Migration Act in spotlight on driver licensing probe

Officer tells Senate road safety inquiry narrow law hinders thorough investigations

Migration Act in spotlight on driver licensing probe
ATA chief of staff Bill McKinley gives evidence about the review to the Senate road safety inquiry


The ability of immigration and border protection officers to act against employment exploitation of visa carriers, including in freight transport, is hampered by the laws governing them, a Senate hearing has heard.

The Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee’s ‘Aspects of Road Safety in Australia’ inquiry has been told its focus is solely on contravention of the Migration Act and it must involve other government authorities, including the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to have a wider impact.


"Under the main type of Migration Act warrant that we have, we have the power to look for documents that relate to proving the individual's identity and, in a broad sense, what their background is," Commander Robyn Miller, of the Field and Removals Operations arm of Enforcement Command at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, says.

"That's about demonstrating whether they are or are not a noncitizen. It doesn't go to the conditions under which they're employed and subsequent information about things like how they're being paid.

"The way we're working around this, which we can continue to do, is to work very closely with other agencies who have complementary powers to what we do. In these serious exploitation cases, we are working in collaboration with AFP and Fair Work Ombudsman in particular, because they have powers to obtain the type of evidence that we're looking for here."

Miller adds: "Our Migration Act powers are quite narrow in our ability to gather evidence." 

The senator Glenn Sterle-chaired inquiry, in which senator Barry O’Sullivan is an active member, is looking into truck-driver training and licensing and the use of visa-holding truck drivers.

The inquiry was sparked by a scandal involving two Indian visa holders found to have been corruptly given licences and had been incompetently in charge of a B-double prime mover controlled by SPS Dhaliwal and subcontracted to Scott’s Transport.

Miller says her section had investigated Scott’s about the subcontractor arrangement it had with the subcontractor but had not looked deeper into the company, having focused only on the incident at hand.

Nor, with 443,798 student visa-holders to keep tabs on, could much be done on those involved in trucking incidents.

On the exploitation issue, her section was involved with other enforcement authorities in Taskforce Cadena, which has seen action in the agriculture sector.


Earlier last month, the inquiry heard Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chief of staff Bill McKinley, who noted acceptance of his organisation’s calls to governments to:

review all aspects of truck driver training and assessment

the effectiveness of the National Heavy Vehicle Driver Competency Framework and the other state truck driver training schemes

the capabilities, competencies and qualifications required of both truck drivers and driver trainers.

McKinley says Austroads had engaged a consultant to do that review, due to be completed by November.

Of the Senate inquiry’s evidence, the ATA had been particularly concerned at the lack of coordination between the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Services and the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA), which oversees registered training organisations (RTOs).

McKinley emphasised what the ATA sees as the outcomes of a system that has many holes, saying "we have situations where, essentially, people wanting a heavy-vehicle licence are promised it in a day, or promised that if they don't pass on the first attempt they'll be able to continue trying until they get it.

"We have situations where people are getting licences, but they don't end up understanding the broader safety context they have to work in.

"They don't have an understanding of load restraint or fatigue or chain of responsibility.

"So we end up with badly undertrained drivers emerging with truck driver licences, but they do not have the skills they need to work in the industry safely.

"There are some great trainers out there – I already mentioned DECA as one of them – but many others train to a price, or offer guarantees, and the quality can't be guaranteed."

The ATA wants heavy vehicle licensing in South Australia and the eastern states into the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) once the heavy vehicle registration scheme for the Heavy Vehicle National Law states is rolled out.

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