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We’ll listen to industry on national regs: Henneveld

Top bureaucrat overseeing the move to national regulations pledges engagement with industry, amid concerns over how reform will affect operators

by Brad Gardner | September 17, 2010

The bureaucrat overseeing the move to national trucking regulations has pledged to engage with the industry, amid concerns of how the reforms will affect operators.

Main Roads Western Australia Managing Director Menno Henneveld (pictured) last week committed to consulting trucking operators on changes to heavy vehicle regulations to be introduced in 2013.

Henneveld, who was earlier this year appointed the chair of a government body overseeing the establishment of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, says the success of the initiative hinges on addressing industry needs.

“If we don’t achieve this and we finish up with a National Heavy Vehicle Regulator that doesn’t meet industry needs then we’ve failed,” he says.

“We need to listen to industry concerns. We need to address industry concerns, not just put them to one side and say ‘we’ve heard that before’.”

Henneveld made the comments during annual conference of the Livestock and Rural Transport Association (LRTA) of Western Australia, where he also gave a commitment on existing productivity measures.

“A priority of this board is going to be to ensure no existing productivity arrangements in existing jurisdictions are either lost or traded off,” he says.

“That means existing arrangements for permits, productivity permit arrangements and so on will remain.”

LRTA President Grant Robins expressed “a healthy cynicism” about the assurance of consultation and engagement due to last week’s release of a document outlining the different state and territory laws to be consolidated into a national model.

“All this has occurred without one bit of consultation to the industry or industry engagement,” Robins says.

The paper released by the National Transport Commission lists 12 existing laws to be included into one national law, including registration, charges, mass and loading, higher mass limits, speed compliance and fatigue management.

The NTC says 364 issues must be addressed to achieve cross-border consistency.

“The majority of issues result from factors such as differences in state and territory legal and law enforcement systems or from drafting practices,” it says.

A list of 11outstanding issues has been sent to an expert panel of five members independent of government and the transport industry. The panel will look at annual inspections, the ‘three strikes’ policy and reasonable steps under chain of responsibility.

The panel will also look at on-road compliance and enforcement, fatigue management and at what distance from their work should drivers carry a work diary.
Robins says the trucking industry needs transparency from government.

“Industry is not seeking consultation after the major decisions have been made. We are asking for greater transparency in how these conclusions are arrived at before they get to the point of no return,” Robins says.

He also questioned the need for national laws to be introduced in Western Australia due to the small number of operators he says work interstate.

“We did not support this option. With only five percent of heavy vehicles crossing the WA border I think we can be forgiven for asking how these reforms will benefit us.”

During the conference, Robins raised concerns over Western Australia’s fatigue management regulations, which differ to the schemes in eastern states. He fears they “will be unravelled in the interests of national uniformity”.

Unlike other states that restrict work time to 144 hours in any 14 day period, Western Australia permits 168 hours over the same time.

Drivers can also work for 17 hours in one day. NSW and Queensland allow drivers to work for 16 hours under the advanced fatigue management module, but only in extenuating circumstances.

Western Australian drivers can also work up to 24 days before a day off, the Department of Transport says.

Transport Forum WA CEO Ian King says the regime accounts for the sparsely populated regions drivers must travel through, adding that towns can be as much as 600km apart unlike those in eastern states.

Robins says Western Australia’s scheme is based on “sound science and is widely known to be successful”.

“It would be a courageous move to ignore our experience in preference to an untried system that may put lives at risk,” Robins warned.

He questioned why the expert panel did not include a member experienced in Western Australia’s fatigue management scheme.

“If WA’s system was going to be genuinely assessed there would have been an obvious inclusion. Alternatively we could assume that because WA’s system is not mentioned, WA’s system will be left alone,” Robins says.

While not completely ruling out any changes to the fatigue management scheme, Western Australian Transport Minister Simon O’Brien did express a reluctance to change it.

“We are being very cautious about adopting national fatigue management guidelines because we don’t think they have got a better system than we’ve got now,” he says, referring to eastern states.

As well as assuring consultation with industry the issue, O’Brien says government will work to ensure the state’s interests are protected and local operating conditions are retained.

“A lowest common denominator is simply not acceptable to us,” O’Brien says.

However, Henneveld sought to allay industry concerns over local conditions being swept aside by national regulations.

He says local productivity improvements will be enshrined in intergovernmental agreements and existing permit arrangements will be determined at a local level.

“We will not have a national heavy vehicle regulator issuing permits remotely,” Henneveld says.

“We’ll continue to determine which vehicles will have access to the WA road network. That’s the case for Western Australia and the same will apply in other jurisdictions.”

Furthermore, he says the regulator will be responsible for assessing productivity arrangements in one jurisdiction to see if they can be expanded elsewhere.

“Rather than this concern of the industry sinking to the lowest common denominator, I like to think of the industry rising to the highest common factor.” Henneveld says.

As well as Henneveled, the board overseeing the establishment of national regulations includes representatives from the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority, VicRoads, Queensland Transport and Main Roads and the NTC.

The regulator will be introduced in Queensland with offices nationwide. Queensland will be responsible for passing laws through its parliament, with other jurisdictions then introducing legislation to ensure national consistency.

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