CEO Keynote: National Roads & Traffic Expo

Below is a full copy of the keynote speech delivered by RA CEO, Ehssan Veiszadeh, to open the National Roads & Traffic Expo.

National Roads & Traffic Expo – Keynote speech

  • Good morning everyone.
  • It’s a pleasure to follow the Honourable Catherine King who has been a champion for nation building infrastructure, and as I look ahead at the rest of the agenda, I see an incredible range of speakers with knowledge across every facet of our industry.
  • It certainly promises to be an exciting couple of days here in Sydney.
  • As many of you know I’m still quite new to Roads Australia, and the transport sector more specifically.
  • What I’ve noticed over the past few months is the generous nature of people right across the industry but also a steely determination to shape the transport systems of the future and leave lasting benefits for generations to come.
  • What I’ve also noticed from our global counterparts, particularly having returned from the PIARC World Road Congress in Prague, is that our challenges are shared.
  • We are all facing highly complex issues across decarbonisation, supply chain constraints, infrastructure financing, safety and asset management. It’s very clear that we can only meet those challenges through collaboration between the industry and government, and within the industry itself.
  • Today, I’m here to share my thoughts on roads and the path ahead. Roads not as static, disconnected pieces of infrastructure but as enablers of social mobility, a more sustainable future and much-needed boosters of productivity.
  • As an industry we need to make sure that we have clarity for the future.
  • Collectively we need to rethink the way we talk about ourselves and we need to share our achievements, bringing communities along with us as the future of mobility changes.
  • We need to be able to inspire the next generation of transport workers.
  • The reasons are simple. Virtually everyone uses land transport, be it road or rail, to advance their social and economic activities.
  • As soon as a person or a product goes through the gate – it’s the transport network that will ensure that that person or product gets to where it needs to go – whether it’s meeting friends, going to school and work, picking up or delivering groceries – it’s the transport network that supports that.
  • It’s worth pointing out what roads contribute to our communities and the economy more broadly and we’ve seen this boosted through record capital investment over the past decade, with more investment in transport than any other sector. 
  • Roads contribute 236 billion dollars to the national economy every year and ensure the ongoing movement of people and goods. Across the 2021-22 financial year there was more than 37 billion dollars worth of transport infrastructure construction work completed, dwarfing all other sectors.
  • We’ve seen incredible engineering feats both above and underground and cities reshaped through this record investment from governments across the nation.
  • Now, at a time when pipelines are being reevaluated, it’s a perfect moment to look over the horizon, think of the future and collaboratively find solutions to support the next generation.
  • These challenges present opportunities and are consistent no matter who I speak to across the RA membership.
  • These are also complex problems, but the opportunities do cross over and you will see that the answers don’t rely on someone else doing something, but they do need all of us to work together.


  • Our biggest challenge right now is decarbonisation and how we work towards net zero. This is a global issue, but we are in an industry where carbon emissions remain a necessary component of any construction activity. This comes alongside the operation of transport networks, movement of freight and personal travel slowly pivoting towards a more sustainable normality.
  • The need for government to lead, incentivise and collaborate with the transition to a net zero economy cannot be understated. Over the past fifteen years we have seen a lack of certainty when it comes to the regulation of carbon emissions in Australia, something we all hope will soon be behind us.
  • When I speak to our members, I know everyone is rowing in the same direction. There is a strong desire to do the right thing, work collaboratively towards net zero and ensure generations to come have the mobility options that allow them to be both prosperous and safe.
  • But the question I find myself asking is whether or not this is enough? Do we really have a coordinated approach? Do we have enough incentives for industry to fast track the changes we need? Should we help to set some industry-based targets?
  • It’s all well and good rowing in the same direction but if we all row at different paces we are sure to head off course. We have had infrastructure reviews at both a Federal and state level, including here in NSW.
  • We have collectively come to an understanding that without changes to the way we do things the current infrastructure pipeline is not sustainable from a capacity perspective, both in terms of labour, materials and quite frankly, the state of budgets across the nation.
  • This has to be an opportunity to not just think about what infrastructure we can afford financially but what infrastructure we can deliver sustainably.
  • Infrastructure NSW and Infrastructure Australia are working hard as we speak on the measurement and value considerations of embodied carbon.
  • At the same time, we see emissions across the transport sector growing when we desperately need them to be declining.
  • While this is a somewhat pessimistic reflection on our current position, recently I have been filled with a great degree of optimism, not just by what I hear from members who are one hundred per cent committed to meeting the decarbonisation challenge head on but by the leadership we are seeing at a Commonwealth level.
  • The recent launch of the Infrastructure Net Zero Initiative is a great example. Peak bodies and government agencies from across transport, infrastructure and construction, including RA, brought together to solve the prickly problems we face in carbon intensive sectors.
  • Together, we can leverage our expertise in technologies, logistics and infrastructure to agree on an approach that everyone can buy into. In addition to technical expertise, the roads industry has the necessary foresight and innovation to drive this agenda.
  • Decarbonisation is part of the challenge for the road networks of the future. Mobility is changing, we will increasingly be looking at no and low build solutions to transport problems and rethinking the very purpose and nature of our transport systems.
  • This brings me neatly to another concept regularly raised by members. What are roads really for and does this look different when we gaze into our crystal ball?

