What the Closing Loopholes Bill means for trucking

The National Road Freighters Association (NRFA) conference held recently at Shepparton became in part, a celebration of the passing of the Closing Loopholes Bill in the halls of Canberra.

The association congratulated all industry bodies for coming together in a bi-partisan way to achieve what could possibly be a revolution in reform for the transport sector.

So, what exactly is Closing Loopholes, should you celebrate or worry about it and what part did the NRFA – an association who’s membership primarily represents ‘the small guy’ – play in the bill’s formation and passing?

Big Rigs sat down with newly crowned NRFA president Glyn Castanelli and board member Gordo Mackinlay to go over the bill and what it means for the industry.

“We started 2023 with a mission that we were going to carve a path to Canberra and that’s exactly what we did,” said Glyn.

“This week was just surreal. There was a delegation of 34 from across the industry gathered there and prepared for what we were going to do. And the bill got through!

“In Canberra we weren’t just representing the trucking industry but everybody, from scooter delivery drivers up. Uber drivers, couriers, pie-cart drivers – everybody. It was an amazing gathering of industry and that we were all joined at the hip for this one cause.”

“It’s been a work in progress for six or seven years,” adds Gordo Mackinlay. “This is the third time we’ve gathered in Canberra, hoping for a result, or at least movement forward.

“It goes back to the end of the RSRT. That’s when our involvement started in this campaign, and the way that everybody has slowly come together and established that we have more in common than not is so gratifying. It’s a real example of how reform only happens when you’ve got bipartisan support.”

“We had that from our industry,” said Glyn. “It was a really good reason for all sides of politics to jump on board, because this wasn’t one side against another. In our delegation we had industry representatives from business owner groups – the biggest in the country. We also had representatives from the little guys and then we had the little gig economy workers in there as well.”

For those few who may not be aware, the NRFA as a body represents the smaller guy – the owner driver with one or three trucks. Whilst membership is not restricted to that group by any means, that is the cohort who have gravitated to the body.

“They’re the people that need the most help,” said Gordo. “Individually they’re the people with the smallest voice, aren’t they? Together we can become a loud one.”

It has been iterated and no doubt will need to be repeated ad-nauseum that Closing Loopholes is NOT the RSRT revisited. In fact, Gordo Mackinlay was one of those leading the fight against that flawed legislation.

“In 2016 I was the leader of a small, but very active group of people that put in all their time to fight against the RSRT legislation after we were unable to have amendments made so that it would be workable.

“The RSRT was only capturing owner-drivers and small family businesses. So if family members of the entity were driving the truck, they were forced to charge a certain rate and anyone that wasn’t was free to charge whatever they liked.

“And it wasn’t that we didn’t need help – the rates were horrible and still are. But that system couldn’t work, so I tried very hard to have things changed and we couldn’t. It was fight or go under.

“So we led a successful campaign to have the RSRT abolished. It’s very important that people know that the RSRT no longer exists.

“In the very early days of discussions that led to this Closing the Loopholes Bill, there were some things that concerned us, so we as an association worked with both the Labor Party and the TWU who were the main bodies trying to get this new legislation up.

“Now we know that those groups were heavily involved in the RSRT. The difference this time has been the inclusion of the industry.

“We started developing this legislation that has just come through and we had massive input into that. There were points where things weren’t going in the direction that we thought they should, but to everyone’s credit they listened, took on board our concerns and generally adapted the bill to include our recommendations. This bill has come from within the industry, from people who have the experience and the runs on the board.

“The Closing Loopholes Bill is not setting rates today or anything like that. What it has done is allow the formation of transport advisory groups. So when there’s a certain concern in the industry that we feel needs some kind of legislative improvement, the people that have experience within that area will be called upon to form this transport advisory group, or groups.

“It will be industry that designs the changes that will become enforceable regulations and yes, some of them will have to do with pay. Probably the first thing that we we’d like to get through is 30 day payments. People waiting 120 or 150 days for payment – you just cannot survive on that.

“It is putting massive pressure on small and medium business and so it’s probably the first thing that we’ll tackle. It’s what you might call ‘low hanging fruit’ and we believe relatively easy to get through. That in itself will be a massive improvement.”

“There were many that wanted to be involved,” continued Glyn. “But because of industrial relations laws, you’re only allowed to have two representative bodies for each industry segment, so we’ve got one for the owners and we’ve got one for the drivers. Their remit is to consult with the whole of industry.

