Why WA refuses to sign on to the HVNL

With the review of the national truck law well underway, we asked truckie and popular podcast host Mike Williams to tackle the biggest elephant in the room.

The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) is supposed to be national.

The clue should be in the name. It’s not. The HVNL does not exist in Western Australia, or the Northern Territory.

In recent times the question has been asked why WA and the NT decline to be a part of it? Why don’t they join the eastern states?

We talk about what states do wrong all the time. What those faults are and how wrong they are is a matter of opinion. It’s fairly universally agreed though, that WA pretty much gets road transport right.

They have a well-deserved reputation for taking pragmatic decisions to transport issues. Whether people like it or not, WA pays the greatest share of Australia’s bills by generating about 60 per cent of Australia’s total export income. Road transport plays a significant role in generating that income. A fact recognised by government.

The variety and capacity of useable combinations speaks to a willingness to listen to transport operators and employ the public road network to the benefit of the state and therefore the public.

They look at the needs and then work towards those. Many believe this is a lesson that could be well learned from WA. Roads are a public asset. Fair wear and tear on that asset should be expected and managed.

However, it seems eastern state road managers have a different view on this.

On the useable combination point, twin steer prime movers are far more common in the west, there’s a financial benefit to using them. There’s also a clear safety benefit. A blown steer tyre on a twin steer is a very different proposition.

An example of pragmatic, timely decision-making: there was bumper harvest in 2017. It was obvious there were going to be serious issues getting the harvest off and into silos.

Growers, transport industry and regulator sat down and worked out what needed to be done. Practical solutions were put in place, including expanding the RAV network across the 1000km of the wheat belt. The whole problem was discussed, agreed and implemented in about 10 days before the problems asserted themselves when the harvest commenced.

It’s not perfect but when the need arises decision-makers get together and make it work. Can the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator do that? Most would say no.

The big innovation that separates WA from the eastern states is AMMS (accredited mass management scheme) and the network of roads covered by the scheme.

Simply put, there are three levels in the network. Trucks and trailers are registered and accredited to level 1,2 or 3. There are road network maps that show where vehicles at different levels can be run and there are no more permit issues. It’s a level playing field. Once a route is accredited it becomes accessible to everyone. No individual applications are required.

Another key difference is the way transport law is enforced in WA. Unlike eastern states, fatigue management is viewed and dealt with as an OH&S issue and therefore regulations are not enforced by police.

General road laws obviously remain in the Police domain but law specific to road transport is only enforced by Main Roads. There is a fiction that anything goes in WA. That simply isn’t true. The rules are slightly different. There is more flexibility, legal work records are kept and are required to be produced at times. Certainly not in the same way as in eastern states, however.

Individual driver fatigue management is also taken care of by main roads. On the main roads web site drivers are required to log on and work through the fatigue management modules and issued a certificate on completion. This is a free service. No training provider to stick their hand in your pocket!

There have been calls to remove police from some areas of enforcement in the eastern states and adopt a model akin to WA. National Road Freighters Association president Rod Hannifey is among the those making that call. He is not alone. Many (me included) believe he has a solid point.

Mining is the lifeblood of WA. There are monster loads moved to support mining. Permits are managed by Main Roads and usually issued in a couple of days. Critically, Main Roads does not have to go to local government and ask permission to use roads.

WA has also given escort pilots authorised powers to close bridges etc to help keep loads moving.

The road network has been assessed and permits issued in line with those pre-existing assessments. WA has also given escort pilots authorised powers to close bridges etc to help keep loads moving.

For the really big loads Main Roads has its own escort wardens who have the red and blue lights with authority to make instant on the spot decisions on traffic management around the load. Police escorts are not required.

In contrast the NHVR has to ask each local government and toll road owner for permission. They get caught up in a mire of competing interests and that creates problems and therefore delays. In any business idle assets and lost time costs money. It’s as simple as that.

It’s all about keeping the freight, no matter what it is, moving. Yes, WA pays more for permits, but that money is used to help fund under-grounding low power lines or other OSOM (over-size, over-mass) restrictions

The fear in WA is if they did join the HVNL, then WA’s practical approach would be lost. Things that may work on the east coast may not work in WA. There is concern that transport in WA would be dictated to and lose its voice.

It’s also hard to argue your case when you’re separated by three time zones. Add to that the general lack of understanding or perhaps don’t care attitude of some and then the whole ‘how do you appeal?’, or even, ‘who do you appeal to?’, issue.

It seems obvious that these are problems that do exist for member states on the east coast.

Cam Dumesny, the CEO of Western Roads Federation, told me that five or six years ago, one of the old guard ATA directors on meeting him for the first time demanded to know, “When would WA grow up and join the HVNL?”

Now he has interstate counterparts routinely saying they wish they’d chosen a different path.

Again, it’s not perfect, it could be better, but it’s about being practical.

You can contact Mike Williams via @theoztrucker on twitter, On The Road podcast (@otrpodcastaus) on Facebook or go to ontheroadpodcast.com.au to leave a comment, email him directly mike@ontheroadpodcast.com.au or call him on 0418722488.

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