The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association reckons it has had a good experience with the red tape removal squad, but it is also lamenting how difficult sensible regulatory reform can be to achieve within a federated regulatory system.
The Federal Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport, the Hon. Scott Buchholz MP, came, listened, and fixed a regulatory problem of great significance for livestock transport in the eastern states after consultation with the ALRTA.
The problem was that farmers could not pre-apply for a permit to move livestock using a commercial carrier. This meant that, after being approached by a farmer, a transport operator would often need to apply for their own permit before moving the livestock, a process that could take up to 28 days.
The livestock market is highly dynamic. Prices are constantly changing in response to seasonal conditions and regional supply and demand balances. Decisions to buy or sell livestock are often made at short notice to take advantage of new opportunities. That means decisions to move livestock are also made at short notice. A 28 day delay is simply unworkable.
The permit system does actually allow freight consignors to pre-apply for permits before engaging a carrier. However, this only works if a generic permit is issued that can be used for any vehicle matching a general description, for example a standard B-double. A consignor with such a permit can contact any carrier, who can then send any vehicle matching the description. If something unforeseen happens to that vehicle, another can be substituted that matches the description. This system has potential to work well for most class 2 heavy vehicles.
However, a quirk of regulation results in livestock vehicles being treated differently. While s136 of the HVNL includes livestock vehicles (even those exceeding 4.3m in height) within the definition of ‘class 2’, this definition no longer applies if prescribed mass requirements are breached. Of course, practically all commercial livestock vehicles operate under a state livestock loading scheme which allows the vehicle to exceed otherwise prescribed mass limits. In effect, participation in a livestock loading scheme moves a vehicle out of class 2 and into class 3.
The irony is that all state jurisdictions then issue class 3 notices to exempt livestock vehicles operating under a livestock loading scheme from the prescribed mass limits. So, even though the vehicle is exempt from the very limit that pushed it from class 2 into class 3, it technically remains a class 3 vehicle.
And here is the rub. Unlike class 2 permits, class 3 permits require the applicant to provide the specific registration details of the vehicle combination. Applications that do not include this information are invalid. A class 3 permit issued in response can only be used for that specific vehicle combination. In practice, farmers can’t be expected to know the vehicle registration details of a vehicle they have not yet engaged to do a job. As a result, permit pre-approvals have not been a workable option in the livestock sector.
The issue is the result of multiple layers of regulation interacting across multiple jurisdictions and multiple road authorities, all within a rigid permit approval framework.
The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association explained this problem to Assistant Minister Buchholz in early 2020. With his background as a road transport operator, he immediately grasped the problem and asked why the requirement for registration details on class 3 permits couldn’t just be removed? It was a good question, but one with a long and confusing answer. After listening to the explanation, the Assistant Minister pondered the situation and agreed to help.
The Assistant Minister’s understanding of the problem and desire to resolve it was a vital part of driving a solution through the system. This simple removal of registration details for a class 3 livestock permit involved the ALRTA, the Minister’s office, NHVR legal, NHVR management, NHVR Board, all HVNL state transport departments and all state HVNL police departments.
There can be no doubt that this reform was worth the effort. Removal of the vehicle registration requirement from class 3 permits will give farmers greater certainty, more choice and access to lower cost transport options. Carriers can immediately accept jobs without the red tape and delay of having to applying for their own permit.
But this was a relatively simple regulatory change. It just removed one unnecessary piece of information from a complex assessment process. No laws were changed, safety is unaffected and proper permits must still be obtained. This change required months of effort. More ambitious changes can take years.
As a national industry association with six state members and over 700 member operators, ALRTA is well resourced to lobby for sensible regulatory reform and has an excellent track record of success. ALRTA understands the political and regulatory decision-making process and strives to maintain mutually beneficial relationships at all levels.
There are plenty of regulatory problems. By joining one of the ALRTA’s six state associations operators can be part of the solution.