Industry bodies critique border control freight protocol approach

By: Rob McKay

Conception and execution seen as falling at the first state-interest hurdle

Industry bodies critique border control freight protocol approach
The industry decries states’ approaches to border rules


Transport and logistics concerns at the border control regulatory realities continue unabated.

The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has accused state governments of ignoring the Domestic Border Control Freight Movement Protocol to as soon as they agreed to it.

And the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) believes the seeds of the current disfunction and lack of leadership, which the industry believes threatens supply chains and therefore raises the risk of shortages, was baked into the protocol itself.

The ALC insists all governments need to adhere to the terms of they agreed to last Friday by ensuring consistent and accessible arrangements for Covid-19 testing for freight drivers.

"It is disappointing that many of the changes to border arrangements announced over the past 24 hours have occurred without proper consultation with industry," ALC CEO Kirk Coningham says. 

"The lack of consultation directly contravenes the national protocol that all state and territories agreed to last Friday." 

Coningham notes that the protocol explicitly says that state and territory authorities "...should consult with other relevant governments, regulators and with industry in relation to border controls at shared borders to ensure that requirements are communicated and understood.

"What is occurring now is the antithesis of that provision – with changes being imposed with little to no warning, and inadequate time for industry to comply.

"It is especially concerning that some jurisdictions have now mandated negative Covid-19 test results for drivers coming from Victoria, yet Victorian authorities are explicitly discouraging anyone who is asymptomatic from obtaining a Covid-19 test.

"This leaves freight vehicle drivers travelling interstate from Victoria in an impossible position of being unable to comply with the requirements of one government because of the instructions given by another.

"The protocol agreed to last Friday was intended to deliver clarity and consistency for the industry.

"It is time that all governments lived up to those commitments and ensure that if they are going to require Covid-19 testing, they have the resources in place that will allow it to occur."

For SARTA, the leeway states allowed themselves in the protocol drives fragmented outcomes.

"The biggest weakness is that we don’t have a truly national approach," SARTA director Steve Shearer tells ATN.

"There was a warm and fuzzy code that came out on Friday but if you read it, it doesn’t have any tangible specific about what is going to happen at borders in it.

"It’s got some guiding principles but that open to every jurisdiction to do completely different things in accordance to those guiding principles."

He sees a better approach being agreed uniform rules so avoidable confusion is negated.

"At the end of the day, I actually don’t think it’s risking much in terms of Covid breaking out, what it’s doing is stuffing people’s business up as everybody tries to comply," he says.

 "If you can’t, with clarity, tell your operations managers and through them your drivers what’s going to happen and how it’s going to work, and what you can and can’t do, it’s a bit bloody hard to get a 300-truck fleet rolling on the road."

Shearer insists a simpler solution to the problem of Victoria having a testing regime out of step with South Australia and NSW is for the Victorian government to ease that restriction.

"Victoria could allow essential travellers to be tested, even when they are asymptomatic, as part of that national arrangement, and 90 per cent of Victoria’s problem would go away," he says.  

Read how state and federal transport bodies have raised the alarm, here

More locally, Shearer notes the SA industry has significant issues with access to testing.

"It’s not 24/7 like it needs to be, it’s not in the right places both in terms of the right places on the map and accessibility to heavy vehicles," he points out.

Shearer relates the experience of a driver at Tailem Bend who, after two-an-a-half hours waiting, was six trucks back from a testing station with 30 behind only to be told staff members were finishing for the day as it was 5pm.

Despite some drivers complaining about the lack of testing on some occasions, the dangers of truck queues to safe driving – especially in foggy conditions that have occurred this week but also to increasing driver fatigue, not to mention police safety – has been recognised.  

One is said to have been as long as 3km before senior SA Police stepped in.

Meanwhile, the Victorian Transport Association (VTA), which was quick to raise the alarm on the threat of chaos, says all freight transport modes remain under threat due to lack of regulatory cohesion.

"The directive to start the process of testing drivers puts every Victorian based operator into contradiction with current state law," VTA CEO Peter Anderson tells his members in an association update.

"The disruption to the supply chains will be huge and will include general freight, air freight, cement, livestock, dairy, timber and more industry sectors if this directive goes ahead.

"The VTA is working hard to ensure that this issue is reviewed and approached from a different angle.

"There is no doubt that the number of COVID cases in Victoria creates alarm in other states.

"I am sure no one would be against random testing at the border.

"It would have the same results as random checking of a seven day test."

Anderson reinforces concerns he receives from his members.

"The coal face reaction from operators has been overwhelming in its concern and confusion on what these directions mean to their businesses," he states.


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