Kimberley flood response reinforces truckies’ essential status


Images last month of triple road trains reaching over 50 metres in length, making their way through the inland sea left in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Ellie, brought home the amazing skill of our truck drivers and the importance of our transport industry, especially in times of crisis.

The destruction in the Kimberley is devastating. Homes uninhabitable, businesses unable to operate, immeasurable levels of stock lost, vital road infrastructure damaged, and the Fitzroy Bridge – which connects the West, Central and East of the Kimberley to the rest of the country – destroyed by the relentless and mighty Martuwarra Fitzroy River.

After evacuation efforts by air were completed, attention turned to how to address the impending shortages of food and fuel as well as the welfare of the people who had to leave their homes.

Assisting the efforts of the McGowan government, the Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced on the ground in WA that the Australian Defence Force would be stepping in to aid with the recovery effort, supplying 200 personnel and eight aircraft.

It was humbling to see images of the prime minister visit Fitzroy Crossing and meet people, and I know his visit would have meant a lot to the community, many of whom have lost everything.

While all of this was happening up north, the trucking industry united to identify how it could assist to transport vital goods to the flood affected areas and what issues needed to be addressed to allow that to happen.

The most immediate issue was navigating the necessary permits required for heavy vehicles to travel on road networks that they would not normally travel on. The usual road networks were damaged or closed off.

After a phone call to the office of the Federal Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, Catherine King, I was very pleased to see an agreement forged between the Australian, WA and SA Governments as well as the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator which ensured that the flooding would not cut off Northwest Australian communities from essential supplies like food. Temporary access was provided to Class 3 vehicles which ensured the delivery of essential goods to North-western Australia and the Northern Territory via South Australia.

It was this swift action and cooperation across governments and, more importantly, through the assistance, willingness and generosity of our essential transport operators and truck drivers that has seen the Kimberley supplied again.

They say that everything valuable and required in life is delivered on the back of a truck, except – in very unusual cases – babies. In the case of the support that we have seen from the trucking industry in response to the devastating floods in our northwest, never a truer word has been spoken.

We saw the resilience of our truck drivers on display during the worst of the pandemic. Some truckies faced horrible conditions and still they showed up to work every day to get the job done, ensuring that the shops were stocked, the medicines were delivered and that we kept Australia moving.

The response that we’ve seen from the transport industry and our essential truckies in recent weeks to support those most in need following the devastating floods in our northwest is no different. It is because of this that our truckies have once again earned their respected status as essential workers.

Fitzroy Crossing is a place very close to my heart. Before I entered the union movement and then the Senate, I made my living as a furniture removalist driving road trains between Perth and Darwin for 11 years. I used to stop regularly in Fitzroy.

After I became a Senator, my focus turned to doing whatever I could to support employment opportunities and outcomes for local people right across the Kimberley.

This focus ultimately lead to our Waste to Wages campaign where my office, over the last three to four years, has collected mattresses, bedding, clothing and second hand furniture from across Perth which I have driven to the Kimberley to support local families and indigenous training and employment opportunities through recycling. In total, I’ve done six runs to Kununurra and Fitzroy Crossing and I can’t wait until I’m able to get back behind the wheel to do another run to support families in need and the wider community.

To everyone in the transport industry who has helped in responding to the floods in the Kimberley – we say thank you!

Glenn Sterle is a former long distance truck driver and current Labor Senator for Western Australia

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