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Truck licence changes go to National Cabinet committee

Forklift licence age limit reduction knocked back but hope remains for other ideas


The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has expressed disappointment that National Cabinet has blocked one option to tackle the industry’s skills shortage but has hopes for others.

Off the agenda for the moment is the conditional opening of forklift operator training to 16-year-olds, after prime minister Scott Morrison mentioned it this week and understanding of the context failing to emerge subsequently.

It was one of several ideas industry put forward to governments as the country looks to tackle pandemic-induced transport and logistics disruption in the immediate and longer terms.

“National Cabinet considered the trucking industry’s proposals to support the freight and logistics effort including reducing the age of eligibility to apply for a forklift license [sic], recognition of New Zealand truck driver licenses [sic] in Australia and having experience or competency based licencing for heavy vehicle driver licenses [sic],” the statement reads.

“New Zealand and Australian driver license [sic] matters have been referred to the National Cabinet Infrastructure and Transport Reform Committee for consideration and National Cabinet agreed not to progress the industry’s proposed forklift license [sic] changes.”

ATA chair David Smith told ATN the industry had sought an easier path for early school leavers to come into and progress in the sector for decades, with forklifts being a particular avenue seen to have promise.

“We don’t want an unsafe workplace,” Smith underlined, noting the concept was married to competence-based development and close supervision.

The issue has been state regulatory impediments to training less-academically inclined youth who would otherwise baulk at “washing trucks for two years” and be tempted elsewhere.

“The industry has been losing school leavers because of that hurdle,” Smith said.

“This has been going on for a long time.”

The ATA has been stung by what it regards as misinformed or lazy criticism of options in the industry’s and economy’s time of need, when none have otherwise been offered.

Smith pointed to fast-tracking Afghan truck drivers, who had supported the Australian war effort in that country, to plug skills gaps in the Pilbara as one worth serious consideration.

In a similar vein, he sees easing the path of New Zealand truck drivers who wish to relocate as one immediate recourse that could be implemented with little drama.

But he emphasised that so much was predicated on a strong and well-structure training sector.

Meanwhile, the Transport Workers Union (TWU) estrangement from the peak body’s along with its ideological opposition to the federal Coalition government came to the fore in its response.

“Rushing through weakened licencing requirements for truck drivers will only make Australia’s deadliest industry more dangerous,” the TWU said.

The union said it had been pushing governments to implement structured, thought-through competency-based licensing for years, but the new changes proposed by National Cabinet come without any consultation with it.

“This is yet another panicked, half-baked response from a government that has ignored warnings and failed to plan for the reality of Covid-19,” national assistant secretary Nick McIntosh said.

“Now the Morrison government is just falling back into bad habits of listening to the bosses, or unrepresentative swill by the likes of the Australian Trucking Association, who see this crisis as an opportunity to cut corners and erode safety standards.

“Scaling back hours required to obtain a trucker’s licence and opting instead for a cereal box licensing scheme will only make our roads more deadly.”

The union noted that, so far in 2022, 12 people killed in truck crashes, including three truck drivers.

“We already know what the outcome will be if we weaken licensing requirements,” McIntosh said.

“Last time we discussed licensing, training changes, and reliance on foreign drivers, we had truckies who were blocking tunnels they couldn’t fit under because they didn’t know how to reverse the truck. Before anyone gets behind the wheel they need training.”

The response was not all negative, with the union noting a 2021 Senate report into improving transport safety, recommended improving regulation around truck licensing and underlining that it supports experience and competency based licensing if it is evidence-based and properly introduced.

“The government has ignored every effort to make roads and trucking safer – from ignoring the need for RATs to keep the supply chain running to dismissing the comprehensive recommendations of a two-year long Senate Inquiry into the trucking industry.

“Now Scott Morrison is panicking and trying to put band-aid solutions to cover his own mess.”

Morrison yesterday expanded on what the National Cabinet decisions were about.

“We took, I took the industry proposals that had come from our consultation in the transport sector for discussion at National Cabinet today,” he said.

“We agreed to proceed no further with the issue of 16-year-old forklift drivers. It was a matter raised with us with the industry.

“We had a good discussion about it today and that is not something that we believe, collectively, that that should be pursued at this time.

“We also agreed, though, to proceed through the Transport Ministers’ National Cabinet Subcommittee on the proposals regarding licensing and ensuring that we can have an experience-based licensing system for our road transport long haul operators and other truck drivers, that can also recognise New Zealand licences to ensure we can get more of those truck drivers into truck cabs now, who are needed because of the furloughing impacts of Covid. But also, this is an issue which is an ongoing issue.

“And so, presently, the system is based on time, as opposed to actual experience of driving. So the example is that you would get a license after a number of years, as opposed to a number of hours actually driving. So should be based on your experience of driving, just not the lapsing of time.

“We think that’s better for safety, as well as getting more truck drivers into truck cabs more quickly to deal with those labour shortages not, just not now, but into the future.”


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