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NatRoad throws its weight behind Senate probe

Sterle outlines direction and circumstances of industry inquiry


The Senate’s impending road freight transport industry inquiry has gained National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) backing.

Senator Glenn Sterle has vigorously pursued the review, which is to focus on rates, conditions, recruitment, safety, technology and relations with government and authorities.  

“There are a number of transport industry inquiries currently underway, including a Productivity Commission inquiry into transport regulation and a National Transport Commission review into the Heavy Vehicle National Law,” CEO of NatRoad Warren Clark points out.

“We were part of devising the basis of the current Senate inquiry’s scope.

“The Inquiry will be useful in covering issues which focus on customer behaviour and the unacceptable culture that has developed in the industry.

“That must be the priority. For example, customers should not expect transport operators to accept substandard contracts which are unfortunately growing.”

The industry body is looking for inquiry outcomes that will ensure trucking avoids being lumbered with the shortfalls of powerful and overbearing customers that are offloading risk.

“NatRoad members tell that contract conditions in the industry are creating unfairness and are adding to commercial pressures,” Clark says.

“Often members are asked to sign contracts where they must ‘hold harmless’ the customer, which means they are effectively insuring the customer for all losses, with extended indemnities being required.

“This is one example of where the transport operator is asked to take on all of the risks associated with the contract, including indirect losses.

“Giving an indemnity in this one-sided way means making good any loss that arises.

“This includes a breach of the contract, but it also often extends to other events, including events over which the transport operator has no control that arise because of a breach.

“For the customer, it is like being insured against the loss; for the transport operator it can mean adding to the liabilities and losses associated with doing business.

“As we have said in giving input to other reviews, creating a more level playing field and improving contract terms and conditions must be seen as issues that need urgent attention.

“NatRoad policy to achieve these aims is for the federal Government to introduce a mandatory code for the industry under Part IVB of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth), which would address harsh payment terms in transport industry contracts inclusive of a ‘pay when paid’ prohibition.  That will be a matter we emphasise in our submission to the Senate Committee inquiry.

“In addition, looking at all of the fundamentals of how the industry operates and marrying them with the expected outcome of the Heavy Vehicle National Law will be a valuable process.”

Read how the industry has warmed to the inquiry, here

Meanwhile, Sterle has offered an insight into the inquiry, saying he wants it to cover the breadth and depth of industry concerns.

Speaking at the Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) conference, Sterle admits if Labor had won the 2019 federal election it would have pursued safe rates, albeit “done consultatively”, acknowledging that the former Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) was “terrible”.

Turning his attention to the inquiry now, he says he wants operators to “voice your concerns” around issues in industry – spotlighting the squeeze from the top of the supply chain or any incidences of noncompliant operations leading to a race to the bottom.

He notes the Coalition was reticent to having an inquiry “because there’s a review of the HVNL and an Office of Road Safety”, with crossbenchers forcing the issue.

Sterle hopes now that the inquiry will have a unifying effect with him at the helm, admitting that while there are “ideological boundaries we can’t cross … there is more that binds us [as an industry]”.

He says everything will be on the table for scrutiny from the inquiry, while also being conscious that “there will be lots of sensitivities” around the topics covered.

Therefore, he expects confidentiality will be accorded to some submissions.

“No one has to fear from the inquiry – only the ones not doing the right thing,” he says.

“If there are transport operators who want to share their concerns – I offer confidentiality.

“Everyone’s got a story of how someone went bust and went up in another name.

“When you lose work to someone flouting the law, it hurts.”

He also expects to take the inquiry to the regions, “connecting the bush with the cities”, speaking on record at town halls to talk or privately with vested parties.​


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