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Governments move to rationalise border burden on freight

Industry spurs National Cabinet to look at easing confusion and differing rules


Efforts to resolve state border confusion and streamline the passage of freight are ongoing at the highest political level.

The moves have been spurred by a huge industry response to the lack of clarity and differing state requirements, with much of the critical attention directed to New South Wales.

“National Cabinet is currently looking at this issue,” a Transport for NSW (TfNSW) spokesperson tells ATN.

“Transport for NSW is working with NSW Health in assisting the freight industry to make necessary changes during the Coronavirus outbreak.

“At the same time Transport for NSW is working with federal and state jurisdictions on a nationally consistent approach for implementation of the national Protocol for Domestic Border Controls – Freight Movements.

“Under the freight industry’s current Covid-19 Safety Plan, freight workers are encouraged to get tested every seven days, even if they are asymptomatic, but testing is not currently mandatory.

“If freight workers who are tested do not have any symptoms of Coronavirus, they are not required to self-isolate while waiting for test results.

“Our aim is to keep freight moving as safely and efficiently as possible while protecting health and economic outcomes for the state.”

News that NSW testing requirements have been rationalised is welcomed in Victoria.

“There have been many meetings, conversations and correspondence to governments and jurisdictions to elevate the issues with the changes to border crossing regulations, including the unworkable seven-day Covid testing requirement for all cross-border drivers,” Victorian Transport Association (VTA) CEO Peter Anderson.

“We have had some success with NSW now making change to their directive and making the seven-day testing optional and NOT mandatory.

“There is still some work to be done to ensure that common sense prevails.”

Anderson states that South Australian authorities are yet to acknowledge the depth of the issue but there is some good work being done to have the issue formally addressed.

“South Australian Police are still insisting on drivers being tested every seven days.

“While we cannot meet this expectation through Victorian testing resources, it is still very difficult to be tested in South Australia,” he says

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) also sees progress on the way to a workable solution and not just in NSW and SA.

“The ATA is particularly concerned about the number of truck drivers and other travellers who need to be tested at the Victoria-South Australia border,” ATA chair David Smith says. 

“The queues at the South Australian border are up to four kilometres long, partly because Victorian clinics are turning away people who do not have symptoms and just need a test for compliance purposes. 

“In discussion with the premier of South Australia and the incoming minister for transport, Corey Wingard, the South Australian Road Transport Association [SARTA] has put forward a plan for putting out this fire on the border by moving to random testing. I urge the SA government to take it up. 

“The trucking industry has an exemplary record on Covid compliance. Truck drivers are isolated in their rigs the vast bulk of the time and practice Covid safe measures when they are outside.  

“I also urge the Victorian Government to clarify its requirement that people who have Covid tests must go into quarantine until the results are known.  

“This is appropriate for people who have tests because they have Covid symptoms. It is not appropriate for drivers who are required to have regularly weekly screening tests.” 

The ATA also urges governments to put in place convenient and accessible testing facilities for drivers. 

“Pop-up screening facilities should be established along major freight routes, open 24/7 and run by Australian Defence Force personnel, if required, to keep up with demand,” Smith says. 

“The testing facilities should be confined to drivers needing screening tests to reduce the risk of cross-infection. 

“There must also be clear messaging that drivers without symptoms who receive tests should not have to self-isolate. 

“I know that everyone involved understands that failing to sort this out could have extreme effects on interstate trade, the economy, and the availability of goods across the country.  

“We urge governments to work together and consistently implement the freight movements protocol that they agreed on last week.” 

Read how the ATA sought federal action on border controls, here

The issue is also affecting rail freight operations, with the Australasian Railway Association (ARA) calling for consistent state government adherence to national protocols on freight movements.

ARA CEO Caroline Wilkie warns that divergence could lead to freight delays and unintended safety risks.


“Rail freight operators are acutely aware of the importance of maintaining Covid-safe operations as they cross borders to keep supply chains open,” Wilkie says.

“We have already seen long delays and some confusion at our borders for rail freight operators.

“It is essential state and territory border restrictions account for the vitally important role of the rail freight sector and make sure operators have consistent protocols to follow as they travel across the country.”

She adds that: “Delays at the border or differing approaches across the country frustrate those efforts at a time when we rely on our rail freight network more than ever.”

The Transport Workers Union (TWU) is also seeking a cohesive response from state governments, in letter to state and federal governments signed by national and state branch secretaries.

The letter also demands that the federal government “ensures that all drivers have access to paid pandemic leave and do not have to pay fines for breaches caused by poor systems implemented by their employers or the clients whose goods they are transporting”.

“We understand that governments need to put in place measures to contain the pandemic but they must ensure that essential transport workers delivering food, fuel and medicines across closed borders must have clear rules about what they need to do,” TWU national secretary Michael Kaine says.

Having different testing and permits systems for each state is confusing and risks being ineffective. We are already seeing an impact on supply chains with some drivers and operators reporting a fall-off in work and a drop in rates.

“We abhor the actions of wealthy retailers and manufacturers in slashing rates at this difficult time and urge the federal government to take action.”

The letter calls for McCormack to:

  • co-ordinate a system across the states to standardise testing and permit requirements for drivers so they can be clear on how they can comply with rules more easily.
  • examine the impact on transport supply chains and the drop-off in freight movement which is having a major effect on income for operators and owner drivers. We urge a targeted financial assistance programme for drivers and operators experiencing a fall in income
  • ensure that major retailers and manufacturers do not cut their contract rates during the pandemic, which will further apply pressure on trucking businesses resulting in cuts to safety which will impact on the risk of infection and spread
  • ensure that truck drivers as essential workers have access to paid pandemic leave so they can self-isolate if required to.
  • ensure that truck drivers do not bear the brunt of fines associated with violations of pandemic restrictions which have been caused because of poor systems implemented by their employer or the client whose goods they are transporting.

Meanwhile, the driver of a truck who allegedly brought a 65-year-old woman into South Australia from Victoria has been located and arrested.

“Covid compliance officers attended a business in Regency Park where they located and arrested a 46-year-old Mount Gambier man,” SA Police report.

“The man was taken to the Adelaide City Watch House where he has been charged with failing to comply with Directions under the Emergency Management Act.

“He will be refused bail and is expected to appear in the Adelaide Magistrates Court today.”


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