Keynote address to the 2022 Bus Industry Confederation National Conference
I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which this event is being held, the Turrbal and Jagera peoples.
I pay my respects to their elders past and present and I extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.
It’s great to see such a diversity of participants at this event, including confederation delegates, industry, academics, unions and representatives from across local, state and federal governments. Hello all and thanks for the opportunity to speak today.
It’s fitting that this conference be about “Moving People”.
Apart from the obvious role that transport networks across Australia play in moving people from place to place, there’s a bigger role for the sector in moving people towards secure work, towards a net zero future, and towards change for a better future.
That’s the vision of the Albanese Government that can only be achieved by working together with the people in this room.
Moving people and navigating change
Buses are the lifeblood of many communities – and particularly regional and outer-suburban communities.
Buses do so much more than just move people from A to B.
They connect us to school and university, to work, to family and friends, to health services and to the supermarket.
Many people – especially those in regional areas and those on lower incomes – would find life that much more difficult if it weren’t for the local bus service.
Because for so many reasons people can’t or choose not to own a car.
Some people catch the bus because it’s the only affordable mode of transport, they don’t have the mobility to drive – or aren’t old enough to.
You can’t get from Cooma to Canberra or Rockhampton to Yeppoon by train, plane or ferry – let alone ride shares.
Only a bus can deliver these vital links and connections to communities.
The local bus service is a vital thing for so many Australians.
We need these critical services to operate efficiently.
To do this, we need local, state and Federal Governments to work hand-in-hand towards this common goal.
Unlike other modes of transport, a bus will continue to run even when there are only a few, maybe even two, people on board.
But, having only a handful of people on a bus doesn’t tell you that not many people catch buses.
It tells you that buses service the needs of all communities – no matter how big or small.
Small services can have giant impacts.
One example I want to tell you about – which may seem small in the big picture but will have a huge impact on the community it services – is a dialysis bus service for Far West NSW.
In last month’s Budget, the Australian Government put $1.1 million towards supplying two dialysis treatment buses to service Wilcannia, White Cliffs and Menindee.
These dialysis treatment buses will support end-stage kidney disease patients to access dialysis treatment without the need to travel significant distances – saving patients significant financial and time costs.
Broken Hill is the closest dialysis centre.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the area but those are huge distances to travel for something as critical as medical treatment.
Round trips from those towns to Broken Hill are between 200 and 500km, with some patients needing to travel for dialysis three times a week.
Small bus services having giant impacts.
The Federal Government and I’m sure many people in this room recognise the important role that buses have in moving people.
We also recognise the opportunities and challenges for the bus industry as we navigate change.
The world is changing, as is Australia’s place in it.
You are all aware of the reality – changes to the climate, changes to regulations, changes to how we travel, changes to manufacturing.
Industry, governments, businesses and unions need to work in partnership to navigate these changes.
The two aspects of this partnership I want to outline my vision for are: the opportunities for the bus industry in tackling the climate crisis and growing Australia’s transport manufacturing industry.
Because Australian-made buses mean local jobs.
It means Australia isn’t at the whim of global supply chains.
It means strengthening Australia’s manufacturing industry and preparing it for the future.
It prevents millions of dollars of investment from going offshore.
And it prevents millions of dollars from getting wasted on stock that is not fit for purpose – that must be fixed and altered by the time it (finally) reaches Australian shores.
Australian-made also means building local capability and building skills for existing and future communities.
Buses made in Australia
As the Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, I know the bus and coach manufacturing sector in Australia is an important part of our manufacturing industry and economy.
The sector contributes $5 billion to the Australian economy each year and employs around 10,000 Australians.
It also contributes to the development of high-level automotive manufacturing skills that have applications beyond building buses and coaches.
Earlier today I visited Volvo’s impressive truck assembly facility in Wacol.
Volvo’s factory in Wacol employs over 700 people and supports over 90 local manufacturing suppliers.
