support is not a given.

Elected and unelected policy makers generally get that modern and cohesive transport networks are vital for state and national economies to thrive. This is reflected by ongoing maintenance of existing road, rail and port networks, along with the occasional big-ticket infrastructure project.

Our challenge as an industry is to help policy makers to prioritise vital new infrastructure spending that will most benefit transport operators in the form of better roads and connectivity, integrated rail networks and investment in key ports to accommodate ships of the future.

Ultimately, consumers will benefit most from smarter infrastructure spending, in the form of cheaper goods, safer roads and driving conditions and faster access to locally produced and imported products.

They also benefit from less road congestion, which is something Victorians are desperate for to create greater transport efficiencies required to improve productivity and help grow state and national economies.

This is fuelled by the clear reality that congestion is a source of massive frustration for all drivers, and in the absence of a big-ticket road project in Victoria, transport operators are desperate for something significant to be built soon.

The VTA is not a political organisation. But we do have a legitimate role in helping politicians to deliver outcomes that will help our industry and improve our economy.

So our message to the Victorian and Commonwealth government is to urgently put politics aside and initiate a major new road project that provides genuine solutions to transport bottlenecks.

From the VTA’s perspective, a new northern road linking the Metropolitan Ring Road to the Eastern Freeway should be the priority.

That connection is vital to connect heavy transport vehicles from Melbourne’s south east through to the new Epping wholesale fruit and vegetable market in the north, and then on to other roads of national significance, to the west and north, like the Hume Highway.

The VTA is encouraged other major transport groups also have that missing link as their number one priority, and we will continue to prosecute our case to decision-makers in government for that connection to be made.

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