East-west divide on national regulations splits ATA

WARTA breaks ranks with ATA on national regulations, fearing its “half-baked” proposal could leave Western Australia worse off

East-west divide on national regulations splits ATA
East-west divide on national regulations splits ATA
By Brad Gardner | June 28, 2011

An east-west divide has emerged inside lobbying ranks over national regulations, with fears a proposal from the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) could leave Western Australia worse off.

The Western Australian Road Transport Association (WARTA) has gone solo by refusing to back the ATA’s call for a single set of trucking regulations to be dealt with under a two-stage process.

As the August deadline for a final draft of national regulations nears, the ATA called for a Bill to be introduced in Queensland’s Parliament and then followed by an amendments package by June 30, 2012 to address industry concerns.

The ATA wants a formal commitment from ministers on the amendments package, which WARTA CEO Ian King (pictured) has scoffed at.

"Can you imagine bureaucrats who have been working on this for two and half years actually finishing off anything? Not likely. They’ll move onto something bigger and better," he says.

"The amendments will come in and it will just be a mix-match of everything."

King fears an amendments package could allow governments to overturn Western Australia’s distinct fatigue management scheme and productivity variations.

He claims once Western Australia agrees to the legislation it will not have a say on any amendments to be made because it will be under the realm of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR).

"These amendments could come in and absolutely wipe anything we’ve got at the click of a finger. [Western Australian Transport Minister Troy] Buswell couldn’t do a thing about it," King says.

"Once it becomes federal law that’s the end of it."

WARTA Chairman Derek Nathan, who lodged the vote against the ATA’s recommendation, says it is more important to get national regulations right the first time instead of relying on slotting in amendments after legislation is passed.

"This half-baked idea of going ahead and then coming back and trying sort out the mess afterwards is ludicrous. When a politician and a bureaucrat says trust me, then I get worried," he says.

Nathan says WARTA supports the formation of a national system, which the Western Australian Government has previously said will not apply to existing fatigue and productivity schemes.

"All we’re saying is get it right, get all the ducks lined up properly before you go ahead with it," he says.

If governments accept the ATA’s proposal, King says WARTA will then lobby Premier Colin Barnett to slot a provision into the national regulations during the COAG vote to ensure Western Australia’s schemes are protected.

"Once it’s in there it can’t ever be touched…If they try and change that we could walk away from it," King says.

"We will fight tooth and nail to protect what WA has got."

WARTA’s position is at odds with the Australian Logistics Council, which opposes any special treatment for Western Australia.

ALC CEO Michael Kilgariff last week penned a letter to the Chair of the NHVR Project Board, Menno Henneveld, raising concerns about the reform process.

Kilgariff bemoaned a clause in the national regulations permitting Western Australia to opt out of a single fatigue management model. He believes a national model can meet the needs of rural and regional operators and that there is no justification for any state to go it alone.

Kilgariff also sought assurance on the NHVR’s oversight powers, arguing the reform would only create another layer of bureaucracy if the regulator could not keep state-based authorities in line.

The Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA), which backed the ATA’s proposal, says the two-stage process is essential to delivering the best result for industry.

ALTA Executive Director Philip Halton says a Bill must be introduced into Queensland’s Parliament soon so other jurisdictions can begin the arduous task of rescinding state-based laws that duplicate the national scheme.

Halton likened the work ahead as an "organ transplant", saying bureaucrats will need to chop and change multiple provisions within a number of Acts.

"The states have a lot of work to do to clear the table for the start of the national regulator," he says.

Halton says waiting for a perfect result could significantly delay the introduction of national reforms and that gaining a formal commitment from governments on amendments will address the industry’s concerns.

Last week’s proposal from the ATA followed a meeting of the NHVR Industry Advisory Group, which was established to advise the project board on the development of national regulations.

The group, chaired by ATA Chairman and Simon National Carriers Managing Director David Simon, cited a need for governments to act quickly.

It recommended governments adopt the two-stage approach to pass the necessary legislation and then implement amendments.

"The timetable to commence legislative harmonisation and institutional reform now is in conflict with the time and processes needed within governments for proper and constructive consideration of industry’s proposals," a statement from the group says.

"The IAG is concerned that this difficulty either could place the NHVR reform at risk, or could see industry’s proposals given inadequate consideration."

It says the first stage of the process is essential to repealing existing state-based transport regulation, followed by an amendment Bill by June 30, 2012 to resolve outstanding issues..

WARTA has questioned relying solely on the work of the advisory group due to its membership, which includes Linfox, Toll, Woolworths, Australian Paper, the Transport Workers Union and Deluxe Transport.

"The mums and dads of this industry, when you think about it are by and large the biggest group of operators in the industry, have no say whatsoever," Nathan says.

"The top 10 percent of the industry are making decisions for the whole of our industry for the next 100 years."

King is just as critical, adding: "The top end of town in the IAG group are firing their shots. They haven’t spoken to the 80 percent of the people involved in the industry."

He claims there is no reason to suggest spending more time drafting national regulations instead of relying on amendments will lead to lengthy delays.

King has also dismissed any thoughts within industry ranks that WARTA will back down.

"If our members think we’re going to roll over, well I’m sorry we don’t do it that way."

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