The fight to be heard
Owners and drivers need to have a louder voice in determining heavy vehicle law and regulation
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?
sat in a DC queue in summer in a truck without shade.”