OUR SAY: A small change with big implications

The decision to amend fatigue counting time is great news for operators and a good sign for national regulations

OUR SAY: A small change with big implications
OUR SAY: A small change with big implications
By Brad Gardner | June 24, 2011

Isn’t it great what a little teamwork can deliver? Industry associations with so many voices traditionally pushing so many different barrows finally came together and campaigned for a single time counting system for fatigue management regulations. And governments listened.

It’s absurd that it took three years from the introduction of the fatigue laws for South Australia and Victoria to switch to the Queensland and NSW model, but it’s better late than never.

When implemented, the changes – lobbying is underway right now to get them in place as soon as possible – will be like an immediate stress reliever.

Interstate operators will no longer need to wrack their brain about trying to comply with multiple counting time obligations when despatching drivers interstate.

Queensland and NSW drivers can stop worrying about potentially committing serious fatigue breaches – and therefore losing their licence and livelihood – when they cross into Victoria or South Australia.

While significant in its own right, the reform also means a lot in the context of national heavy vehicle regulations.

Based on what the trucking industry has had to endure in the past, It’s understandable to be cynical when told state and territory governments will vote in favour of a single regulatory system by 2013.

And perhaps there is cause for doubt when you read that Western Australia will go solo on some aspects and NSW is trying to doggedly cling to its existing practices.

But the counting rule decision, while only one regulatory change among the many needed, symbolises that governments can put aside self-interest in favour of uniformity.

South Australia and Victoria were previously adamant their way was the right way. They eventually conceded when they realised the effect the inconsistency was having on the trucking industry and that a slight change would make the regulatory burden easier on interstate operators.

And yes, it might be seen a negative when some jurisdictions refuse to deal on particular regulations such as fatigue management and heavy vehicle compliance. For policy purists, any compromise on what is intended to be a truly national model will resemble a failure of sorts.

But it is perhaps unrealistic and a little naïve to expect regulations to be the same in all jurisdictions. Each state and territory is different in regards to infrastructure and geography, which has a large say on policies such as local productivity variations.

This isn’t necessarily a bad omen for the prospect of national regulations.

If governments can agree on mutual recognition policies, drivers will not need to comply with another round of regulation when they cross from their home state into another jurisdiction.

In short, they will deliver efficiency gains and a reduction in red tape the industry so desires.

And the bureaucrats hand-picked to put the structure of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in place is a strong indication that addressing operator needs is a primary objective.

Main Roads Western Australia Managing Director Menno Henneveld is highly respected in the trucking industry for working with it to achieve practical outcomes. It borders on near impossible to find someone to utter an unkind word about him.

Richard Hancock, plucked from the Northern Territory public service, resembles Infrastructure Australia’s Michael Deegan in many respects.

He comes across as a straight-talking, results-driven bureaucrat more interested in achieving valuable and lasting gains rather than simply farting around at the edges on reforms that would benefit no-one.

He demonstrated an eagerness to act on industry concerns during recent public consultation sessions, where operators complained about the unfair application of chain of responsibility law.

It certainly is a daunting task bringing a multitude of heavy vehicle regulations under the one banner. But there are clear signs of a commitment to get it done. And if governments can display the same willingness toward national regulations as they have with the counting rule change, the prospects for meaningful reform are positive.

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