Australian Trucking Association (ATA) CEO Michael Deegan is “cautiously optimistic” the industry will see some much-needed progress on the overhaul of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) this month.
State, territory, and federal transport ministers are due to meet on August 5 – their first sitting since the federal election – with the HVNL review by former RMS CEO Ken Kanofski expected to be a hot topic of conversation.
The National Transport Commission had yet to publicly release Kanofski’s findings, but Deegan gave Big Rigs an overview of what to expect.
Deegan stressed that he still thinks the ministers should throw out the long-winded HVNL and adopt the ATA’s simplified Road Transport Act instead, which among other things, calls for improved access for 53.5m combinations right across the road network.
But if they are going to listen to Kanofski, Deegan said the ATA has countered with a series of specific productivity upgrades in each state and territory.
In NSW, Deegan said the Sheahan Bridge northbound would be the “fundamental game-changer” for the Hume Highway.
In Queensland it would be construction of the Inland Freight Route, ‘the second Bruce Highway’ from Charters Towers in North Queensland to Mungindi in the NSW border.
Across the paddock it would be the Great Northern Highway upgrade to insure it against flooding, while in the NT it would be work on the Stuart Highway, also for weather-proofing reasons.
In Tasmania it would be the duplication of the Bass Highway, along with upgrades to Birralee Road to increase high-performance vehicle access, while in SA the ATA has lobbied for the completion of the Port Wakefield-Adelaide duplication.
“The next thing that Kanofski says is that road managers are the “ultimate access decision makers”.
“We don’t agree with that. We think they’re not entitled to their own opinions and views about what’s in the public interest,” added Deegan.
“They should be guided by ministers, and those decisions should be subject to merits-based review.”
Deegan, a former NTC chair and SA Transport Department boss, said the current permit system is “a joke” and should be scrapped.
“We should move on and focus on productivity improvements.
“A number of jurisdictions are picking up on the Tasmanian model for automated access, but Kanofski says ‘no, no, we should wait for the national stuff’.
“We just don’t have time – we can’t wait for that.”
Following the lead of the National Cabinet directive, Deegan said the ATA is pushing ministers to focus on productivity.
He told Big Rigs that one of the biggest factors hampering progress of the HVNL to date has been the lack of policy and leadership in the government transport sector.
“It’s been reduced to low and mid-level public servants who are focused on detail, not on the big picture.
“We’re seeking to engage the heads of departments in taking the bigger picture look, looking over the horizon.
“We think ministers are going to seriously have a serious think about where all this has gone off the rails, and try to recover at least part of it, so we’re cautiously optimistic.”
Big Rigs put a series of questions to the NTC about why the Kanofski review was commissioned, what the cost was to the taxpayer, why the review itself had dragged on for so long, and what the next steps would be.
We got no response regarding the cost, but a did receive an emailed statement, attributable to an NTC spokesperson.
“The reform process is complex and has involved deep consultation with experts, industry and government,” the spokesperson said.
“We released an issues paper in 2020; and undertook comprehensive policy work and small group consultation in 2021.”
The spokesperson said Kanofski has been engaged since 2020 to “facilitate consultation with industry and jurisdictions” on the HVNL reform.
“We’re now in the final phase of developing a simpler and more flexible new law, as well as providing advice to ministers on how the new law could be implemented.
“As part of this final phase of developing the law, Mr Kanofski was asked to engage industry and governments. This has involved testing proposals from the NTC, Australian Trucking Association and others.”