It’s a perfect example of how manufacturing vehicles in Australia can be profitable.
But we know the bus manufacturing sector, like manufacturing in general, is not immune to pressures from increasing global competition.
In 2020, nearly 90 per cent of public transport passenger route service buses and around 60 per cent of school buses were manufactured in Australia.
The majority of these were built by Australian body manufacturers on a European or Asian sourced chassis.
This is a good starting point – particularly compared to other vehicle manufacturers – but I’m keen to work with the industry to see even more buses built in Australia.
We want to help businesses build more buses at home. Build a future made in Australia.
The Albanese Government is committed to advancing local industry so we can create world-class products at scale here and build on our strengths.
Our flagship program – the largest industry policy in Australian history – the National Reconstruction Fund (also known as the NRF) is a $15 billion co-investment platform to rebuild and transform Australia’s industrial base.
It will provide loans, guarantees and equity to drive investments that add value and capability in priority areas.
The NRF’s seven priority areas include renewables and low-emission technologies, transport, critical technologies and advanced manufacturing.
The fund includes $1 billion in dedicated support for advanced manufacturing.
The NRF will also support new and emerging industries and help to transition industries to net zero emissions.
By transforming and strengthening industries, the NRF will create jobs and support long-term growth for the economy.
Recent rail, ferry and tram manufacturing bungles by the NSW Liberal Government highlight exactly why Australian-made vehicles are better – so much better.
The NSW Liberal Government spent $2.8 billion (yes, $2.8 billion) on trains from overseas that were too wide to go through tunnels.
Not to mention the other major safety issues that have since been revealed about the fleet.
The NSW Liberal Government’s overseas-built trams were forced to shut down last year.
The vehicles had massive cracks and were suffering from other premature defects and higher failure rates even before the cracks started to appear.
And those trams weren’t even compatible with the other Sydney light rail line.
In 2020 the NSW Government ordered 10 ferries from overseas that were too tall to safely fit under bridges.
Where the arms of Government choose to lever says a hell of a lot about their priorities.
But time and time again, the NSW Government chose overseas manufacturers over Australian manufacturers.
Only Labor Governments truly understand the necessity and importance of building vehicles locally.
The knowledge and understanding of the unique Australian requirements that local manufacturers have is worlds above that of overseas manufacturers.
It’s very pleasing that the NSW Labor Opposition – led by Chris Minns – has committed to a locally built fleet of trains to replace NSW’s ageing rail stock.
The Albanese Government is committed to supporting Australian rail and vehicle manufacturing – because we know that Australian made trains and buses are better.
And we know that Federal investment in public transport projects creates jobs and supports local manufacturers.
Our National Rail Manufacturing Plan is a part of our Future Made in Australia commitment.
The October Budget included $14.2 million to establish the National Rail Manufacturing Plan and create several bodies to support this agenda.
This plan is not only about building more vehicles and creating more jobs.
It’s also about supporting public services for commuters that are convenient, efficient, safe, reduce emissions and are comfortable.
At the same time, we need to drive Australia up the value chain and broaden our export complexity as well as our product diversity.
Since the global financial crisis, Australia has dropped more than 20 places in Harvard University’s ExportComplexity index ratings.
It’s time to make a U-turn.
Reaching a higher level of export complexity is key to generating good jobs across communities in the suburbs and the region.
An electric opportunity
A significant change the bus industry will have to navigate is the world’s need to achieve net zero by 2050, and Australia’s contribution to meeting that target.
But with this change, there are large opportunities for the bus sector, particularly for bus manufacturers.
Transport is the third highest emitting sector in Australia, with cars making up 47 per cent of this.
But each bus removes many cars from the roads.
Translink here in Brisbane estimates that one full bus can take more than 50 cars off the road.
This makes a big difference and helps reduce congestion and emissions.
Supporting the uptake of electric vehicles across all modes of transport will be vital in our efforts to reduce reliance on the use of fossil fuels.
