Speech to the Traffic Management Association

27 April 2018

I’ll start by saying that your industry has come a long way in the last thirty years or so. 

I’ll give the example of Queensland. Prior to 1991, construction workers rotated in and out of being traffic controllers. There were no traffic control contractors. Training for those doing construction workers doing traffic control work was minimal or non-existent. Accreditation was not required. 

From 1991, traffic control work could be undertaken by suitably qualified, accredited people. They were to direct traffic as required under the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the Traffic Controller Accreditation Scheme Approved Procedure, and the TORUM Regulations. 

But by the mid-2000s, the training they had to undertake was still minimal: the relevant course approved by Main Roads was of less than one day's duration.

Nowadays there are strict controls on which providers are able to deliver training, greater rigour in relation to assessment, and requirements for both off-the-job and on-the-job training. 

Importantly your industry has led the way in professionalising the practice and vocation of traffic management.

Industry participants are expected to operate at the highest professional standards, whether it’s being polite and courteous when interacting with other road users, medical fitness, refraining from drug and alcohol use, or operating safely and responsible.
You are still on your journey to build public awareness of, and respect for, those who work in traffic management. But you can be proud of the work you’ve done to date. 

The work you do is vital. 

Other users of the road rely on you and your staff so that they can make it home from work safely.

Workers Memorial Day
As you know, tomorrow is International Workers Memorial Day. There are services being held today, including one here on the Gold Coast, to commemorate those who went to work and didn’t come home.

We all know of the tragedy of losing people at work, whether from a tragic accident, or some disease from exposure while at work. Truck accidents. Crane malfunction. Asbestosis. And a whole range of other causes of death. Some of you will have lost people you know, some, people you love.

In talking about International Workers Memorial Day, I particularly want to acknowledge the loss of 56-year old traffic controller Ken Altoft, last year. His death was a tragedy. I know you will all be thinking of him as you talk about Safety, one of your key themes, throughout this conference.

And I know you’ll all be dedicated, in his memory, to finding better, safer ways of protecting those working in traffic management into the future.

No-one wants a world in which people like Mr Altoft, who are just trying to earn a living, just going about their business, don’t survive their shift at work.  

It happens too often. Too many people lose loved ones. My heart goes out to Mr Altoft’s family and to all bereaved families in advance of tomorrow’s important commemorations.

Labor in government
I would like to talk a little more about infrastructure now, and then about the big picture for our nation.

Federal Labor
As you know I’m a Labor MP, so I want to say a little about Labor’s record federally, and a few words about my state Labor colleagues.  Federal Labor’s record is better, safer and less congested roads.

Federal Labor doubled the roads budget and initiated the biggest construction program since the creation of the national highway network by the Whitlam Labor Government in 1974, more than 40 years ago.

All up, we built and upgraded 7,500 kilometres of road nationwide, including completing the duplication of the Hume Highway, accelerating the upgrade of the Pacific Highway to dual carriageway and rebuilding hundreds of kilometres of the Bruce Highway.
In just six years, Federal Labor completed 137 major projects, and commenced work on a further 67. 

That included a $2.5 billion investment in the Ipswich Motorway between Dinmore and Darra, an upgrade that remains South East Queensland’s largest ever Federally-funded road project. It also included a $455 million investment to upgrade key interchanges along the Pacific Motorway, and the Mains and Kessels Roads Upgrade, a $280 million construction of a new interchange. It included Legacy Way, the $500 million construction of a 4.6 kilometre tunnel, connecting the Western Freeway at Toowong with the Inner City Bypass at Kelvin Grove.

And it included the $718 million upgrade of the Gateway North between Nudgee Road and Barrett St northbound, and Depot Road southbound including widening from four to six lanes.

As I adverted to earlier, it also included a $5.7 billion dedicated package of work for the Bruce Highway, that improved safety and productivity as well as reduced travel times and improved flood immunity.

Another important protect was the Warrego Highway Upgrade, a $317.5 million package of 15 projects between Toowoomba and Miles that will improve safety, capacity and regeneration of various sections on the Highway.

And there’s the Cape York Region Package: A $210 million package of works that sealed sections of the Peninsula Developmental Road; sealed the Endeavour Valley Road through to Hope Vale, and built priority community infrastructure.

In government federal Labor also fixed 1,944 notorious black spots on local suburban streets and country roads.

Federal Labor installed 95 new and refurbished rest stops as well as 46 new and upgraded parking/decoupling bays, providing truck drivers with more places where they can pull over to take a break, catch up on sleep or check and re-configure their vehicles.

And we assisted councils around the country maintain and upgrade their local roads, with over 17,200 projects funded.

