Chain of responsibility claims big scalp

Fletcher International Exports convicted and fined almost $50,000 over chain of responsibility breaches

By Brad Gardner

A leading livestock and grain exporter has been fined almost $50,000 by the NSW Supreme Court for breaching loading requirements under chain of responsibility laws.

Fletcher International Exports, which exports wool and meat to 14 countries and deals with at least 6,000 trucks carrying sheep throughout Australia, was sentenced this week for 10 grain overloading offences.

The ruling judge recorded a conviction for each offence and handed out $5,000 fines for all but one breach, forcing the company to pay $49,500 plus court costs.

The NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA), which brought the action against Fletcher’s, wanted the exporter fined up to $544,500 based on the percentage each truck was over the maximum load.

Although NSW law limits maximum loading to 79 tonnes, court documents show all trucks were carrying more than 100 tonnes, with one truck carrying more than 123 tonnes.

The court heard Fletcher's made a deal with Kidmans in 2005 for the company to harvest wheat and arrange for its delivery to GrainCorp. The breaches occured while Kidmans was acting as an agent for the exporter.

Although not directly involved in carrying the grain, Fletcher’s was deemed a consignor and therefore bound by the Road Transport (General) Act, which forces all parties in the supply chain to take reasonable steps to ensure mass, dimension and load restraint requirements are not breached.

The case was previously heard in the Condobolin Magistrates Court, which convicted Fletcher’s of the 10 offences but only fined it $3,000 for one offence.

During the previous hearing, lawyers for Fletcher's argued the company could not be expected to be aware of the breaches. However, the magistrate disagreed because Fletcher's owned and operated the trucks involved in the 10 breaches.

Despite the ruling, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) argued the magistrate erred in his decision, saying the penalty imposed did not reflect the severity of the breach and the magistrate was inconsistent by ruling the offences as separate but only imposing a fine for one breach.

The judge upheld the RTA’s appeal, agreeing the severity of the breaches demanded a greater penalty in line with the Road Transport (General) Act.

"Each of the overloads for which the defendant came to be sentenced was a severe risk breach [under the Act] as the overload was greater than 120 percent of the maximum permissible means," the judge found.

"The penalty imposed...did not reflect the seriousness of the 10 offences."

The defence argued the failure to supervise the loading and transport of grain did not constitute a conviction because Fletcher's was entitled to expect Kidmans to act according to loading requirements.

While noting there was no evidence either party deliberately broke the law, the judge ruled Fletcher's should have been aware of its obligations.

"The defendant as the consignor was obliged to ensure that the overloads did not occur and could not...turn a blind eye to whether the trucks delivering the grain to GrainCorp were overloaded or not," the judge ruled.

The overloading breaches happened on November 22, 2005 at regular intervals. The RTA filed an appeal to the Supreme Court in June after the December 2007 ruling in the Condobolin Magistrates Court.

NSW passed chain of responsibility measures for mass, dimension and loading restraints in 2005 in order to hold the supply chain accountable for the delivery of goods.

The laws are similar to new fatigue laws to be introduced on September 29, which will require all parties in the supply chain to take reasonable steps to manage driver fatigue.

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