Per­mits un­be­com­ing

Despite its prom­ise, the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor is be­ing tied up in bu­reau­cratic de­lays, with op­er­a­tors pay­ing the costs, writes Ken Wilkie

Owner Driver - - Owner / Driver - KEN WILKIE

“We just can’t get a per­mit that cov­ers more than seven days.”

MY DAD USED TO RE­CITE an equa­tion: “If it takes a blind man three days to pick the bones from a sausage, how long does it take a cock­roach to crawl through a bar­rel of mo­lasses?”

Dad passed from this life in 1968 and I have spent a life­time pon­der­ing the an­swer. Fi­nally, I think I might have it.

It’s about the same time the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor (NHVR) takes to sup­ply per­mits for trans­port of over­size, over mass ar­ti­cles.

The equip­ment in ques­tion that needed to be trans­ported con­sisted of eight over width, over length and over mass items that com­bine to be­come an as­phalt plant. The equip­ment is de­signed to be mobile and the shift I took part in was just one of sev­eral move­ments this plant has un­der­taken over re­cent years across sev­eral states.

Peter, man­ager of lo­gis­tics for the com­pany in­volved, said that they have never had so much trou­ble in the past.

More and more I un­der­stand that bu­reau­cracy is risk averse. It is sim­ply the na­ture of the beast. And Aus­tralia’s para­noia with le­gal li­a­bil­ity is­sues is con­tribut­ing to this coun­try’s eco­nomic demise and en­hanc­ing the ret­i­cence of bu­reau­cracy to put it­self at any risk – per­ceived or oth­er­wise.

How many bu­reau­crats are so risked averse that they are re­luc­tant to make the de­ci­sions they have ac­cepted re­spon­si­bil­ity for? We are drown­ing in a quag­mire of bu­reau­cratic in­er­tia. The peo­ple re­quired to sign off on this move are bu­reau­crats – peo­ple whose pro­duc­tiv­ity out­comes have no bear­ing on the end of week pay cheque.

It’s not un­like the fork­lift driver I had an am­i­ca­ble dis­cus­sion with in Bris­bane the other day. I was a bit peeved that I’d waited two hours for the truck in front to be off­loaded. It should have been less than an hour with lunch break in­cluded.

The forkie’s com­ment was that I was lucky; it could have been five hours. If the boot was on the other foot and he was un­re­warded for that length of time, I won­der if the re­sponse would have been so dis­in­ter­ested and dis­mis­sive.


Mil­lions of dol­lars’ worth of equip­ment is re­quired to be moved from north­ern Vic­to­ria to north cen­tral Queens­land. The move is planned to be com­pleted in a set time pe­riod so that it can be set up and op­er­at­ing ef­fi­ciently by start of the next con­tract. That op­er­at­ing ‘ef­fi­ciency’ re­quires the set-up phase be com­pleted well be­fore the start of the gov­ern­ment con­tract is due to be­gin.

To ac­com­plish the test­ing process, sales­men from the as­phalt com­pany sell small jobs in the area prior to the main con­tract com­menc­ing, to fine- tune the re-es­tab­lished plant.

Ow­ing to the time de­lay, test­ing might well be not com­pleted and those com­mit­ments to smaller jobs hav­ing to be un­der­taken from a per­ma­nent plant some 100 or more kilo­me­tres away, at some fi­nan­cial cost to the provider.

I must ad­vise that on con­tact­ing an of­fi­cer of the NHVR, they were more than happy to ac­cept a call from the per­mit fa­cil­i­ta­tor in a bid to iron out the is­sue. This might seem a churl­ish at­ti­tude but while the of­fi­cer from NHVR was more than happy for that per­mit fa­cil­i­ta­tor to call, I think a more ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse would have been to of­fer to make the call to her. Af­ter all, it is (and this is an on­go­ing prob­lem) the fail­ure of a bu­reau­cratic sys­tem to ful­fil its obli­ga­tion to pri­vate en­ter­prise in hav­ing an ef­fi­cient trans­port sys­tem.

Bu­reau­cracy is call­ing the shots and then can­not pro­vide the re­quired out­come. And a process so com­pli­cated that it sup­ports a per­mit fa­cil­i­ta­tor?

The stuff up I talk about has cost a ma­jor com­pany how many dol­lars? Only that com­pany’s ac­count­ing staff can ad­vise whether it runs to thou­sands or mil­lions of dol­lars. Con­sider the small op­er­a­tor – one or two trucks maybe. They ac­cept an over­size con­tract to a point some hundreds of kilo­me­tres away. At de­liv­ery point, the op­er­a­tor is ad­vised there is another move that has just be­come avail­able from point B to point C. Can that op­er­a­tor wait some weeks to un­der­take the sec­ond op­er­a­tion ow­ing to some dis­in­ter­ested bu­reau­cratic per­for­mance?

