Opinion: COR laws will have lasting impact if NHVR tackles customers

By: Steve Shearer


The success of COR reforms hinges upon the government's understanding of the need to focus on customers

Opinion: COR laws will have lasting impact if NHVR tackles customers
Steve Shearer

 

In 2018 the amendments to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) Chain of Responsibility (COR) provisions will come into effect, imposing a primary duty of care on all parties in the chain, including customers, to do everything as far as reasonably practicable to ensure the safety risks arising from transport operations are managed.

Some 12 years ago I attended a pivotal HV Safety conference in Sydney, where broad agreement was reached between the industry, enforcement agencies and policy folk from transport agencies that there was a need to impose tough new COR laws to hold all parties in the chain responsible.

It was understood then that this would be the only way to get everyone held to account, especially those customers who simply didn’t care about the safety consequences of the demands they place on road transport timelines.

We all had high hopes that the onerous new COR laws, which started operating in 2008, would dramatically and effectively force the customers as well as the ratbag element of the trucking industry, to lift their game and adopt safe practices and work with their road transport suppliers to ensure lawful and safe operations.

Well it hasn’t.                                       

Yes there have been some improvements but not enough and increasingly over the past decade officials and the industry have been frustrated at the lack of real reforms in road transport work and logistics practices.

Sure the vast majority of the truck operators, the responsible and law abiding ones, have adapted and complied with the current COR laws.

We all know however that there is still a very significant problem with the lack of real accountability of parties removed from the steering wheel and especially with recalcitrant customers, including too many prime-contractor truck operators as well as some big-name non-trucking customers.

In 2018 we will get the new tougher COR laws that will make it far easier for the enforcement bodies to hold all parties accountable, including and especially the ones I just referred to.

Many of us in the industry, who are well informed, are gravely concerned that ineffective enforcement of the new COR Mark II laws will not achieve the necessary wide watershed reform in practices, including of customers’ demands and expectations.

Another abject failure of ministers, regulators and their COR laws to deliver safety and compliance improvements and a level playing field that does not continue to afford the cheats a commercial advantage, will only be averted if the authorities and the NHVR in particular, focus the primary thrust of the compliance and enforcement effort on the recalcitrant operators and the customer base.

Sure they must also continue to apply the new COR law generally to the industry but that must not be the primary focus because nothing will change if the enforcement effort primarily continues to target the easy pickings; truck drivers and owners.

All that would deliver is more enforcement stats.

It will not deliver significant and sustainable reform of practices and improved safety outcomes because the root cause, the customers’ demands, will not change.

Transport ministers are ultimately responsible for this.

They must ensure that the NHVR CEO and the police understand that the ministers expect lasting reform from the new COR laws and that to achieve this they require the NHVR and police to adopt a substantial and sustained focus on the customer base and the small minority of recalcitrant transport operators.

Ministers must accept and make clear to the NHVR CEO and police that they do not expect nor are they seeking, nor will they accept, significant stats of COR enforcement against typical and generally law-abiding and safe individual truck drivers and owners as proof that they are enforcing the law effectively.

The reality is that with the relatively limited resources available to them, the NHVR will achieve far more significant and far longer-lasting safety and compliance improvements if they focus primarily at the pointy top end of the pyramid where the customers rule.

Despite making numerous comments about this and engaging in various discussions with the NHVR and officials, we are just are not seeing or hearing anything that gives us confidence that a significant and sustained effort will be made to tackle the customer top of the logistics pyramid.

We have argued that the NHVR should reach out to the customer base through the numerous chambers of commerce, as almost all of the many tens of thousands of their members would be customers of the road transport industry.

It was clear at the recent discussions in Melbourne and Sydney about the new COR laws and Codes of Practice that the vast majority of customers, even the larger corporate customers, are blissfully ignorant of the impending COR laws and even of the existing COR laws!

It is extraordinary that even here in SA, where the president of Business SA (BSA) also happens to be a director on the board of the NHVR, we have not been able to get BSA to engage.

We even arranged, after some serious arm-twisting, a meeting of the CEO and president of BSA with SA Police, SafeWorkSA, DPTI and SARTA, but it was a complete waste of time and BSA might as well have said "tell someone who cares".

More recent attempts by officials have been no more successful.

So the big question about the new COR laws is whether or not ministers understand the need for the enforcement of the new COR HVNL reforms to include a major focus on the customer base and not just focus on the low-hanging truck driver/owner fruit and also whether or not ministers have made that clear to enforcement agencies including the NHVR.

The success of the COR reforms in delivery better outcomes hinges upon this. 

Steve Shearer is the executive officer of South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA).

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