WA operator John Mitchell is adamant that trucking is being short-changed at a state and federal government level by ministers who are spread too thin to do their freight-related portfolios justice.
Mitchell, the CEO of busy third-generation business Mitchell’s Livestock Transport, is calling on all levels of government to create dedicated freight minister roles to focus solely on the industry’s woes before more operators are forced to shut up shop.
“I believe there’s a lot of frustration that we all face, and if you step back, and you look at our industry and what it does, we’re very isolated,” Mitchell said.
“Our representation is very good but structurally there’s a flaw there. Every time we have a minister, they’re a minister competing with a lot of other interests that have got more noise attached to them.
“Our industry just gets it done, but the likelihood of improvement and how to make the sector come out of where it is now is low because most people I talk to around Australia in the freight sector say the same thing, we don’t have anything to look forward to.
“We’re looking forward to less drivers, more regulation…I think we’re doomed.”
Unless there is intervention at the top, Mitchell is adamant that good operators are going to find it harder to stay afloat.
“So we’ll have this constant infill of people from the bottom end up.
“We need great operators in Australia feeling good about their businesses, and our industry connected to a [dedicated] portfolio.”
Mitchell said that if you look at most portfolios on a federal level there are ministers with more dedicated roles, yet the trucking industry plays second fiddle.
“We’ve got a $50 billion industry inside a $1 trillion economy, so we’re 5 per cent of GDP, so that should just be enough,” said Mitchell, who stresses that he isn’t being critical of individual ministers, just the system in which they are forced to work under.
“Then the effect of having a minister would give us the opportunity to be connected and someone thinking about the future for a change, having a strategic view on the health of the industry and the people in it.
“Currently, I don’t know how much percentage of time the federal and state ministers would spend actually thinking about road transport, and freight in particular, and that’s unconscionable that you’ve got someone with that level of responsibility who doesn’t have the means.
“They’ve got moments to think about what we think about over days, years and months.”
Mitchell said the driver shortage is the number one issue impacting the industry as a result of the government not giving the freight industry the credence it deserves.
To plug the gap, he believes bringing in drivers from overseas would be a simple short-term fix, but when he last looked at the skills list, there were 644 occupations on it, and truck driving wasn’t one of them.
“Pet groomer will get you in, but you can’t come in as an experienced high-grade truck driver into this country.”
“So, a transport freight minister would go, ‘Hey, I’ve got to fix that’. Then we’ve got to figure out ways to bring people into the industry.”
Mitchell said a minister could also focus on how the in- dustry would move freight better and more efficiently, which would have a direct benefit when it came to carbon emissions.
“When you look at the 5 per cent of GDP [that the freight industry represents] you can make a big difference to someone’s cost down the line.
“We’re a pivot for every business in Australia. If our industry starts leading the charge more, it all starts to concertina upwards.”
Mitchell is now calling for the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to act, and hopes the states follow suit.
“Then what we will have is a collegiate approach to some of these problems that we’re all facing with people connected to a person who has got 100 per cent focus on freight.”
Gary Mahon, CEO of the Queensland Trucking Association, said that at a state level he believes the industry is given sufficient priority.
But more broadly, right across Australia, a lot more focus could be given to the supply chain.
“I don’t think it’s just a road freight issue, it’s shipping, the integration of our road sys- tem, and the lack of a genuine all-weather freight network,” Mahon said.
“Who is giving real authority to that at a national level?
Mahon said he’d encourage people to reflect on the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956, the brainchild of President Dwight D. Eisenhower who is credited with becoming one of the key energisers of the American economy, post-World War 2.
The bill established an interstate national highway system in the US that transformed the way freight was moved from coast to coast.
“It was an enormous visionary undertaking by the US which brought about enormous benefits for their country, and we could take some lessons from that about the future of our country.”
Cam Dumesny, CEO of the Western Roads Federation, also agrees there’s a need for a dedicated federal freight minister.
“We still don’t have an effective freight strategy,” Dumesny said.
“We certainly don’t have one in Western Australia at a state level, it’s non-existent.”
Dumesny believes that one of the best ways to curb inflation is to address transport inefficiencies.
“All those delay points in the freight system add costs. What we need is one federal minister responsible for freight across all the modes; road, rail, sea and air, because the policies need to align so they act as a symphony, not a cacophony.
“Too much of the policy position at the moment actually makes the system worse.”
A spokesperson for Catherine King, the federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, said the Albanese government understands the critical importance a big success of freight to the whole economy.
“It makes sense that road freight matters should be con- sidered alongside transport and infrastructure decisions given how closely interrelated they are,” a spokesperson told Big Rigs. They also said that the Albanese government’s record to date illustrates its industry commitment.
Ministers’ many hats
Below is the breakdown of freight-related minister portfolios from each state and territory.
Minister for Roads
Minister for the Arts
Minister for Music and the Night-time Economy
Minister for Jobs and Tourism
Regional Transport and Roads Minister Member for Maitland
Minister for Transport and Infrastructure
Minister for the Suburban Rail Loop
Minister for Commonwealth Games Delivery
Minister for Roads and Road Safety
Minister for Casino, Gaming and Liquor Regulation
Minister for Local Government
Minister for Ports and Freight
Member for Williamstown
Minister for Transport, Planning and Ports
Minister of Tourism
Minister for Road Safety
Minister for Police
Minister for Defence Industry
Minister for Veterans Issues
Minister for Transport and Main Roads
Minister for Digital Services
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
Minister for Energy and Mining
Member for West Torrens
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
Deputy Premier Treasurer
Minister for Planning
Minister for Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics Treasurer
Minister for Education Minister for Territory Development