Importantly, our approach to building more productive, sustainable and liveable cities involved investing in both their road AND rail infrastructure.  That’s why as well as doubling the roads budget, Federal Labor committed more funding to urban public transport infrastructure than all our predecessors since Federation combined.

In recent weeks I joined with Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese to announce Labor’s $2.24 billion commitment to Cross River Rail, most of which will be constructed in and around my electorate on the Southside of Brisbane. That project will deal with the capacity issues we’re heading towards on the existing rail network. In doing so it will help bust congestion: Cross River Rail would reduce the private vehicle kilometres travelled by 526,000 per day.

If you want an example of how public transport can help with road congestion, take a look outside here on the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast Light Rail’s handling of 1.1 million passenger journeys during the Commonwealth Games shows the difference public transport can make.

It has been a highly successful project, delivered in partnership with the Queensland Government, Gold Coast City Council and the private sector.

State Labor
I also want to make reference of the work of my state Labor colleagues. 

The Palaszczuk Government is dedicated to ensuring Queensland roads are safe.

Minister Mark Bailey has told me that road safety is a key priority for their government, and that they will never stop working to protect Queenslanders.

State Labor is continuing to deliver under the Queensland Road Safety Action Plan 2017-2019. The plan’s vision is zero fatalities or serious injuries on Queensland roads. 

Under that plan, state Labor has recently had a strong focus on driver distraction.

It’s a growing problem. Almost every driver has a smart phone. And a lot of smart phone users are almost addicted to checking their notifications and responding to messages. 

Last year Wired Magazine reported on the results of a US study that used sensor data from more than 3 million drivers and 5.6 billion miles of trips. They said that driving analytics company Zendrive had found drivers were using their phones on 88 percent of their journeys, and that the average American driver spent 3.5 minutes on the phone per one hour trip. Yet, they reported, just a two-second distraction increases your risk of crashing by 20 percent.

Here in Queensland there’s Transport and Main Roads research which says about 75 per cent of Queenslanders admit to using mobile phones while driving.

I’m told that in  2016, 28 Queenslanders lost their lives as a result of driver distraction on our roads – whether it was using a phone, changing the radio or other activities resulting in a momentary loss of concentration. I can only imagine how worrying this must be for your industry. I’m pleased to see innovations like “driving mode” on mobile phones, but more needs to be done.

I congratulate my state Labor colleagues for showing leadership on this issue, including by introducing double demerit points for second and subsequent mobile phone offences within one year – meaning repeat offenders will more quickly face a licence suspension. And in all jurisdictions there’s a desire to make sure that road rules are fit for purpose amid modern conditions.

The big picture
These are important issues: the construction and maintenance of road infrastructure, and the work that is being done to make road use and roadworks safer.

I also wanted to talk about the broader economic and political environment. We’re heading into May next week, which means beautiful red and gold leaves in Canberra, and less beautiful red and black ink as we head into Budget time.

Infrastructure and the budget
We have called on the Turnbull Government to use next month’s Budget to reverse its cuts to infrastructure investment. The cuts have undermined Australia’s international competitiveness.

Anthony Albanese has said that:

“Under the Federal Coalition, Australia has tumbled from 18th to 28th on the international league table that ranks countries based on the adequacy, quality and efficiency of their economic infrastructure, according to the … World Economic Forum.

This is harming Australia’s international competitiveness and acting as a handbrake on economic growth.” 

Investment in productive infrastructure would help Australia. It would be a shot of adrenaline for our economy. It would provide jobs. It would make cities and regions more productive.

 But since taking office, the Federal Coalition has consistently cut infrastructure investment. Albo has said:

"The Budget Papers confirm that going forward grants to the states and territories will more than halve from the forecasted (but not delivered) $9.2 billion in 2016-17 to $4.2 billion in 2020-21.

That performance contrasts with that of the former Federal Labor Government, which lifted Australia from 20th to 1st among advanced nations in terms of infrastructure investment as a proportion of GDP."

Next month’s Budget is an opportunity for the Coalition to reverse its cuts.

It should start by confronting traffic congestion with investment in public transport projects like the Melbourne Metro, Brisbane’s Cross River Rail, Adelaide’s AdeLINK light rail and the entire Western Sydney Rail Line, including a connection to the Macarthur region. Busting congestion will take pressure off roads and will make them safer.

We have also called on the government to explain why it has failed to deliver about one in every five dollars it has promised to invest in infrastructure since its election. As Albo has said:

"The office of Infrastructure Minister Michael McCormack has confirmed that over the past four years, the Government has invested $4.9 billion less than it promised in its budgets.

 The Government’s own Budget documents show that in every Budget this Government has handed down, it has failed to actually spend the money it has allocated to railways, roads and other projects."

 Announcement is not enough. Delivery is needed. 

The same goes for the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund.

