The fight to be heard

Own­ers and driv­ers need to have a louder voice in de­ter­min­ing heavy ve­hi­cle law and reg­u­la­tion

Owner Driver - - From The Ata Council - John Beer

IWONDER HOW MANY oper­a­tors and driv­ers have heard about the Re­view of Heavy Ve­hi­cle Na­tional Law (HVNL). It seems like a new bit of pa­per­work comes out ev­ery week. But this one could be big, or I hope it could. The Na­tional Trans­port Com­mis­sion (NTC) has re­cently spo­ken with in­dus­try as­so­ci­a­tions and par­ties about the re­view, ask­ing for opin­ions of what will be looked at and how long it will take.

What we’ve been con­tem­plat­ing in as­so­ci­a­tions like the Aus­tralian Truck­ing Association and the Aus­tralian Live­stock and Ru­ral Trans­porters’ Association is work­ing out what we’d like to see in their Terms of Ref­er­ence, which is the list of any­thing we want some­thing con­sid­ered or ex­am­ined.

I know what you’re think­ing; same old bull­shit, dis­cussing the froth and not ex­am­in­ing what’s un­der­neath. We al­ways worry that noth­ing changes but lots of talk and money is spent to get back to where we started. And most, if not all, of the de­ci­sion mak­ers haven’t been be­hind the wheel of a heavy ve­hi­cle, or even in the pas­sen­ger seat. Well that’s not what I’m hop­ing for; I’m propos­ing some­thing a bit rad­i­cal.

Rather than let the NTC re­view HVNL and parts of the reg­u­la­tor, could we get a bet­ter re­sult if we went back a step and looked at an in­de­pen­dent re­viewer or com­mis­sion-type process to ex­am­ine ev­ery­thing in­clud­ing the NTC, Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Reg­u­la­tor (NHVR) and all the laws, reg­u­la­tions and pol­icy at the same time? Most grass-roots oper­a­tors and driv­ers are con­cerned a re­view won’t fix any of the big prob­lems faced out on the roads: fa­tigue laws, ac­cess, per­mit times, en­force­ment, off-road fa­tigue is­sues, li­cenc­ing, road user charges and reg­is­tra­tion costs, ed­u­ca­tion of other road users and so much more.

I want ac­tual trans­port oper­a­tors in the room to dis­cuss the prob­lems and solve them. Too often there is plenty of talk in shiny of­fices, with sub­mis­sions and con­sul­ta­tions but usu­ally no rad­i­cal change or fixes. Oper­a­tors and driv­ers han­dle the most dif­fi­cult of ve­hi­cles, com­plex loads in­clud­ing an­i­mals and danger­ous goods. They are pro­fes­sion­als driv­ing and run­ning small trans­port busi­nesses. They should be at the heart of the de­ci­sions about how to fix the laws and sys­tem to make heavy ve­hi­cles safer.

Things get fixed by real peo­ple fight­ing to be heard, cut­ting through the pa­per­work and bu­reau­cracy and be­ing hon­est. It’s often an un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tion be­cause we tell the shiny-arse bri­gade what they don’t want to hear, we don’t ac­cept that they can keep on hav­ing meet­ings and do­ing noth­ing, or write a 200-page re­port, call for sub­mis­sions and say that’s a so­lu­tion.

We need real change, and now.

BAT­TLE FOR SAFETY

In 30 years of be­ing in the Live­stock and Ru­ral Trans­port Association in Vic­to­ria, we’ve had a few wins. We’ve helped oper­a­tors get road train ac­cess in our state, we’ve cre­ated and or­gan­ised the Vic­to­rian Live­stock Load­ing Scheme, lob­bied for 160km ra­dius work di­ary ar­range­ments, and gained ad­di­tional time for an­i­mal wel­fare emer­gen­cies and bob­tail fa­tigue ex­emp­tions. There are dozens of fa­cil­i­ties we’ve vis­ited and pushed to be fixed or up­graded to be made safe. We’re the brains be­hind the Safe Ramps Guide; the go-to na­tional re­source for ramp de­sign.

But we are still fight­ing to im­prove safety in our in­dus­try. Ev­ery win has hap­pened be­cause we didn’t just ac­cept the sta­tus quo and play by the rules. We got in the room with the reg­u­la­tor or min­is­ter or pol­icy mak­ers or en­force­ment and made them lis­ten to the re­al­i­ties of what our work and our in­dus­try is re­ally about and what we put up with.

But heavy hit­ting has im­pacts on your busi­ness and fam­ily life. You push hard and you feel the ef­fects. Maybe the phone doesn’t ring or you start think­ing your de­odor­ant isn’t work­ing. All these meet­ings we are forced to at­tend come at a fi­nan­cial cost.

Our association is grass-roots oper­a­tors run­ning a busi­ness or driv­ing a truck plus try­ing to make sure we stay on top of pol­icy, laws and other is­sues. We aren’t mil­lion­aires and we do this work be­cause we are pas­sion­ate. We need to make sure that we are heard, so I’d like to see fund­ing for or­di­nary oper­a­tors to par­tic­i­pate in im­por­tant de­ci­sion-mak­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Does a pol­icy maker know what it takes to keep a truck on the road day af­ter day, or how to load live­stock and wash trail­ers out in freez­ing weather? They haven’t sat in a DC queue in sum­mer in a truck with­out shade. Or slept in a rub­bish-filled park­ing bay with no toi­let, wa­ter or shade.

We may not all have lap­tops or wear a suit ev­ery day but we are pro­fes­sion­als with bloody good skills that live this in­dus­try. We de­serve re­spect and we must be in the room and heard when de­ci­sions are made.

TO THE HEART

So, could we have a Royal Com­mis­sion­style process? I’m think­ing ex­ten­sive talks with ac­tual oper­a­tors – in re­gional towns and all cities. Maybe town hall meet­ings or re­gional assem­bly gather­ings? Events run at times when peo­ple can get to them, not al­ways dur­ing the day? Op­por­tu­ni­ties at ser­vos and dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tres and in­dus­try get-to­geth­ers to talk and be heard? Maybe a phone line to leave com­ments for those too busy or who live in re­mote ar­eas or find writ­ing dif­fi­cult?

Let’s get to the heart of heavy ve­hi­cle law and pol­icy and reg­u­la­tion. Let’s talk about ev­ery­thing – the law, the NTC and NHVR and min­is­ters and Gov­ern­ment and en­force­ment and ev­ery bloody thing that is prob­lem­atic; not just tweak a few items on a Terms of Ref­er­ence.

We’d need some­one to lead a Com­mis­sion, some­one in­de­pen­dent and able to en­sure that the voice of the small op­er­a­tor and driver is heard; a per­son who can be im­par­tial and bi-par­ti­san in their treat­ment of the is­sues. We need sup­port from our fed­eral and state trans­port min­is­ters to re­ally cre­ate big changes but the pay-off would be a heavy ve­hi­cle sec­tor that has a real chance to thrive and suc­ceed.

We get all the as­so­ci­a­tions, Trans­port Work­ers Union and ev­ery­one work­ing in the in­dus­try in the room to­gether and just work it out.

It might be more expensive, it might be com­pli­cated and con­fronting and take time; but aren’t we worth it?

“They

haven’t

sat in a DC queue in sum­mer in a truck with­out shade.”

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