Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Infrastructure, Transport and Cities Committee; Report
It is a well-known fact that not all committee reports generate excitement, but this is an exciting report. I, too, commend the members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities for this inquiry. Hyperloop, hydrogen transport infrastructure, common charging infrastructure, automated mass transit, cybersecurity for infrastructure—very exciting, very challenging things that we need to be talking about more in this place.
If I can note one nerdy thing, they talk about 'hyperloop' as if it is a generic term. Hyperloop is a proprietary technology based on what is known as a vactrain. The vactrain was invented by Robert Goddard. He is also known as the man who invented the modern solid fuel rockets that got people to space. It is a very amazing technology. We shouldn't put all our eggs in the Elon Musk basket, but it would be very exciting to see a hyperloop or vactrain of some sort as part of our transport infrastructure here in Australia.
When we federated as a nation, these were the conversations we were having. How do we make sure that our infrastructure connects together? How do we make sure that everything works and everything talks to everything else? Some 120 years on, we're having the same conversation. That's a very good thing. How do we ensure that COAG delivers a nationally consistent approach to these new technologies? How do we develop a national strategy for transport communications infrastructure? How do we ensure that our charging electricity networks enable vehicles to travel from one end of the country to the other on any road available to them?
It's not surprising that the private sector is ahead of the government when it comes to charging infrastructure. I commend the RAC in Western Australia for their work in developing the nation's first electric highway, as they call it, in the south-west of Western Australia. You can get from Perth to Margaret River, charge your car and make sure that you have a lovely time while you're visiting the wineries and food opportunities that are down there. I look forward to seeing a rapid expansion of the public charging infrastructure across the Perth electorate, and this report gives us the roadmap on how to do that.
These devices can be installed for less than $4,000 a unit and, if you're a local council, these can often be great revenue generators as you charge road users to charge their cars. I expect that, in coming years, we'll see them on Oxford Street in Leederville, at the Mary Street Piazza, at Bassendean Oval and even at the carpark at Morley Galleria. Equally, government, as a purchaser of vehicles, has a job to do. I was shocked to learn that there is not one fully electric vehicle on the government standard vehicle list. There's not one single vehicle available to the Commonwealth public sector. That's why we have to take leadership in this space too. In this regard, I commend the member for Port Adelaide for his vision for 50 per cent of government vehicles to be electric by the year 2025.
The report also highlights the absurdity that, in a nation of just 25 million people, we have nine different public transport ticketing systems. Surely nationally consistent ticketing and payment systems for public transport are within COAG's ability. Equally, if we can get that far, you could probably also have national access for time-share vehicles and to pay for use of public charging facilities. At the same time, as we go to new tech and new things, we shouldn't forget the cyclists of Australia. Often we talk about that last mile and what connects the big, clever bits of infrastructure. Often that is cycling and cycling infrastructure. One of the things that is a challenge that we'll need to face in coming years is making sure that, when we build major pieces of public infrastructure—train lines, roads, et cetera—we build in cycleways as well so that you actually get the full benefit of those major nation-building projects.
Speaking of major nation-building projects that will benefit in their development from the recommendations of this report, I note that, obviously, in my electorate of Perth, there is a generalist bipartisan commitment to the Perth-Morley-Ellenbrook train line. That's been a big fight and a big win for the community of Perth and includes a major upgrade to Bayswater train station. Again, I want to make sure that that is futureproofed and full of the technology that we need to make sure that it fits in with all the other technologies that are in this report.
Inevitably, you have the conversation about the challenges of what automation means for the workforce of the future. Research suggests that a third of Australian jobs could be lost to automation. But there are new opportunities and new roles to be created. Current roles will be redefined. New career paths will open up. It should mean a transition to more highly skilled, high-income jobs across our country. I read in this report one encouraging comment on the transformation of jobs as opposed to the elimination of jobs. One presenter to the committee talked about the experience in the aviation industry, saying: 'The job of a pilot has changed. They used to fly a plane. Now they watch a system.' As policymakers, we need to watch the system that deals with transport in an entirely different way.
I learnt recently from a mining executive that some of the best people to be the operators and supervisors of autonomous trucks in this country are people with nursing backgrounds. They have everything you'd want in someone overseeing a huge, expensive, complex system: technical training, attention to detail, problem-solving skills—all things in high demand. The competition for new skills will place pressure on existing industries such as health and aged care. We should see this as an opportunity for improved environmental outcomes and clean jobs of the future. I see it also as an opportunity to improve our urban environment. I wish to see this as an opportunity to improve our fuel and energy security.
Australia is already a leader in mining technology. In developing policy responses for innovative transport, we need to fully tap the experience of our mining and resources sector, much of which is based in the heart of my electorate of Perth. There are some 900 mining businesses in the seat of Perth, most of them in the R&D space, making huge investments in finding and perfecting these technologies of the future. We're also well serviced by the researchers in the world of academia, with the Australian Resources Research Centre and the National Resource Sciences Precinct.
To conclude my statement, there has been a lot of talk this week about one of my favourite bands: AC/DC. In talking about electric cars, of course, I should say that one of AC/DC's great songs is 'High Voltage'. High voltage is the future of our transport industry, it's the future of our car industry and it's very exciting.