Weathering the perfect storm together

Do you remember the George Clooney movie, The Perfect Storm, in which he played the captain of a tiny fishing boat caught in the mother of all storms? Some days, working in the trucking industry has felt like we’re in that movie, battling the constant waves smashing us with little respite.

Like the waves, the challenges have just kept coming: the pandemic; border closures; skills shortages; supply chain issues; fuel shortages; diesel price hikes and the temporary suspension of the fuel tax excise.

Of course, nature’s also been throwing everything at us, including heavy rain, floods and bushfires. And many of our already substandard roads are a mess of potholes and patchwork repairs.

Our road network is not fit-for-purpose, road funding and user charging is broken, and the provision of rest areas is treated more like an after-thought and not a guaranteed safety standard as they should be.

Then there are the usual issues of endless red tape, the dysfunctional Heavy Vehicle National Law and the truly broken access system.

2022 also saw a federal election – and a rare change of government. Regardless of political stripes, new governments bring new energy to the reform task. With the Albanese government’s commitment to building ‘A Better Future,’ we have the opportunity to bring that appetite for change to the challenges we face.

And when I say challenges, I’m under no illusion about the issues the trucking industry is facing. Despite that, I’m optimistic.

The key is to face the future head on. Technology and disruption do not wait, and history shows they don’t spare market leaders. If you get your bets wrong on future technology, it can upend your business – just ask Nokia and Kodak about the iPhone.

Many industries have been disrupted by new technology in recent years and the trucking industry is no different.

Reducing carbon emissions will be one of the most significant transitions to impact trucking. This is more than an environmental story – as important as that is – because we are also talking about an economic transition. New technologies and new ways of doing business. Our customers will increasingly want sustainable transport supply chains with zero or low emissions.

All Australian, state and territory governments, and both sides of politics, are committed to net zero emissions by 2050. If we don’t have a plan for trucking in a net zero world, we don’t have a plan to secure the future of the industry.

Then there is automation. While the hype of automated trucks often seems so distant, so disconnected from today, these trucks are now in trials on public roads around the globe. The future may be closer than we realise.

Change can be uncomfortable. But it can also provide opportunity.

This is a situation where knowledge is most definitely power.  The upcoming Trucking Australia conference on the Sunshine Coast (March 29-31) will feature expert speakers on zero emission vehicles and automated vehicles and what they mean for the industry.

The conference will also shine a light on the shadowy world of cyber security. Trucking operators are not immune from this growing issue and the ATA has heard from operators big and small targeted by hackers who steal data and can even hold the company to ransom.

The conference is where we’ll come together as an industry to support each other and learn the tools we will all need to turn the future to our advantage.

I think the key is that we are a collaborative industry. We know the value of working together.

Through our members, and in particular our state, territory and sector-based member associations, we have weathered the perfect storm of the past few years. Together, I know we will build an industry that is safer, more productive and more sustainable.

  • David Smith is Chair of the Australian Trucking Association

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