Owner-driver threatens strike to bring country to 'its knees

By: Jason Whittaker

Owner-drivers and small operators are threatening to bring the country to a standstill if impending regulations and charges are not

Owner-drivers and small operators are threatening to bring the country to a standstill if impending regulations and charges are not scrapped and the National Transport Commission (NTC) is not disbanded immediately.

Townsville-based owner-driver Mick Pattel is organising a number of meetings to nut out a list of 15 non-negotiable demands with stakeholders that governments must agree to in order to end a national shutdown which will take place in about eight weeks time. Pattel says he is aiming to drag the shutdown out for two weeks by having drivers park their trucks at their homes and refusing to work.

He says operators are coming from all over Queensland and interstate to attend the May 24 meeting in Townsville to oppose the introduction of a new log book format, registration and fuel hikes and new fatigue management laws. One of Pattel’s demands is for no demerit points to be handed out to those who breach driving hour regulations.

During the meeting, Pattel says he will raise the list of demands followed by a vote from attendees on whether to keep, adapt or drop them.

"By then the country will be on its knees," he says.

Pattel is levelling blame at the NTC because it is responsible for the fatigue management model which will be introduced on September 29, as well the national log book scheme and greater heavy vehicle charges.

"We want it gone," Pattel says.

He is demanding the NTC be replaced with a combination of transport operators and government officials chosen by the industry because he says the NTC does not understand the impact the regulatory they are imposing.

However, the NTC says Pattel’s model is not too dissimilar from the current make-up of the government body as its advisory groups are made up from transport industry associations. General Manager of Safety and Environment Tim Eaton says advisory groups represent a broad range of transport operators, which the NTC consults with.

Eaton has also refuted Pattel’s grievances relating to logbooks, of which make up a number of his demands. They include not introducing a new format, doing away with demerit points and having logbook fines capped at an agreed amount. He also wants the fines to relate to safety breaches only.

Eaton says new logbooks barely differ from the current system, but include a measure that allows drivers to jot down how long they have been detained for by inspection officers.

And while Eaton says there was some opposition to the NTC’s proposals, the organisation worked as best it could to implement changes according to concerns raised by operators.

The NTC has also sought to clarify the issue of demerit points relating to logbook offences. Wary of being accused of introducing the measure, Eaton says the NTC’s logbook model never stipulated charges for logbook offences; Queensland simply altered the model to suit its own needs.

Despite this, Eaton expects the remaining states to commit to the NTC’s national reforms by not following Queensland’s lead.

While refusing to speak to the NTC about his grievances, Pattel says he has called Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese’s office to invite him to attend the May 24 meeting. However, he says he was "abused" by a member of staff who allegedly told him the new regulations will be coming in and there is nothing he can do to change that.

ATN contacted Albanese’s office but a spokesman for the minister declined to comment as he is still formulating a reply.

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