The NAIF needs to start actually spending money. The NAIF money was announced three years ago. When the government launched the NAIF the Minister said:

“the time for talk is over, and the time for action is here”.

Three years later and it has allocated funding to only one project. Not a single cent has been invested in North Queensland or the Northern Territory. It’s a real shame. 

Though Australians will no doubt be looking for infrastructure investment funding in the Budget, we will also need to look beyond the Budget to see what is actually delivered, not just announced.

Economic conditions, and the state of the Budget
We’ll also be analysing the Budget for its approach to reducing the deficit without slowing economic growth.

You’ll remember the 2014 Budget sought to reduce the deficit through the announcement of deep spending cuts. That just led to massive falls in confidence and consumption, dragging on economic growth and thereby hitting tax revenues. In other words, if you try to balance the budget through deep cuts, you can inadvertently make the deficit worse by weakening the economy and therefore weakening tax revenues, among other problems.

The 2018 budget will be delivered in very different global conditions. 

The world is finally starting to see the green shoots that have been hoped for since the end of the Global Financial Crisis. It has been a long, slow recovery, and things are still not rosy. But things are certainly better than they have been, globally speaking.

The March Business Outlook from Deloitte Access Economics talked about the strength of the global economy.

Deloitte referred to “excellent global growth” which was “doing Australia plenty of favours”. They said “improving global and local economies are raining revenue on the Federal Budget”. 

So, the government is handing down its budget under the best global economic conditions in a decade.

Under the Liberals, the deficit is eight times greater than projected in that 2014 Budget.

Net debt has doubled. 

As you’d expect given the greater deficit, debt is growing faster now than it did under Labor.

I’m not suggesting the government should have no debt. I suspect that in your own businesses, you may have used debt to finance growth, on occasion.

Debt raised for investment in productive infrastructure, in responsible amounts, is a good thing for the economy.

But that doesn’t mean that we should accept growing debt and a persistent deficit. We should constantly be considering what is the best use of public monies, and how spending, taxes and transfers are best set, to support a strong economy and a just society.

So there’s a range of things we’ll be looking for on Budget night, in addition to allocations for infrastructure.

We’ll want the government to reverse their cuts to schools, universities, and TAFE. Education is the key to our country’s future. We can’t compete on low-wage low-skill manufacturing jobs, but we can compete on services and on high-skill, high quality advanced manufacturing. But the 2017 Budget alone cut a further $637 million from TAFE training and apprenticeships. 

Since the election of the government Australia has lost over 140,000 apprenticeships. It’s a decline of over 35 percent. As a nation we must do better.

We’ll want to see reversals of the cuts to hospitals. It’s the right thing to do, and having a healthy population is good for the economy, too.

And the country shouldn’t be pursuing $65 billion in corporate tax cuts for big business. The budget is already in deficit. Cutting the revenue would increase that deficit. 

And given the Royal Commission, I don’t think there’s much public appetite for the big banks to get about $9.5 billion in tax cuts.

We will also want to see what the government intends to do about jobs and pay.

We continue to see underemployment and low wages growth. 4,900 people found employment last month, but the figures show this increase was all in part-time employment. There was a decrease of 19,900 persons in full-time employment. As Brendan O’Connor has said:

Australia has a persistent underemployment problem, with more than 1.1 million underemployed Australians looking for more work, but unable to find it.

Addressing employment is one of the ways that we can make sure more Australians share in the benefits of the nation’s prosperity.

And making growth more inclusive – making sure more people share in its benefits, more fairly – will also stop inequality reaching extremes and being a drag on growth. 

The International Monetary Fund said in its recent fiscal monitor:

“All countries should promote inclusive growth to avoid excessive inequality that can impede social mobility, erode social cohesion, and ultimately hurt growth.” 

So, there’s a lot to think about, and a lot to look for, as we head into Budget season. I wish you all well as you digest the Budget and Bill’s Budget reply, two nights later.

I’d like to now conclude where I started this morning: with your industry.

Thank you
As I said at the outset, I wanted to use this speech to thank you for the work that you do. 

Traffic management is both under-appreciated and essential.

As the nation’s infrastructure needs get more complex, and as our cities and regions grow, traffic management is a crucial element of making sure that infrastructure construction and maintenance can be done efficiently and safely.

In a very real way your industry contributes to the prosperity of our nation. 

So, thank you for the work that you do. 

Today, I’ve spoken to you about the Commonwealth Games, about Workers Memorial Day, about Labor, about distracted drivers, about the federal Budget, and about the nation’s economy. 

I will conclude by saying that your themes of safety, compliance, observation, protection and engagement are of crucial importance. I congratulate you for making them the centre of your deliberations. 

Thank you for inviting me to address your conference. Have a great SCOPE 18.