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Chief Scientist opens Global Heavy Vehicle Leaders Summit

Dr Alan Finkel, Chief Scientist of Australia, said that good regulation is the best friend a business can have in his opening address at the Australian Road Transport Suppliers Association’s Global Heavy Vehicle Leaders Summit.

“You know regulation is good if it can do two things: protect the public and facilitate commerce.

“As population boomed in the aftermath of the Second World War, so did the demand for road freight. More trucks on road meant more congestion, more pollution, and inevitably, more accidents,” he said, highlighting the development of Performance-Based Standards (PBS).

“The trucking industry sees the advantages of B-double combinations, with improved productivity, reduced congestion, and ultimately, fewer crashes,” said Finkel.

“As an industry, it had to make the case on evidence to the ministers and to the public. Today, there are more than 10,000 B-doubles on the roads and they carry more freight than any other vehicle configuration in Australia.

“But even more extraordinary is the follow-up because the industry didn’t do what human beings normally do (after they achieve something they frequently stop), but it saw the need to keep going. And it took that two-fold objective of good regulation – protect the public and facilitate commerce – turning it into the Performance-Based Standards.”

Finkel said PBS was a world-first – a comprehensive legal framework for high-productivity vehicles in exchange for more stringent safety requirements operating right across the country and governed by a national regulator.

“It puts the focus where it needs to be to be for Australian industry to be genuinely competitive; a focus on quality and a focus on innovation.

“We make trucks and trailers. And it is a seven-billion-dollar manufacturing industry centred in Victoria,” he said.

Australia is also a global leader in autonomous trucks, according to Finkel. “Rio Tinto has almost 400 trucks operating in the Pilbara, and about 20 per cent of those trucks drive autonomously, with supervision from a control centre in Perth. This year, the company clocked up more than one billion tonnes of material moved by autonomous haulage with zero injuries,” he said – adding that the country is also a global leader in driver monitoring systems, with developments in passenger vehicles and heavy vehicle fleets.

On technological disruption, Finkel said there are opportunities for the commercial road transport industry in blockchain. “It turns out that consumers overseas may pay a premium in produce if they can trace the provenance,” he said – explaining, with a hypothetical reference to purchasing packaged T-bone steak in China, that blockchain technology would provide the consumer with the product’s history from the cloud such as the name of the farm that the cow came from. “The technology at the core of these initiatives, Artificial Intelligence, data and analytics and blockchain, is the 21st century frontier in trucks.

“CEO of Amazon, Geoff Bezos, wrote about a particular phenomenon in his latest annual letter to shareholders. In his words: We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’.

“This is the leader of a company that sends out over five billion parcels every year. Geoff Bezos understands two things: trucks and customers. His ethos is very straightforward: have high standards,” Finkel said – adding another key snippet of advice he received earlier in his career is that quality is remembered long after price is forgotten. “You, the leaders of a seven-billion-dollar industry, at the heart of Australia, and vital to its prosperity – how are we going to carry the expectation of high standards into the future and not just for trucking, but as a standard bearer for all of Australian industry?”

The ARTSA Summit also launched a PBS report and provided attendees opportunities to discuss heavy vehicle innovation, road reform, safety research and disruption as well as logistics.

(Image L-R: National Heavy Vehicle Regulator CEO, Sal Petroccitto, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel and ARTSA Chair, Dr Peter Hart.)

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