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Fighting the rising rates – how increasing fines impacts the industry

Operators are continuing to financially hurt after penalty rates and fines increased from July 1 onwards. The effect it’ll have on the industry will be widespread.

Ever since COVID-19 first impacted the transport industry, Allan Thornley hasn’t been sure if he’s been making money or losing it.

The managing director of operator Shaw’s Darwin Transport has had to face plenty of unforeseen obstacles in recent years. While the pandemic restrictions have stopped inhibiting his company’s ability to operate, new cost factors are replacing it and piling on more pain.

“It’s a non-stop challenge,” Thornley told ATN. “You don’t know if you’re in front or not. You think you cover a cost increase but then someone belts you again.

“Every month I have to ask if we made money or not – we keep facing increased prices and we don’t know whether we’re ok as a business.”

Thornley says fuel prices caused the most recent hike in rates as the cost of diesel rose through the roof earlier this year. There’s still no solution in sight for that issue as international fuel supplies wane and the Australian price of diesel flies above $2 per litre while the federal government is yet to announce what happens next with the Fuel Tax Credit.

But now there’s a more local cost factor being lumped onto Thornley and Shaw’s Darwin Transport’s bills from the start of July.

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), which acts as the main transport regulatory body for the federal government, last week announced an increase in its rates for the coming year. This includes additional money being added onto Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) fine rates as well as an inflated price for truck drivers looking to buy an accredited log book or undertake development sessions.

Under the new rates, access permit fees increased by $2 and the National Driver Work Diary rose by $1. But the worst part for operators came when penalty rates for fines also increased, with the NHVR saying the inflation was in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Thornley remembers when he found out about the latest hit to his company’s wallet.

“It would’ve been around a month ago now,” Thornley says. “Fines and penalties have a role to play as everyone must be compliant, but the extent of the increases seen here is disappointing, especially when it comes to administrative-type logbook errors.

“If someone is out of line then fair enough, but for minor administrative errors or for misspelling a name that’s trivial, drivers should get a warning. If it’s an inadvertent mistake, to add $200 to $300 to the fine is crippling.”

Thornley quickly let his dwindling driver staff know about the new increases in rates so that they were aware of the risks if they made any errors on the road. He says many drivers told him it wasn’t worth driving in the industry when they could get a job in town without fines where they were closer to their family.

The Shaw’s Darwin Transport managing director says this approach sums up the current dilemma facing the truck driving industry, as a skilled worker shortage is preventing many operators from growing.


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Thornley says the ability to retain and recruit drivers is only decreasing as more fines and costs come into the equation for companies.

“People don’t want to do it anymore because there’s too much risk and heartbreak involved in driving,” he says. “We’ve got a constant driver shortage and we try to recruit and pay good money with good conditions, but we haven’t got enough drivers to do the job so service standards struggle and we can’t grow the business.”

Thornley says he has the jobs and capacity to grow and begin making larger profits, but the lack of workers has stunted his ability to succeed. Currently he has had three of his drivers leave the truck driving industry over the rise in fine rates.

“Good, long-term operators are now saying it’s getting too hard,” Thornley says. “Little mistakes are costing hundreds of dollars and it equals a week’s wages.

“There’s jobs everywhere so people don’t have to drive trucks. If you get a compliance officer who nit-picks everything for revenue raising, then we’ll be in trouble. It’s more about revenue than outcomes.”

The operator points to the HVNL review, which is still ongoing, as a problem facing the lack of reform in the industry. With the price of AdBlue soaring alongside fuel, the costs will only continue to increase for Thornley. He says better career paths are needed to bring younger drivers into the sector.

“There’s no proper training or apprenticeship program, despite it being talked about,” Thornley says. “You can’t build a career path for people when they get fined for trivial things and it forces them out.”

Unnecessary price hike

But it’s not just operators who are voicing opinions against the latest rate increases. Warren Clark is the CEO of the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) and says that the fee hikes are ludicrous.

“There couldn’t be a worse time to do this,” Clark told ATN. “Increasing operator fines, which are already so prescriptive and punitive, by another 3.5 per cent shows they have no feel or sympathy.”

Clark says this is an annual exercise from government bodies to raise revenue. Even though it was expected, Clark says it still doesn’t limit the disappointment the industry feels at the decision. 

The NatRoad CEO has heard from countless operators that drivers are continuing to look at getting out of the driving sector.

NatRoad CEO Warren Clark

“Drivers are going to their owners and saying they’re looking for other jobs because they’re sick of it,” Clark says. “We’re struggling to get people into the industry and then keep them in it.

“We have large members with long-term drivers who have worked for more than 30 years who can’t handle it anymore – it’s driving people out of the industry.

Much like Thornley, Clark says he has no problems with fines being applied to drivers doing the wrong thing. Yet, it’s with the administrative error penalties that the NatRoad CEO takes issue. Clark has joined the chorus in asking for a warning or strike system to be implemented to stop drivers from receiving $600 fines for log book errors.

Clark says he’s fed up with the bureaucratic red tape that the government is rolling out to regulate the transport industry. While these increasing fines still loom over drivers’ heads every time they take to the highways, Clark says the skilled worker shortage in the sector will only worsen.

To fix it, the NatRoad CEO wants to see governments get active to change laws and hurry the HVNL review.

“Legislation must be changed by our politicians and in our departments,” Clark says. “Recently we haven’t seen departments willing to change anything. We have a new department of infrastructure leader, so we’ll be looking at them to have strong directions for change because we don’t want fines increasing every year.”

For operators like Thornley, there must be change. If not, he says drivers will continue to leave in droves as they feel unsupported after shouldering great loads during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They need to address the persistent belting of truck drivers after what they went through with COVID,” Thornley says. “They went through cross-border requirements without much complaining for two years and now they come out of it and fines have gone up.

“It’s a bad reward for effort. The constant disrespect of drivers from regulatory authorities is shocking.”

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