Qld growers likely to dodge transport liability

By: Troy Bilsborough

Queensland growers using reputable trucking companies are unlikely to be held liable for the actions of truck drivers, despite the

Queensland growers using reputable trucking companies are unlikely to be held liable for the actions of truck drivers, despite the Queensland Transport Workers Union’s lobbying efforts.

Horticulture representative Growcom met with Department of Transport officials last week to have the interpretation of proposed chain of responsibility legislation amended to accommodate the transport differences between growers and other agricultural sectors.

Growcom chief executive officer Jan Davis says the Government was receptive to arguments that growers have less influence on the working conditions and fatigue of drivers than livestock farmers as they are not subject to the same strict animal welfare and saleyard time requirements.

"The way in which the horticulture industry operates is different to most other sectors and our interactions with transport companies are as a result of that different. We needed the department to understand how that impacted on their interpretation of the way the legislation would work," says Davis.

"There is a nexus between control and responsibility. If you control something it is perfectly legitimate to be held responsibility for it, if you don’t control something and have limited capacity to influence it, it’s very unreasonable to hold you accountable for it.

"In most circumstances in our industry, the Growers ability to influence and direct is limited, and [growers] need to ensure their contracts and arrangements with the transport company reflect that."

Growers who continue to use backyard operators or their own transport fleets will still be liable under the laws.

Davis says she is confident the Government will favourably amend the interpretation in September.

The TWU have announced they will lobby the State Government to "make sure Farmers are accountable for their produce getting to market" after hearing of the meeting.

"I know for a fact that farmers/producers force their drivers to do illegal hours to make sure their produce arrives fresh," says TWU Branch Secretary Hughie Williams.

"We can not have section 57AB [of the Chain of Responsibility Act] amended, otherwise the State’s heavy vehicle road toll will climb."

Davis says Growcom does not condone growers who break the law.

"As I said to Hughie Williams - who I fronted upon making those comments – we will not support a grower that breaks the law," says Davis.

"If he has information about anybody doing the wrong thing we would appreciate it being shared with us so what we can ensure is that the grower in question understands their responsibilities."

If Growcom is not successful in its bid, Davis says there is little doubt it would be tested in the courts.

"Nobody wants to go there," she says.

The amendments are the latest development surrounding Queensland’s chain of responsibility laws after Parliament last year passed the transport legislation amendments to open up the scope of liability in road transport accidents to roles beyond that of the driver alone, including owners of the heavy vehicle, registered operators, loading control, consignors, packers and loaders.

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