Or what of the op­er­a­tor con­tracted to do an over­size shift from the east coast to the west coast? Not only does he have to find a way to oper­ate seam­lessly into WA – a feat in it­self – he has to find a way of do­ing it in six days. The max­i­mum per­mit pe­riod is seven; but we have all heard that God cre­ated the earth in six and rested on the sev­enth. We just can’t get a per­mit that cov­ers more than seven days. Re­al­ity check? One is cer­tainly needed.

And what of the magic com­puter sys­tem that the NHVR spruiks about. I don’t do over­size, so I’m not re­quired to try the sys­tem. How­ever, I am not hear­ing of too many con­tented users. Too com­pli­cated!


Which raises another con­cern – bu­reau­cracy is smit­ten with new tech­nol­ogy. If it’s new and com­puter ori­en­tated, it’s great. Or is it? Can it pass the test of real life ‘use­abil­ity’?

Take the Gunnedah Agri­cul­tural Field Day. An op­er­a­tor has ap­plied for a per­mit some five weeks prior to shift equip­ment for the event. Three weeks af­ter the per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion, the op­er­a­tor re­ceives a phone call from a Gunnedah Coun­cil staffer in re­la­tion to the per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion. The ap­pli­ca­tion had just landed on the staffer’s desk, staffer claims three weeks af­ter sub­mis­sion of the ap­pli­ca­tion! And the con­ver­sa­tion in­cluded words like “should be able to” in con­nec­tion with a rail un­der­pass clear­ance height.

Shouldn’t those height clear­ances be known and recorded on coun­cil road records? And said staffer is of the view that chain of re­spon­si­bil­ity only ap­plies to fa­tigue is­sues. When so much eco­nomic value is placed on the con­duct­ing of the field day in that town and oth­ers of like ilk, wouldn’t one think such event or­gan­is­ers have checked avail­abil­ity of over­size ac­cess and ad­vised of such routes on their ad­ver­tis­ing pam­phlets?

Still on di­men­sions: Rock­hamp­ton is to have multi-com­bi­na­tion ac­cess from the south to north of the river to al­low road trains to de­liver with­out split­ting up. Op­er­a­tors are in­vited to ap­ply for per­mits. Sorry, how about any com­ply­ing op­er­a­tor be­ing given open ac­cess?

This per­mit crap is just a means of giv­ing a bu­reau­crat an ex­cuse to draw a cheque – and an op­por­tu­nity for some en­light­ened en­force­ment of­fi­cer to write a breach to jus­tify his or her eco­nomic ex­is­tence.


Cart­ing cot­ton, hay or wool? One can ob­tain a per­mit to run marginally over width ow­ing to the size of the prod­uct pack­ag­ing. Just go on the com­puter, I’m told, and print it off. If it’s okay for one, why not all?

Trac­tors are be­ing built to com­ply with the 2.5-me­tre ex­treme width to al­low trans­port, with­out con­sid­er­ing over-di­men­sional as­pects. The trou­ble is, the tyres bulge at the bot­tom and protrude past the trans­port ve­hi­cle’s ex­tremes. One then is ex­pected to run un­der over-size re­quire­ments.

What is the dif­fer­ence be­tween out­go­ing pri­mary pro­duc­tion and in­com­ing equip­ment? Some can run to 4.6m; so why does ma­chin­ery face dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions?

I am told that Par­adise Road, a con­ve­nient con­nec­tion be­tween Aca­cia Ridge and the Lo­gan Mo­tor­way south of Bris­bane, has been ap­proved for B-dou­ble ac­cess to per­mit­ted op­er­a­tors. Again, how about one law for all?

Heav­ily dis­counted regis­tra­tions for pri­mary pro­duc­ers – and I mean heav­ily dis­counted. With as­tute pri­mary pro­duc­ers en­sur­ing own­er­ship of the pro­duce does not change hands un­til de­liv­ery has been com­pleted; the fail­ure of en­force­ment is any­where near ef­fec­tive in polic­ing it.

It be­comes just another ex­am­ple of small com­mer­cial trans­port op­er­a­tors sub­si­dis­ing both pri­mary in­dus­try and the large com­mer­cial op­er­a­tors who shift big weight and fully utilise their equip­ment via two-up run­ning or dou­ble shift­ing equip­ment.

Per­for­mance-based stan­dards is another scheme dis­tort­ing the eco­nomic play­ing field un­der the guise of im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity to the na­tion’s pro­duc­ers.

Did I men­tion busi­ness lead­ers who, un­der the claim of com­mer­cial in con­fi­dence, hide dis­cus­sion with na­tional lead­ers as they work to gain per­sonal ad­van­tage?

The Na­tional Road Freighters As­so­ci­a­tion, in ad­di­tion to its po­si­tion on fa­tigue, has a fuel-based regis­tra­tion scheme de­signed to re­turn to gov­ern­ment fair cost re­cov­ery but equally as im­por­tant, re­turn some­thing of a level play­ing field to the trans­port in­dus­try.

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