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TMAA showcases its safety leaders

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Roads & Infrastructure sits down with Matthew Bereni, newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Traffic Management Association of Australia (TMAA), to learn what he hopes to bring to the role.

What has led to this latest chapter in Bereni’s career?

The first thing people usually notice about me is my French accent. For years I was self-conscious about it and have tried my hardest to get rid of it! More recently though I have embraced that I actually have this in common with millions of migrants who work hard to build a prosperous life in Australia. 

I have taken the advice of wiser and more experienced colleagues and friends to accept my heritage as part of who I am. Now, hearing my young kids speak with a twisted Australian-French accent always puts a smile on my face.

I moved from Paris to Melbourne in 2009 where I spent six years with the National Transport Commission (NTC). Here I led major transport policy reforms using the experience I gained in Europe. It was during my time working for the European Commission and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that I formed a strong interest in creating policy and regulatory consistency to the benefit of all road users. This led me to the newly formed role of Manager of National Harmonisation with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) in Brisbane which my family and I now call home. 

While at the NHVR, I worked with all levels of government to create and implement nationally consistent transport regulations for our heavy vehicle industry. While Australia has fewer states than the European Union, it remains challenging to unpack and simplify decades of state-based regulations.

My next role was with the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) where I led the Queensland team. Here I worked closely with our main client, the Department of Transport and Main Roads in Queensland, under our joint R&D program, the National Asset Centre of Excellence (NACOE). As the National Director of Strategy and Innovation, one of my main goals was to help position, grow and transform ARRB to become a multi-modal research organisation, culminated in its transition to the National Transport Research Organisation in December 2022.

Now, after moving to Australia 15 years ago, I’ve stepped into the role of CEO of the Traffic Management Association of Australia (TMAA) – a role I’m excited to take on. The last 20 years have given me extensive experience creating mutually beneficial relationships between government and industry and I am keen to serve an industry that has a strong focus on safety which I am personally passionate about.

What is the primary role of the TMAA, and what makes it important?

TMAA is the peak body for the Traffic Management Industry in Australia. Our members are safety professionals with first-hand experience in what works and what does not work when it comes to keeping all road users safe. 

I am proud to say that TMAA channels the collective intelligence and experience of its members to advise government on current and future regulatory changes. In return, this allows us to keep our members informed about the latest relevant updates or changes to our industry, whether it be domestic initiatives or international best practices and innovation.

We also love celebrating our most talented members through our yearly conference and the Traffic Controller of the Year National Award. Our industry can be undervalued or unappreciated at times and one of TMAA’s primary goals is to change this perception and give traffic management and traffic controllers the credit they deserve.

What have you learned in your first few weeks as TMAA CEO?

Matthew Bereni, TMAA CEO.
Matthew Bereni, TMAA CEO.

Before starting with TMAA, I did some ‘light’ reading over the Christmas break and familiarised myself with the ten parts of the Austroads Guide to Temporary Traffic Management. 

As a lifelong learner, I was also keen to gain practical experience in the industry, thus also putting myself through the Traffic Controller and the Traffic Management Implementation courses in my first two weeks as CEO. 

I had the opportunity to spend 20 hours on the road alongside a crew of experienced traffic control workers. Quite frankly, this placement was akin to being thrust into The Apprentice, as I definitely felt out-of-my comfort zone holding the Stop/Slow bat managing traffic on the Gold Coast. 

It was an eye-opening experience that gave me a true appreciation for the hard work and dedication that goes into keeping Australians safe on our roads, and just how hard a traffic controller’s job can be.


 

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How is TMAA adapting to changes in the industries it serves?

We are witnessing some fantastic changes in the road and infrastructure sectors, many driven by the latest innovation and technological improvements. While technology can be a source of driver 

distraction, it can also be a wonderful source of safety gains by reducing the level of risk on road work sites. However, even portable traffic lights need to be installed on site so we will never be able to completely remove the risk factor from the road work equation.

Data published in January 2023 by the Federal Government [www.bitre.gov.au] shows that during the 12 months ending December 2022, there were 1187 road deaths – an increase of 5.1 per cent from the 12-month period ending December 2021. 

In this context, TMAA’s vision to foster a safe and zero-harm traffic management industry across Australia could not be more relevant. Traffic Controllers are the first people that road users meet on roadwork sites. As such,

our members have become ambassadors for road safety on worksites.

This is an evolution that TMAA has fully embraced and is promoting within our industry. We’ll continue working with the road sector to ensure that Traffic Controllers are seen as a priority and lead safety champions on all road construction sites.

What are some of the challenges facing the traffic management sector in 2023?

Like many other sectors of the transport industry, Traffic Management is going through a phase of national consolidation and harmonisation driven by Austroads, the collective of the Australian and New Zealand transport agencies, representing all levels of government. 

With more Australians moving interstate, TMAA fully appreciates the national harmonisation effort. With our members’ support and guidance, we provide some qualified and evidence-based advice to the National Harmonisation Working Group to progress the National Harmonisation agenda rapidly as we believe it will deliver some much-needed safety and productivity benefits to Australia and our workforce.

What do you hope to bring to TMAA, both in the short and long term?

Having worked with government and industry, I am aware that there is much more that unites us rather than divides us. Anyone serious about our industry knows that the safety of all road users is a non-negotiable priority and I want to lean on this shared goal to make TMAA the focal point for road safety improvements and innovation in Australia. There is a lot more for us to achieve under the National Road Safety Strategy 2021-30. TMAA and its members want to actively take part in the Coalition of the Willing aimed at reducing our worsening road toll.

On a more personal level, I have always enjoyed the role of facilitator and enabler. I get a real kick out of helping others, removing red tape, and improving the status quo. I am sure that the TMAA CEO role will give me plenty to work on and improve, in partnership with all our industry and government stakeholders.

What excites you about the future?

We are witnessing some incredible changes in our industry at all levels. Sustainability is a very strong focus, and is actually one of the key topics of our national conference held in March on the Gold Coast. It is a change that TMAA fully embraces, like the majority of our partners. 

For instance, did you know that hybrid and fully electric Truck Mounted Attenuators (TMA) are available for sale in Australia? Many of our members even recycle or buy recycled plastic traffic barriers, cones and bollards. And of course, traffic management businesses enjoy cost savings thanks to the use of solar panels and LEDs on their equipment.

Another very exciting change is the latest development in connected and automated vehicles. In Queensland, the Department of Transport and Main Roads has established the Cooperative and Automated Vehicle Initiative (CAVI) to help prepare for the arrival of new vehicle technologies with safety, mobility, and environmental benefits on Queensland roads. 

One of this technology’s key benefits is informing drivers about what is ahead of them before they can see it. This could naturally include road workers. 

As Vehicle to Infrastructure (V2I) communication will become the norm, there will be a day when vehicles will automatically slow down when approaching road work sites. In the meantime, new generations of autonomous vehicles are trained to read and understand changing road working conditions, but with mixed success so far. 

It will be important for our industry to be consulted to ensure that technological changes do not put road workers at risk.

Anything else you’d like readers to know about TMAA?

Reflecting on my recent experience managing traffic on the road, I have realised that traffic management is as much about keeping road workers safe as it is about keeping all road users safe. 

So please, stay safe on the road and be kind to our traffic controller professionals who work so hard to keep us out of harm’s way day and night.  

This article was originally published in the March edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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