A seat at the table for truckies


On Saturday, July 9, the National Road Freighters Association (NRFA) held its first face-to-face conference since before the Covid situation began and brought conferences and the multitude of other normal aspects of our lives to a halt.

Zoom meetings have been par for the course so it was a great thing to finally catch up with old friends and make some new ones at the venue in Toowoomba.

I’m well on the record saying I believe our transport industry is in trouble. I’m not on my own there. Parts of it are broken and need urgent attention. That’s why it was gratifying to see such a diverse group of voices in one location addressing the same issues. Unfortunately, I suspect that it is an indication of the depth and number of challenges we face that brings the voices together.

It was also the first chance we’ve had to see our new Assistant Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Senator Carol Brown, in action. To listen to her views and really see what she’s bringing to the table. It’s got to be hard to be appointed to a role where so much is expected. Let’s face it, we’ve been neglected under the previous government and dealt a foul blow just before they departed with the cynical vote grab attempt on fuel excise which saw our industry slapped in the face with no warning at all.

We’re not the easiest bunch to get to know either: we’re cynical, we’ve been hit before and we keep getting hit.

It’s hard to build trust and relationships. I was blunt in my assessment that when the cabinet appointments were announced we’d been hit again. I said, and I own it, that the majority of us wouldn’t have been able to pick Senator Brown out of a line-up. After meeting her, seeing her in action, listening to her words and her obvious sincerity I’ve got no problem saying she earned my respect, if only for the fact she walked into a room full of truckies and industry representatives from across the board.

For some it would have been the easy choice to be unavailable and avoid the scrutiny. Senator Brown spoke with authority giving commitment to do whatever she could to move us forward.

The commitments to rest area funding will be honoured – $80 million is the largest single commitment to rest areas we’ve seen, more than that, we have the guarantee that truckies direct where those funds are spent, not pencil pushers who’ve never had to spend a night in a rest area.

Recommendations from Senator Sterle’s inquiry will be prioritised and work commenced on appropriate steps to enact positive change. My understanding also is when that excise cut returns to fuel, as it must, the fuel tax credit will be reinstated. This certainly will be a relief to many.

I believe we have a friend in Senator Brown who will listen to industry representatives and with the able assistance of Senator Sterle mark a distinct and welcome change in approach to the previous government. Let’s see where we are in six months.

The afternoon was devoted to question and answer by a panel including (in no order of preference): NRFA president Rod Hannifey, NRFA NSW director Craig Forsyth, Senator Glenn Sterle, NTI risk assessment engineer Adam Gibson, TWU NSW/QLD state secretary Richard Olsen, NHVR CEO Sal Petroccitto, and ATA CEO Michael Deegan. All the panellists, with the exception of Forsyth, had spoken in the morning session.

The expert panel fielded some tough questions but truckies in attendance but were open in their responses.

It was an enlightening session that brought forward some of the real issues facing trucking. The panel were open in their responses. There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to be fellow travellers on many of the issues. It was said quite openly that the NRFA will have a seat at the table when industry issues are discussed. For me this is an important recognition of the willingness of both government and the NHVR to listen to the views of drivers and consider the impact on us actually doing the work. It’s also an indication of the value of joining some organisation to get your voice heard. If not the NRFA then the TWU or some other organisation. The NTC representative who presented in the morning session didn’t participate in the panel discussion.

The dinner on Saturday night was well attended with Glenn ‘Yogi’ Kendall the NRFA delegate from WA entertaining the guests with his usual brand of irreverent story telling. Yogi had a message though, that is that he feels there’s been a change in the etiquette within the industry. We’re not as tolerant of each other as we once were and drivers now coming into the industry could perhaps learn that it doesn’t hurt to treat each other with respect and also that respect is a two way street.

Several awards were presented.The Noel Porter Award was presented to Glenn Sterle by Rod Hannifey for his contribution to transport over the covid period and his dedication to improvement driver access to facilities.

Four recipients of the Terrie Bradley Award were named. These were Sally Tipping, Angela Welsh, Shelley Mitchell and Leanne Dyer for their hard work and service to the industry in an administrative role and their work during the Covid crisis. NRFA life membership was awarded to dedicated member Herb Adkins.

The night was rounded out with a vigorous and also humorous auction seeing some premium prices paid for a huge variety of trucking bits and pieces. It was more fun than I’ve had in a long time.

I thank the NRFA for inviting me to MC the event. I’m proud to be a member.

You can contact me via @theoztrucker on twitter, On The Road Podcast (@otrpodcastaus) on Facebook or go to ontheroadpodcast.com.au to leave a comment and see links to the show, or email me directly at mike@ontheroadpodcast.com.au.

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