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Heavy Vehicle National Law reform in jeopardy

Industry says undertaking is broken and sheets blame to NTC approach


Consideration is being given at the highest industry level to walking away from the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) reform process.

Senior industry figures have pointed publically to National Transport Commission (NTC) failings as the catalyst.

Rumblings of discontent broke to the surface today, with the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) stating the process is broken and placing responsibility with the NTC.

NatRoad called for the current process to be scrapped and re-started, with CEO Warren Clark stating the process that started in May 2018 is now directionless and unfocused.

“Turn off the barbecue. It’s cooked. It’s not progressing the reform agenda in any meaningful way,” Clark said.

“The National Transport Commission is supposed to simplify the HVNL to improve productivity and safety – instead it’s fiddling with the operational details of fatigue management.”

Clark said that the NTC’s latest round of consultation, before an industry roundtable in Canberra on Monday, had consisted of a flawed questionnaire and a proposal to rearrange fatigue standard hours by slashing them by 17 per cent.

“That fatigue schedule proposal was based on outdated evidence and would make many operations so uneconomical that half the country’s drivers would be put out of work,” Clark said.

“We were given a week to respond.

“The questionnaire was not fit for purpose – it ignored the twin burdens of individual driver compliance costs and the enforcement penalties.

“The questions asked were not based on real world experience.”

Clark said the latest failure of the process compounded the publication of a “seriously flawed” Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement last year that contained no genuine cost benefit analysis (CBA).

“It is time for the federal minister and his state and territory counterparts to step in, call a halt to the process and convene an expert reference panel to recommend changes to HVNL,” Clark said.

“We need harmonised national laws that are based on evidence – not guestimates by bureaucrats and their consultants.”

The ATA chair David Smith backed the position up.

“The ATA is consulting its members urgently about our future engagement with the Heavy Vehicle National Law review process,” Smith told ATN.

“The review started in November 2018. The ATA and its members have spent hundreds of hours drafting submissions and engaging in meetings.

“But the review has not produced a single legislative amendment that could be introduced into parliament.

“Despite ministers’ commitment to simplify the HVNL and focus on productivity and safety, the NTC’s highest consultation priority with industry seems to be the operational details of fatigue management.

“The NTC’s proposal for the fatigue management general schedule would reduce the income of a typical local delivery driver by about $24,000 per year.

“It would make it impossible for general schedule drivers to operate between capital cities.

“Despite the catastrophic impact of the proposal on the industry’s productivity and the incomes of its workers, the NTC circulated this proposal for just one week of industry consultation.

“It is not good enough. The review has failed.”

Read what the ATA is seeking from the HVNL reform, here

Firebrand South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) CEO Steve Shearer pointed to a deeper malaise in the task, with a divergence from modernising law towards a focus more heavily on enforcement and the closing off of scope for industry to engage with jurisdictions collectively.

“I raised at an industry advisory group meeting convened by the NTC the fact that this would not succeed if we do not have substantial effective engagement between industry and jurisdictions,” Shearer told ATN.

“If jurisdictions skulk off into the shadows and meet and they formulate and structure the proposals to go before the ministers for the heavy vehicle law and they refuse to meet industry to have frank discussion . . .

“What we say is that, if they formulate that proposal without robust discussion with industry, because they are not operators or drivers, they will unintentionally, inevitably, make serious mistakes because they do not understand the operational consequences.

“They will put things to ministers that we will then have to set about tearing apart.

“No ministers want that, I’m quite sure.

“It will only delay the process and what alarms me it that the mindset of the senior managers at the NTC responsible for this work are adamant that there will be no industry discussion.

“It’s appalling, it’s extraordinary and it’s downright irresponsible

“But that is the very clear advice and they have confirmed that advice with senior officers not at the NTC.”

He discerned mid-level resistance, particularly from Victoria and New South Wales, driven by a enforcement mentality and mindset, insisting a “Hume Highway-centric heavy vehicle law” will fail for the rest of the country.

“So, if they come up with things that are designed to constrain and restrain the industry instead of facilitating productivity and safety – looking at it from a risk-based and safety-focused approach,” Shearer said.

“Because that sort of approach is not very common in mid-levels within organisations.

“Whether it be police or whether it be mid-levels of transport agencies, most of them have not made that mental adjustment and it serious problem.”

He was also highly concerned that the NHVR, with its national role, powers and understanding, had been allowed very limited input into the whole review.

“It adds up to a belligerent approach from New South Wales and Victorian officials to frame the new law the way they want it,” Shearer said.

“That’s not acceptable. They are entitled to their opinion but they will fail to deliver what ministers said was necessary, which is risk-based, safety-focused law that facilitates productivity.

“If we don’t get that, this has cost many millions of dollars and this will be a farce.

“We will be no further advanced and Australia will be a competitive economy.”

ATN has sought a response from the NTC.


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