Roads as a public space

  • Roads are more than just roads and they have been for a long time.
  • Roads are used for moving people, moving goods as well as hosting events… Moomba or Grand Final parades in Melbourne, 80,000 people participating in the City2Surf in Sydney, the Fringe Festival in Adelaide.
  • Road spaces in their transport mode host pedestrians, personal mobility devices, and a range of shared and public transport options. They provide connection to other parts of the transport system. Many of our cities are using light rail all using road space to move more people. Over 60% of public transport uses the road network.
  • People buy houses with good road and rail access. In ensuring connections for people to their family and friends they serve as an important contributor to our social fabric.

My questions…

  • But – can we do better? Can we offer more of the road network to achieve social outcomes like using the road network as pedestrian space outside peak hour? Can we provide easier access to permits for closing roads to host events, big and small? Can we cool our cities in a heating world by greening our road spaces?
  • In my view, what we have seen for a long period of time is a very siloed approach to infrastructure. We have built mega projects to solve transport problems, easing congestion, cutting travel times, linking disconnected networks.
  • This is all fantastic and not in any way a criticism of the massive investment we have seen over the past decade in transport infrastructure.
  • But should we be restricting ourselves to pure transport outcomes? What about all the benefits that roads provide that are not so easily monetised and put into a Cost Benefit Analysis?
  • Investment in transport is an opportunity to not only meet transport demand and support the economy but to rethink and shape the society we would like to have.
  • We have a challenge ahead of us with the nature of mobility changing and all kinds of mistruths about the motivations behind 15-minute cities and urbanisation. We need to bring people along with us as an industry as we encourage more sustainable travel patterns. Transport outcomes can’t be isolated and siloed from the broader benefits that investment in our sector brings and the future benefits that are yet to be realised.
  • For government departments, this means not just integrating planning and transport functions to make our cities more liveable but also looking at how we can leverage investment to increase health, sustainability and educational outcomes. We live in an interconnected world and this must be a feature of our investment strategy and daily practice across transport as we move forward.
  • We not only need to change the way people look at mobility but also the way in which people look at the sector in general, which is the last of the major themes I wish to touch on today.

Workforce of the future

  • Most people I speak with in government and the private sector are worried about the workforce of the future. The major concerns are consistent. How to seek and keep the right people, how do we fill existing gaps in skills, what are the skills needed for the future and how do we do all of this while meeting business outcomes.
  • There is a real and current issue for here and now – skills and supply. But if we are not ready to describe the sector as a place to have a great career, this problem will be with us for a very long time.
  • Recent graduates and school leavers are seeking workplaces that have purpose and values that they agree with. Transport, especially the roads sector, is one that many of them might not see as meeting those needs.
  • In the few months I have been in this role I can see that there are great efforts underway and that the sector itself is not what those outside think it is.
  • The proposed actions in the recently released Employment White Paper from the Commonwealth Government contains some benefits for the transport sector – but the image issue is one the industry needs to solve itself.
  • It is through collaboration and partnerships between business and peak associations – utilising the relationships we already have – telling positive stories of the impact on people’s lives, like I have previously pointed out today, that can help bring in the people we need to deliver the benefits for the future.


  • At Roads Australia I’m proud to lead an organisation with a great track record in working alongside governments and industry to push through key issues for the roads industry.
  • I’m keen to ensure that we invest our energy in the things that matter for the industry – for our members.
  • I have been around the country speaking with a wide range of people who work to deliver a great road network. I think we are at a moment in time where we can come together to advance key issues together.
  • Most people agree acceleration rather than new ideas is the way to go. At Roads Australia we will continue to host forums where we can discuss many of the issues that will be outlined today, the challenge is finding ways to gather together, work together and get things done.
  • Whether it’s in decarbonisation, the future of roads or our industry’s workforce I see the challenges are shared. Outcomes can be delivered that benefit government, industry and consumers. This is what we must continue striving towards, with goodwill shown by all parties.
  • I know this is all possible and I know Roads Australia is well placed to support this vision. I hope next year I’m standing here again, seeing some of these shared challenges being met with shared solutions.
  • Thank you all for your time and let’s all endeavour to take some meaningful insights away from this event to keep supporting a more sustainable and welcoming industry, one we can, and should all be proud of.
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