Opinion

State government must repair roads and licensing

The Victorian state election has been won, and we congratulate Daniel Andrews and his team on their success. The VTA works with political parties of all persuasion, and we look forward to continuing our constructive relationship with the new ministry to achieve policy and regulation that creates positive productivity, sustainability, and safety outcomes.

Now that caretaker conventions are no longer in place, it is imperative that the government rapidly accelerate plans to repair the state’s battered road and rail transport networks, which have been devastated by recent floods.

While it is encouraging that Regional Roads Victoria has announced the start of works, additional funds announced by the Premier before election writs were issued will not be enough to fully reinstate damaged roads, bridges, and other infrastructure.

Given the financial enormity of the task plans should include consultation with the Commonwealth about joint federal-state state funding to fast-track what will be a mammoth infrastructure repair and re-instatement program.

Over the coming term of government there will be many priorities other than infrastructure we will be strongly advocating for given the impacts of high inflation and rising fuels costs on freight operators’ bottom lines. At the top of our list is heavy vehicle licencing reform to produce safer and better trained drivers – and lots of them to correct chronic labour shortages. 

Truck driver training in Victoria is nowhere near the standard the industry or community expects and deserves. Through no fault of their own, Victorian heavy vehicle drivers have generally not received professional training and have had to learn ‘on the job’, with this experiential learning slowly making them safer. 

We contend the next Victorian government must rectify this unacceptable and dangerous situation. 

For this we need provision of minimum training standards for drivers to be licenced and enter the industry. This can only be achieved through genuine reform because the issue does not sit with the registration and licencing bureaucracy.

What we do not want is reform being forced by an avoidable catastrophe, as happened in Saskatchewan, Canada when 16 people were killed and 13 injured in 2018 when a coach carrying a junior ice hockey team collided with a semi-trailer. 

One outcome of this tragedy was a review of the methodology for training heavy vehicle drivers in Saskatchewan. Their industry standards were turned upside down and a system developed based upon a graduated time of training and experience behind the wheel to progress through the licencing process.

This contrasts with the antiquated system we have in Victoria, where you can get a rigid heavy vehicle licence after just five hours training, paying a fee and sitting a test.

Victoria’s heavy vehicle licencing system has reached a tipping point and we cannot wait for a Saskatchewan-type catastrophe before we introduce reforms. 

Training, not experience, must be at the heart of the transport industry and only the state government can mandate change.

The Andrews Labor government deserves credit for backing higher standards through its support of VTA training inspired by the minimum standards introduced in Canada. 

Our Driver Delivery program has graduated 275 Victorians since 2018, who were licenced after spending eight days under instruction behind the wheel of a heavy vehicle. To our knowledge, none have been involved in an accident whilst working. 

The Premier likes to talk about Victoria being the most progressive state in Australia. What better way to demonstrate this than by introducing progressive heavy vehicle licencing reform that would attract younger and better trained drivers to our industry. 

Change is never easy, but the VTA stands ready to support the next Victorian government’s road safety initiatives which should include a pilot program for mandatory heavy vehicle driver training. Victoria doesn’t have to lead the world, but we should lead Australia on improving safety outcomes for the transport industry and Victorian community.

It’s been a privilege to have this forum to communicate with drivers and other industry stakeholders and I look forward to contributing to robust debate on these pages next year. Until then, stay safe and have an enjoyable Christmas and New Year.

  • Peter Anderson is CEO, Victorian Transport Association

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