If you want to shape the future, don’t forget the past, says Warren Clark, NatRoad CEO. in this look at the issues facing the trucking industry today, because, as he points out, the more industry issues change, the more they stay the same.
Five years ago, our industry had a short-list of issues of concern in the run-up to the 2016 Federal election. We were calling on whoever formed government to take serious action to improve road safety.
The Parliament had rightly scrapped the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT), but there was concern about new and increased regulation that might replace it. And we all wanted more practical business support for trucking to keep operators afloat. Half a decade and two elections later, our industry’s focus isn’t much different.
Safety is still fundamental to how we operate, and governments at all levels still aren’t doing enough to improve it. The tsunami of COVID, supply chain disruptions, driver shortages and rising fuel prices that have driven some businesses to the wall are continuing to compound tiny operating margins, making life tougher for those who remain.
And while a Labor Government would review labour laws, especially those pertaining to the gig economy, NatRoad still opposes any thought of exhuming the RSRT from the grave. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that all of the above remain real and present issues for us all.
It’s not that we haven’t had a lot of wins along the way in five years. What’s more of a problem is a lack of appetite for reform that pervades both sides of government. There are good people on both Coalition and Labor teams and at the State and Territory levels, but it takes more than the words of a few to change the will of the many.
Our history as a Commonwealth is that doing as little as possible to align ourselves with each other is more often than not the default behaviour. The national regulations that supposedly govern how we operate have grown to be increasingly unwieldy and difficult to apply.
We need to take things down to simple principles. We are an essential industry. The pandemic proved that beyond doubt. So we must ask our politicians if they want us to thrive, then why do we have a regulatory system that assumes the truck driver is always in the wrong, and penalties are applied that don’t fit the so-called crime?
Misspelling a town’s name in a travel diary should not be a fineable offence. Unless it’s a bald-faced attempt to say you were someone else, I’m struggling to think how it can even deserve a warning.
Fractionally exceeding a speed limit when driving to conditions, while accommodating the behaviour of seemingly unaware motorists to avoid a collision, should invoke a warning and not the automatic imposition of a hefty fine and loss of points. Yes, there’s always an appeal process but the costs of legally challenging infringement notices is too high, especially when the prosecutor regularly claims their costs.
For us to thrive as an industry, roads need to be better and we need more rest stops. So tie Federal road grants to states and make it mandatory that they adopt better design and rest areas as a condition of funding.
The Federal Government’s own figures show that heavy vehicle charges recover about $22 out of every $100 spent on roads, yet only $17 out of every $100 spent on roads by the Australian Government supports freight.
NatRoad was right behind Pre-Budget calls on the Australian Government to take responsibility for funding and operating all major freight roads. It should then upgrade them all to meet minimum safety star ratings, apply national rest area guidelines, drive productivity outcomes and mandate mandatory service level standards.
The annual spend on rest areas alone is only about $5.5m, which is woefully inadequate when you consider how many lives could be saved by building more.