It not only created awareness for the threat stemming from contemporary authoritarian populism, but also brought home how ignoring it could affect every facet of commercial road transport as we know it. Think about it: If we give in to populism and continue down the path of reactive governing – Tony Abbott being ousted by Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal chief in September 2015 marked the fifth prime ministerial change since 2007 – long-term planning will be increasingly difficult on every level, from truck procurement through to critical infrastructure development.
“We have two options now – wait it all out or commit to a change narrative,” Brian Tyson of Newgate Australia said at the Forum. “History has shown that populism can’t govern, but do you really want to go through with all of it? If they want to avoid the pitfall so many have stumbled into already, incumbent governments need to be seen as doing more. That’s especially true in regional Australia, where they need to recover a lot of lost ground.”
Besides creating political awareness, the Forum also made sure to emphasise that it is never too early to reflect on how technological change might affect us. From my perspective, that’s especially true for autonomous driving technology, given that many a European truck is effectively delivered in a semi-autonomous set-up already.
It’s not just about whether or not the technology will take away someone’s job, it’s about more than that – it’s about about laying the right theoretical foundation for a future that will change the very notion of trucking as we know it. As an industry, preparing our workforce for that historic transformation is crucial, as is taking political responsibility for what’s to come. Ignoring the true scope of the issue could be disastrous.
If there is one thing I took away from the Forum, it is that change is coming. For those representing industry, the challenge will lie in adapting to a new political reality. They will also need to open up to the idea that megatrends like globalisation, urbanisation and digitisation will put the very concept of commercial road transport to the test over the coming decade.
Transport businesses, meanwhile, will be forced to act ever more flexibly in navigating an increasingly unreliable business environment, and embrace the fact that both technology and workforce are in a constant state of flux. The digitisation of our industry is in full swing, and autonomous driving will arrive before we know it. Naturally, the role of the truck driver will change in line with it. But that’s just part of the problem. In the long term, only a well-trained, diverse workforce with a completely different, much more varied skillset will be able to cushion the shock that is coming. Now is the time to get ready.