Possibly the only Federal parliamentarian to hold a current MC licence, Scott Buchholz should be well-qualified for his Ministerial roles following a transport industry career in Queensland where until recently, he was a director of transport companies CQX and Toowoomba Express Couriers which operated from 14 depots across the state.
With his business background, Buchholz naturally, is a staunch advocate for small business in general, and transport in particular.
He founded the Parliamentary Friends of Small Business to give issues that impact family and small businesses a higher priority and a strong voice in Federal Parliament.
During his maiden speech to Parliament in 2010 following his election as Member for the seat of Wright in southeast Queensland, Mr Buchholz mentioned the challenges facing some of the people he represented.
“My farmers are struggling to get a better price for the product at the farm gate. My businesses, small and large, are struggling with an increasing level of compliance and red tape,” he said.
In Tamworth, a decade later, he acknowledges some of that red tape was still binding up road transport reform, and expects the NHVR to play a bigger role.
“With the NHVR I totally agree there is more to do. When we set them up unfortunately the terms of reference were written by bureaucrats. Effectively, what we did was tie one arm behind his (CEO Sal Petroccitto’s) back and one leg up behind his shoulders and said ‘go and create efficiencies’. The recent reviews we’ve had will hopefully unshackle that. Sal does an amazing job managing not only the relationship at a Federal level but the many different dichotomies that exist in dealing with the different personalities across the states.”
Buchholz is enthusiastic about the integration of technology in modern trucks. He believes the local manufacturing sector is undersold.
“Some of the safety stuff coming out on new transport equipment is saving lives on the road. Our Australian truck manufacturers continue to drive innovation, to achieve efficiency and productivity gains which helps all operators in the transport sector to move freight safely and efficiently,” he says.
“I’ve been visiting manufacturers of trucks and trailers around Australia and I am thoroughly impressed with their commitment to improving road safety with modern technology.”
A combination of targeted infrastructure investment and road freight policy work will benefit the industry according to Buchholz.
“Transporting products through regional and rural areas is critical to the Australian economy, to grow small business and get product to families and individuals,” he says.
“Opportunities are going to present to the industry in the next two decades as the freight task is set to double. As we roll out our capital investments in the inland rail infrastructure from Melbourne to Brisbane it’s expected that by the time we get to ‘full noise’ and construction is completed, the freight task will have increased to the point whereby we won’t have taken a single truck off the road.”
In the climate of accelerated government spending Mr Buchholz foresees opportunities to utilise local government to address first and last mile road upgrades.
“I think this industry as a whole will be a beneficiary because if we’re looking for ‘shovel-ready’ projects from the federal government perspective, it’s always our intention to give the money to local government for road infrastructure. The reason we like local government is because they already have a readily available workforce. The further west you go often they are the largest employer in town. Our enthusiasm with local government in that space is around their dexterity and their nimbleness.”
Australian capital cities, according to Buchholz, are among the safest in the world.
On a scale of road deaths per 100,000 of population, Australia is showing improvement in road safety but there is more to be done.
“Our capital cities Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide are safer than most countries in the world. Countries doing better than us are mostly small geographical landmasses. Where we blow it is in the regional and remote areas. As government we’re committed to working together, with industry and community to not only improve efficiency and productivity, but also reduce fatalities and serious injuries on our roads.”
Acknowledging that more than 80 per cent of car-truck collisions are the fault of the car, Buchholz says the recording of such accidents as ‘truck crashes’ could have a flow-on effect on truck insurance costs and the Office of Road Safety will be looking to separate out that data and how it is reported.
“That’s the jurisdiction of the states. The problem for us when we are trying to correlate and collect data through the Office of Road Safety is that not every state enforcement body collects the data in the same way.”
From his own industry experience, Buchholz sympathises with the shortage of skilled drivers and suggests low unemployment is a factor.
“It’s not just here in Australia that unemployment is low, it’s right across the global economy which has got some headwinds with the coronavirus at the moment. Once we get through this I see very bullish IMF figures with reference to growth and I think we are going to have even greater problems trying to attract youth,” he says.
“The other issue I have is it can’t be a race to the bottom in our industry in what we pay our drivers. It is the technology that is going to drive what our labour market looks like because trucks are more user-friendly – for women in particular.”