Driver licences probe to see RMS next year

By: Rob McKay


Sterle’s committee looks to February after hearing surprising evidence from other state authorities

Driver licences probe to see RMS next year
Barry O'Sullivan points out such holes in the system are absent in aviation.

 

New South Wales’s Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) may take Senate committee questioning on truck driver licences issues in to second week of February.

Though disappointed that RMS representatives were unable to make Senator Glenn Sterle chaired ‘Aspects of road safety in Australia’ inquiry hearings early last month, his office tells ATN the hope was to reconvene in the first few Senate sitting days of next year, around the second week of February.

ATN is awaiting a response from RMS on its understanding.

At the most recent hearing, senior officers VicRoads, Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR), Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Australian Skills and Quality Authority (ASQA) took committee questions.

What came into sharp relief is the lack of information available across state-state and federal-state divides that left senators involve shocked.

The inquiry was sparked by a Sydney incident where unskilled but licensed truck drivers on visas caused chaos on the M5 in nearly two years ago.

It emerged that troubled registered training organisation (RTO) ACT Training furnished B-double licences to the offending drivers, one of whom was on a student visa and the other on a dependent spouse 457 visa.

Though it was brought in by TMR to audit the RTO over the M5 issue, ASQA regulatory operations general manager David Garner admitted ASQA’s audit found shortfalls in the RTO and its assessor’s procedures, "we also do not know the name of that particular assessor that was mentioned, that Queensland Transport had taken action against" because "action taken by Queensland Transport was not part of our audit".

The first his organisation, which oversees RTOs, knew of licencing fraud at ACT Training in in Tweed Heads was through the committee’s hearings earlier this year.

"Wow. I am lost for words," Sterle said in response to the latter point.

This was also the case for Australian Border Force (ABF).

"I can confirm that, following the first hearing, the department looked at the issues across the M5 incident and has finalised its investigation," Border Management Division acting assistant commissioner Erin Dale says.

"In relation to this incident, the truck driver was a student visa holder.

"The visa was cancelled, and he was subsequently removed from Australia.

"The department is committed to educating employers about their legal obligation to check that any foreign national working for them has a valid visa, with any work restrictions attached, that provides appropriate permission to work.

"The department liaised with Scott's Transport and SPS Dhaliwal Pty Ltd, the businesses associated with the truck driver, to build awareness of the requirements and to encourage them to access the department's free visa entitlement verification online service, which allows employers to check work entitlements of prospective employees.

"I can confirm that both Scott's Transport and SPS Dhaliwal Pty Ltd have subscribed to this [Visa Entitlement Verification Online (VEVO)] service."

It emerged that Dale’s department referred ACT Training to TMR "for their possible investigation".

For his department’s part, TMR acting director-general Mike Stapleton complained about the lack of transparency on recent foreign arrivals receiving licences.

"The issue that is in front of us at the moment is how you manage foreign licence holders entering the system," Stapleton says.

"There are processes in place. It is difficult for us to know if a person is a permanent or temporary visa holder.

"That information is not available to state authorities, so we can often not tell you the status of people when they come to Australia.

"There is no ability for us to follow up. We really require the person to surrender that information to us."

Also surprising for the committee was that the rules on driver assessor qualifications do not include related truck licences or minimum time limit for having them.

Garner told the committee that "the rules are that they must have current industry skills and knowledge".

But it was impossible to test all trainers and assessors at the same time.

Asked about any related trends in road training, Garner says ASQA received "a total of two complaints in this area.

"One of these was against an organisation that is not a registered training organisation, which was purporting to be able to offer nationally recognised training.

"There was one complaint about a registered training organisation.

"So there are very low levels of what we would call noise or intelligence in the system in this particular area."

The situation the inquiry is looking into was untenable for committee member and Queensland Nationals senator Barry O'Sullivan, who drew an unflattering comparison with the airline industry, saying "all this stuff has resource questions, and the ability to do it and the massive additional job.

"But it could not happen in aviation. Why doesn't it happen in aviation?

"Simply, because the 200 passengers in a big jumbo do not want someone up the front that has just ticked and flicked their way through to the job, but this here has the same potential.

"We have people with dangerous goods and all sorts of things, and it seems to me … to be not a perfect world in terms of licensing these people."

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