ATA warns state Covid dysfunction could shut down industry


Failures seen on co-ordination, consultation and facility accessibility

ATA warns state Covid dysfunction could shut down industry
Ben Maguire

 

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has come out swinging over the failure of governments to deal cohesively with Victoria’s Covid-19 outbreak.

The national industry body has accused governments of succumbing to narrow-focused confusion when instituting different testing requirements on truck drivers, failing to address the key issues raised by industry and failing to provide convenient and accessible testing facilities.   

"The Australian and state governments must take immediate action or interstate road freight will effectively shut down," ATA CEO Ben Maguire says in the wake of the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) warning that the present course will lead to transport and supply chain chaos. 

"What we know today is that Queensland is encouraging drivers to be tested, South Australia and Western Australia require it for some drivers, and that it’s completely unclear what NSW is doing."

The NSW Government announced overnight that freight workers crossing the border from Victoria should have a Covid-19 test every seven days.  

"The first paragraph of the NSW Government announcement says it is announcing ‘new requirements’," Maguire says. 

"Paragraph four says that enforcement has not commenced, and that it’s just a recommendation. The paragraph then reverses course and, at the end, says it’s a requirement. 

"Is it a recommendation or a requirement? It’s completely unclear, and we need clarity most of all in these uncertain times." 

Maguire says that NSW had ignored a critical issue raised by industry – the need to make it clear that freight workers do not have to self-isolate after screening tests. 

"People tested for Covid-19 are generally required to self-isolate until the results come in. That’s appropriate if you are having a test because you have symptoms or are a close contact of a known case. It is not appropriate if you are having the test as a mandatory weekly screen," he continues. 

"Requiring truck drivers to self-isolate until they have results would mean they would have to spend up to five days a week waiting around for a text message. 

"In contrast, the Queensland Government takes the sensible approach of not requiring screened drivers to self-isolate, unless they have symptoms or are a close contact.

"The South Australian legal direction clearly envisages that drivers are not required to self-isolate unless they have symptoms or are a close contact, but clinics and some police seem to be unaware of this.  

"Governments must, as a matter of urgency, put in place a clear system so drivers who undertake screening tests are not required to self-isolate.  

"Governments must also ensure that drivers who receive tests get immediate evidence showing the test was done."

The ATA believes that governments had failed the test of providing convenient and accessible testing facilities.   


Read how the VTA rang the alarm on the chaos threat, here


"Testing clinics are generally not accessible to drivers in trucks. I know of one truck driver in Mount Gambier who parked up a fully loaded, B-double fuel tanker to get a lift into town for a test," Maguire says. 

"Clinics are not just poorly located.

"Their hours of operation are a huge problem.

"It’s not good enough to tell interstate truck drivers that they can present at the clinic any time during office hours. Truck drivers work long hours and are often required to sleep during the day. 

"Meanwhile, the Victorian Government has banned testing people unless they have symptoms or have been referred by a contact tracer.  

"All state governments need to have a system so that truck drivers subject to these requirements can get tested. It could be as simple as the South Australian approach of having a special form marked ‘truck driver.’" 

"On Friday, the National Cabinet agreed to an interstate freight protocol that was supposed to resolve this sort of confusion.  

"But it’s just made the problem worse, because the states are each implementing the protocol differently and ignoring the sections intended to reduce red tape.  

"State governments need to stop, think, talk to the industry and put in place proper testing facilities before they go any further.  

"If necessary, the Australian Government should provide military support to help deliver 24/7 testing on interstate freight corridors."

Critique of NSW

Meanwhile, the NSW government copped a kicking also from its state industry body, Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) in a statement echoing the ATA’s.

RFNSW CEO Simon O’Hara saysthe announcement just added more confusion.

"The first paragraph of the NSW Government announcement says it is announcing ‘new requirements’," O’Hara says.

"Paragraph four says that enforcement has not commenced, and that it’s just a recommendation. The paragraph then reverses course and, at the end, says it’s a requirement.

"Paragraph six says that drivers who cannot meet the requirements of their permit may be denied entry to NSW.

"So is the testing a requirement or a recommendation?

"And if it is a requirement, where is the legal instrument that imposes it?"

RFNSW regards the announcement as ignoring a critical issue raised by industry – the need to make it clear that freight workers do not have to self-isolate after screening tests.

"NSW requires people tested for Covid-19 to self-isolate until the results come in," O’Hara says.

"That’s appropriate if you are having a test because you have symptoms or are a close contact of a known case.

"It is not appropriate if you are having the test as a mandatory weekly screen.

"Requiring truck drivers to self-isolate until they have results would mean they would have to spend up to five days per week waiting around for a text message.

"In contrast, the Queensland Government takes the sensible approach of not requiring screened drivers to self-isolate, unless they have symptoms or are a close contact."

O’Hara backs the ATA’s position on providing adequate testing facilities.

"The State Government does not have a single testing clinic that is easily accessible for a driver in a truck. Not one," he says.

"There is no evidence that it plans to set any up. And yet it expects every truck driver crossing the border from Victoria to have a test every seven days.

"The truck drivers won’t be able to be tested in Victoria before they cross the border – the Victorian Government has banned testing people who unless they have symptoms or have been referred by a contact tracer.

"The NSW Government says it is committed to working with industry to keep freight moving.

"It could make a good start by withdrawing this announcement and working with the industry to develop consistent, workable testing arrangements."

RFNSW points out that, as matters stand:

  • NSW: either encourages or requires testing. It’s not clear. All persons who receive a test must self-isolate.
  • Victoria: all persons who receive a test must self-isolate. But only people with symptoms or who are referred by contact tracers can be tested.
  • Queensland: encourages testing. Asymptomatic drivers who are screened routinely can continue to work.
  • South Australia: truck drivers entering the state from NSW, Victoria or the ACT must have a weekly test. Asymptomatic drivers who are screened routinely can continue to work.

"RFNSW is looking for a workable solution to this issue so that we can provide certainty for freight and keep supermarket shelves stocked," O’Hara says.

 

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