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Opinion: A complete waste of time and money

National heavy vehicle law reform process needs a new start


The review of the national truck law has proved to be a waste of time and money. We need to start again.

The review started in November 2018, after the ATA and our members pointed out the problems with the existing law.

We pointed out that the law was stitched together from 13 different sources. All that was missing were the bolts in its neck.

We highlighted the complexity of the work and rest hour rules and the massive fines for drivers who made mistakes in their work diaries.

And we pointed out that the industry’s productivity had slumped since the law was introduced.

We provided comprehensive input to the review team at the National Transport Commission (NTC), including 11 detailed policy submissions.

Each submission involved a review of best practice and extensive internal consultation through our policy committees. We have a series of these committees, which consist of trucking business owners and managers, as well as staff from our member associations.

Throughout the pandemic – when they were frantically keeping Australia’s freight moving and borders open – our committee members found time to provide exceptional input to the review.

They shouldn’t have wasted their time. I deeply regret asking for their help.

In the three years since it started, the review has not resulted in a single change to the national truck law or its regulations.

Instead, last month, we saw the NTC’s first piece of finished work on the review: a proposal to replace standard hours with a new system of counting work and rest time.

The proposal would have been catastrophic. It would have reduced the income of a semi-trailer driver doing local deliveries by $24,000 per year.

The NTC sent the proposal out for one week of industry consultation. It was based on a handful of academic research papers. The ATA’s recommendations were ignored.

In its consultation meeting on the proposal, the NTC wouldn’t let us raise critical points, such as the need to trial the proposed hours either on the road or in a simulator.

After a week of vigorous discussion, the NTC decided to withdraw part of the proposal.

Read David Smith’s view on Australian trucking’s Covid efforts, here

We should all welcome the NTC’s decision, but it does not fix all the problems with its approach to fatigue or address the broader issues with the review.

Some people in the industry have argued that changes to standard hours aren’t a concern. Drivers could just get some training and move onto Basic Fatigue Management (BFM), they say.

But another part of the review is looking at BFM and National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) accreditation more generally. We simply don’t know where that part of the review will end up.

The ATA made this point to the NTC. We argued that a detailed look at work and rest hours was the wrong place to start, because the best answer was so dependent on the rest of the law.

Our arguments were, once again, ignored.

When they meet in December, Australia’s transport ministers should start again.

They should put together a panel of actual experts, supported by a small staff, to develop an approach to the national truck law based on best practice from around the world and industry insights.

The NTC’s work on the review would be an input to the panel’s work, as would the detailed submissions put by industry.

Given this head start, the expert panel should be able deliver a law that could come into force in 2023, a year ahead of any timeframe that the NTC process is likely to achieve.

And you could expect it to be a much better law than this waste of time and money.

David Smith chairs the Australian Trucking Association


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