OPINION: Diamonds in the rough

By: John Beer

Road transport is shining bright and showing the way amid the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic

OPINION: Diamonds in the rough
How do we make transport better?


According to Henry Kissinger, famous US politician, a diamond is just a piece of coal that did well under pressure. Who would have thought six months ago that we would see the current circumstances of Covid-19 that we are now dealing with?

It’s funny isn’t it, the focus on showers and toilets and food for truck drivers has been both frustrating and fantastic. Many of us could see the problem of access well before the politicians and law makers, but at least they got things addressed pretty quickly so transport could keep the wheels moving. There was even some really good bipartisanship in solving the issues.

Many of you have said and will say in the future that Covid-19 was a bit of a blessing, because some places have toilets and showers that sparkle like a brand-new set of chrome rims. Thanks to cleaning and sanitising and staff that take it seriously and care about drivers, there are service centres that are a pleasure to go to. That and the lessening of traffic on the roads and freeways, well it isn’t all bad!

What I’ve seen is that small grass roots associations have their ear to the ground, they respond quickly, they know the issues and they get straight onto fixing stuff without caring about who gets the credit.

For state livestock and rural transporter associations like the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria, our resources are small and we are all operators except for our part time secretariats.

But I will pay credit to our colleagues in Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and Victoria who did a power of work to help smooth border processes, and to share information widely to everyone, not just their members.

Thanks to people like Peter Anderson from the Victorian Transport Association, Steve Shearer of the South Australian Road Transport Association, Cam Dumesny of the Western Roads Federation and Gary Mahon of the Queensland Trucking Association who have provided advice, resources and advocacy that has helped operators and drivers across the country.

They helped them get where they needed to go, helped them navigate paperwork and processes and helped them understand the rules and getting things fixed when it goes pear shaped. Not all those drivers realise what others have done for them, but that’s the facts.

Vital supply chain

If I had a crystal ball, I wonder if it would tell me that this time in our history will show what we need to do to make transport better. The general public opinion of truck drivers is high right now, but perhaps the link between the supply chain and the availability of toilet paper was needed to hammer that home!

It might also help that many aren’t commuting in peak hour, as I suspect the warm fuzzies for truck drivers might evaporate as quickly as that pallet of toilet paper in Aldi did a few months ago if we once again see all those small vehicles back on the road.

But the point is, people have been reminded about how food and fibre, every product gets to them or gets to processers and market. Like it or not, trucks are vital to our economy, to our way of life. The thought of trucks stopping was enough to launch many Australians to panic buy us close to a supply chain collapse for weeks. And people have recognised that truck drivers deserve a meal, a shower and a clean toilet to allow them to do their work.

Praise where due

So how do we keep this going? Well, there are some in our industry who have been noisy, complaining about state border restrictions, saying we should all park up and make them take notice of all our various grievances. Or say we just shouldn’t have any rules at all right now.

I say no. You get what you give. If we want to be taken seriously, if we want Mr and Mrs Public on our side then we present them with the facts, we do our job and we show them what we do and put up with.

There are pages where drivers have posted good and bad photos of service centres, with praise for good food and service and clean facilities.

Let’s give praise where it’s due, and not forget service centres have staff that are people just like us. They don’t want to get sick, just like we don’t.

But we must stay on message. This is not the time to bring up old war stories and reminisce about battles fought and lost. Transport is a diamond, made stronger by pressure over many years.

We must be about preserving what we have not tearing it down with threats and complaints that are simply ridiculous.

Let’s work together, let’s argue about the real problems without the politics and partisan crap.

We must keep showing people that trucks and drivers keep our country moving, keep us alive. Just like a gemstone, let’s show all our positive and fantastic facets to Australians so they value us like they should while showing them how well it’s done by professional operators.

John Beer is president of the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria.


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