“So we have a 50/50 input from blokes like us behind the steering wheel or in small business, and also big corporations. We’ll work together to come to an agreement. Just getting this bill through shows how well we can work together, which really gives us the optimism to know that going forward, this can work.”

Some may consider the TWU and truckies to be strange bedfellows.

“There are the sceptics and people that think I’ve lost my mind by jumping out on board with the TWU,” said Gordo. “I’ve copped a fair bit of flak over it and that’s fine, no worries. But the biggest thing to remember is that at every single point, including this weekend at our conference, both sides of government were asked to come and join us. And did.

“And the same occurred in Canberra with Senator Glenn Sterle’s inquiry into a safe and viable transport industry. At every point, Glenn asked for bipartisan involvement from both sides of the floor, which he got. The Queensland senator, Susan McDonald (LNQ) was a notable opposition member who became enthusiastically involved.

“At the end of the day, the Labor Party and the TWU took this on. Do you say I’m not going down that path because I don’t like them, or do you grab the help offered? We had an open mind for which we’ve been caned from some quarters, but that’s ok. At the end of the day, we can see the benefits. If you want help, you’ve got to go with the people that are offering to help.

“And if you’re getting bipartisan support from all areas then you’re going to make strides,” continued Glyn. “We had the opportunity at every point to have input. And that’s been very important.”

Peter Anderson is the CEO of the Victorian Trucking Association and national secretary of ARTIO (Australian Road Transport Industry Association). ARTIO represents anybody who owns three or more trucks, as against the TWU who represent those who own one or two.

ARTIO have branches in all states, and in most cases, run out of, or in parallel with the industry associations like the QTA and TTA. Peter is a passionate advocate of the trucking industry and all involved with it, and was front and centre in Canberra along with the NRFA.

“Peter is a passionate man for our industry and it was great to get to know him – not least because our (NRFA) members straddle both camps (TWU and ARTIO). The result is that now we have a direct line to the powers that represent both camps to convey our members’ wishes and concerns.

“We have nothing to gain from this other than to see our industry grow and thrive. We’re just humans; we see the pain and the suffering of people who are struggling – owner-drivers who spend way too long away from their families and miss everything with their kids. Gordo and I have been through that and we want things to improve for everybody. That’s what really counts.

“And that’s why we’re so passionate about fixing this industry for everyone, not just NRFA members, not just TWU, not just ARTIO. Everybody.”

The bill goes to the Lower House for ratification in six months before it becomes law. This is just the first step.

“This bill is giving us the vehicle – or the chassis if you like – and now we’re going to assemble it the way we want. We can put the advisory groups together and start to look at what we need to change.

“And this doesn’t mean that next week, everyone’s going to start making huge money or have better conditions. But it’s given us the framework that we need, to work on making those changes. We’ve worked very hard to get to this point and the work doesn’t stop.

“If the first thing that comes up is people saying we need to be paid on time, then that’ll be the first thing that we’ll attack. It depends on what the industry will tell us. And that’s the beauty of it; we’re led by the industry. What the industry tells us needs to be fixed, that’s what will be concentrated on.”

Will the big companies swallow up the owner driver and the small operator?

“There was a question asked of me in Canberra,” said Gordo. “What is going to stop the big mobs just buying their own trucks? The answer is simple; it’s supply and demand.

“By way of illustration, let’s say that on December 23 you need 10,000 trucks to get all the Christmas goods to wherever and the joint is going absolutely mad. Well guess what? On December 28 you’re only going to need 1000 trucks.

“That’s just how it is. Linfox, TGE, and co can’t afford to have all these trucks sitting around doing nothing – paying drivers and paying for trucks. We are the elastic bit in the middle. They cannot do without us. It is simply not viable, so don’t panic about it, it will not change.

Glyn Castanelli and Gordo Mackinlay are just two ordinary blokes who love the trucking industry (and who don’t get paid for their efforts). With the NRFA and other, sometimes disparate but like-minded groups they want only the best outcomes for the industry.

So listen up people. The RSRT is dead and has been since 2016. The Closing Loopholes Bill is in no way related to that flawed legislation.

If you see Gordo or Glyn in the street, don’t give them a hard time, but instead listen. Because they have been there for you and they will continue to do so. And this Bill is beyond partisan politics. It is beyond partisan groups that may exist within this industry and other industries. It’s about everybody coming together for the common good.

Congratulations to the NRFA for being heavily involved in leading the charge for the betterment of the industry for all.

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