Zero-emissions buses will play an important role in decarbonising the transport sector and achieving our net-zero emissions targets.
Not only do zero-emissions buses provide a cleaner and sustainable option for transport, they can also improve traveller experience by providing a quieter ride.
Demand for Zero Emissions Buses has grown significantly in recent years.
This demand is predicted to continue to grow substantially, driven by government policies steering the transition of public transport fleets from diesel to electric.
States and councils across the country are moving and transitioning their fleets to electric vehicles.
For example, Brisbane City Council is introducing a new fleet of 60 all-electric, high-capacity Brisbane vehicles in partnership with Hitachi.
And by 2040, the ACT Government hopes that every bus on Canberra’s roads will be electric.
And the Federal Government is also partnering with the Western Australian Government to deliver an electric bus network for Perth.
This includes $125 million towards electric bus charging infrastructure, which will be matched by the WA Government to support the local manufacture of 130 new buses.
The first locally manufactured buses will roll off the assembly line in 2024-25.
The next generation of Perth’s public transport will be built by Australians.
Over 100 new jobs will be created by this initiative, and more than 300 existing workers will transition to jobs in cleaner technology.
The Albanese Government is doubling down on this green transition and it is a big opportunity for the vehicle manufacturing sector.
As part of the Australian Government’s Powering Australia Plan, we are also developing a National Electric Vehicle Strategy which will help get Australia’s transport sector on a pathway to net zero.
The strategy will help make Australia a globally competitive market for electric vehicles by improving access to a broad range of affordable electric vehicle models and building the necessary infrastructure.
Our strategy will also consider ways to expand Australian electric heavy vehicle manufacturing and assembly capability.
We will make sure the transition to transport electrification is considered, timely and effective.
The green, electric future is here, and we want to help industry embrace it.
Transport jobs for the future
This green transformation will need to be underpinned by skills development across the entire value chain.
Access to skilled labour is now one of the biggest challenges to Australia's productivity and competitiveness.
And our migration program will play a necessary role in filling skills gaps in the short term.
Since coming to Government more than two million visas have been processed to reduce the backlog.
But importantly we also need to train and up-skill Australians – to ensure businesses can easily access the workers they need locally.
In the lead-up to the Jobs and Skills Summit, I chaired a Jobs and Skills Roundtable for Australian Heavy Industry.
From the roundtable it was clear that we needed to ensure Australian workers had the right skills for the jobs of the future.
Many of the businesses around the table talked about the energy among young people to work in an area that contributes to our clean energy transition.
Then during September’s Jobs and Skills Summit, there was a strong consensus to promote the importance of STEM education and careers to meet our current and future workforce needs.
The Albanese Government has reached a Digital and Tech Skills agreement between the government, unions and technology employers.
The agreement is an important step towards achieving our target of 1.2 million tech-related jobs by 2030.
Working together with industry and research, we will help create the high-value, high-wage and high-tech manufacturing jobs of the future.
These include jobs in bus and coach manufacturing, which will become increasingly high-tech as technology continues to improve.
Just two weeks ago I was at BOC’s factory in Western Sydney.
Earlier this year they signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Foton Mobility to develop the hydrogen bus sector in Australia and New Zealand.
BOC and Foton Mobility are now working together to develop operational and commercial hydrogen bus models across the entire supply chain including production, storage and refuelling, right through to leasing arrangements and maintenance.
This sort of home-grown innovation is something of which Australia can be proud.
There is so much opportunity for transport manufacturing businesses to rise up the global value chain if they embrace the technology of the future.
Growing Australian vehicle manufacturing is a priority for me and the Albanese Government.
We are committed to helping develop local industry in a way that will ensure manufacturers can compete internationally, provide more jobs for Australians and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We want Australian transport manufacturing to be profitable and thriving – in the long term.
We want to make more in Australia.
We want to help you keep Australia moving.