NHVR tries to turn permit debacle into opportunity

By: Brad Gardner, Photography by: Brad Gardner

Regulator believes permit failure may open the door to improving access

NHVR tries to turn permit debacle into opportunity
Bouncing back: Philip Halton says the NHVR is working with councils to improve heavy vehicle access to local roads.


The heavy vehicle permit system launched earlier this year that crippled large parts of the trucking industry may also become the catalyst for improving access to local government roads.

The system’s failings caused severe disruption, partly due to councils being inundated with applications and being unable to process them. Under the previous system, councils may not have received applications at all.

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) general manager Philip Halton says the flood of permits led to local governments realising just how many trucks were using their network and, as a result, they are now engaging the regulator on how to deal with the issue.

Halton says talks have led to the regulator pushing for notices to be in put in place to remove the need for permit applications, while a pre-approval scheme is also being pursued that will accelerate the application process.  

"We are actually out there talking to local governments. We are looking to see if some of them want to take up notices, so rather than some things being done by permit, will they consent to a notice outright?" Halton says.

"Where we can’t get to a notice…we are negotiating agreed approval undertakings."

Halton says agreed undertakings involve the council providing pre-approval for some access applications, such as for trucks that meet specific dimensions.

Under this approach, the NHVR receives an application, grants access and then notifies the council so it can keep track of the vehicle on its road.  

It means trucking operators in some cases will no longer need to wait for councils to approve access applications, a process that can take up to 28 days to complete.

Halton says the regulator has currently struck 257 pre-approval agreements with 112 local governments.

"In every crisis is an opportunity. We are looking to extract some good from the bad," Halton says of the permit debacle.

"Local governments that previously just weren’t in this discussion, 112 of them are taking part. They’ve signed off 257 schemes of pre-approval. That’s quite pleasing to us."

Halton says the NHVR is still fielding questions about what went wrong when it took on responsibility for approving permits throughout most of Australia in February.  

"It comes down to a couple of pretty simple features. We were too ambitious. We tried to build a permit issuing office in Brisbane to treat the whole country, we tried to turn it on in one go," he says.

"The number one thing that brought us down: our computer system was not good enough, we could not punch it [permits] in fast enough, we could not punch it out fast enough."

Halton says the regulator’s employees also had problems keeping up with demand.

"Our people had difficulty keeping up with the flow. That alone caused huge problems. That alone was enough for us to pull out," he says.

Halton says that local governments also faced significant challenges because they received more applications than they anticipated.

The failures forced the states to step in and take back control of processing permits within their borders. 

The NHVR also launched a three-month internal review and subsequently committed to taking a more methodical and gradual approach when launching future initiatives.

"We spent three months talking to ministers about what they expected and we recently said to them to actually relaunch any kind of system…we think that when they give us the green light to go again we’ll take 12 months before we actually try and take off," Halton says.

He says the regulator has "a lot of work to do to fix what we broke" and that its permit problems have pushed aside other matters the NHVR wanted to address.

"We’ve got people working on permits who by now we thought would be working on other priorities," Halton says.

"So you’re going to see some of the things that my former colleague, Richard [Hancock], promised  you come later than what I would like, later than perhaps Richard would have liked, but we are not giving up and not fading away."

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