They say everything is delivered on the back of a truck, except for a baby. Or that without trucks, Australia stops.
We got a firsthand lesson of this during the pandemic supply chain crisis and the great toilet paper rush. Trucking is essential to our modern standard of living.
The 200,000 people and 59,000 businesses of Australia’s trucking industry drive our economy.
Almost 80 per cent of non-bulk freight is moved on Australia’s roads, which is 234.6 billion tonne kilometres of goods.
The powerhouse of our road freight industry is NSW, which moves 81.2 billion tonne kilometres. Victoria moves 48.9 billion, Queensland 42.2 billion, and Western Australia moves 40.3 billion.
Of course, trucking is essential in the other states and territories. That was clear when the supermarkets in Darwin began to empty when highways were cut by flooding.
Trucks would not be able to move any of this freight without the road network.
Australia has 877,651 kilometres of roads, including 45,496 of non-urban highways and 6488 kilometres of urban highways.
Across all levels of government, Australia spends $30.8 billion on the road network each year, but governments collect $35 billion in road related taxes each year.
Spending a little more on freight priorities, rest areas and fixing potholes is not an unreasonable ask.
The ATA has previously identified a $5 billion freight infrastructure gap over 10 years when comparing freight projects to truck charges revenue, although the Albanese government deserves credit for putting more money into rest areas almost immediately upon coming to office.
Including both hire and reward trucking businesses and other industries which have heavy vehicles in their operations, we get all of this done with 115,481 articulated trucks, 373,426 heavy rigid trucks and 175,041 light rigid trucks.
Whilst articulated trucks are critical to linehaul and keeping our nation connected, it is worth noting that the majority of the truck fleet are rigid trucks, and two-thirds of rigid trucks operate in urban areas.
We also know that there was a 59 per cent increase in electric heavy rigid trucks in 2022. Electrification is coming, in urban areas, whether we are ready for it or not.
Trucking drives the economy, and impacts on trucking have an impact on the wider economy. In 2019 the ATA commissioned modelling on the economic impacts from improving access for heavy vehicles, which projected an annual saving of $452 for the average consumer from reforms to improve access.
In 2011, the Heavy Vehicle National Law was predicted to deliver up to $12.4 billion in economic benefits, largely from improved access. Unfortunately, the results have fallen far short of this.
Heavy Vehicle Road Reform, to change how trucks are charged for roads and how roads are funded, has been predicted to deliver up to $17.4 billion in economic benefits, again largely linked to better access. These reforms have been spoken about for a long time, but delivery is another matter.
Governments continue to talk up and bank the economic benefits from more productive heavy vehicle access – but then fail to deliver the goods.
The greatest hope we have had for real change on access is the move towards automated access – pioneered by Tasmania.
Implementing an automated access system is one of the most promising reforms facing the trucking industry, with the potential to finally deliver on the long-cited economic gains from better access.
As trucking drives the Australian economy, this is a vital economic reform for the nation.
That’s why it will be one of the key sessions on the program for Trucking Australia 2023 on the Sunshine Coast.
The trucking industry understands that a job is not done until it is delivered. Governments must heed this lesson and finally deliver the economic gains from better access.
David Smith is chair of the Australian Trucking Association