South Australia Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has instigated his own official inquiry into the management of the main Covid-19 border checkpoint between SA and Victoria.
Stevens made the announcement after a truckie was tragically killed just after 2am yesterday while waiting in a long queue of traffic on the Western Highway at Serviceton, about 5km over the Victorian border near Wolseley.
Police said three trucks were involved in the chain-reaction crash, with all three engulfed in flames.
The other two truck drivers are at Bordertown Hospital in a stable condition as of last night.
It came just two hours after South Australia closed its border to travellers from Greater Melbourne because of a growing cluster of Covid cases.
“I think we should conduct our inquiries and provide factual information based on the information that we’re able to obtain and be clear in our assessment as to what the circumstances were,” said Stevens.
“We had a group of five people on duty during the day shift period and during the evening period, we scaled back to three.
“There was relatively low levels of activity up until about 9.30 at night, and then when it was identified that there was a build-up occurring, a further two police officers were deployed to assist in processing people.
“I think it’s fairly evident that there was still a queue of people waiting to come into South Australia.”
The Victorian Transport Assocation was quick to lay blame with SA for the tragedy, certain it wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been another “kneejerk” closure of the border.
Big Rigs readers, many of whom were stuck in the long queues, also vented their anger and frustration at the way the checkpoint was controlled.
Stacy Wilkinson told us that one of the operators in the line up contacted SAPOL immediately on his arrival to advise them that “something bad was going to happen”, but was told they had the situation under control.
Added Jamie Potter: “In WA trucks are given a priority lane and called on uhf and waved through without stopping. Why can’t SA get their act together and follow suit. RIP driver.”
WU Victorian and Tasmanian Branch Secretary John Berger said truck drivers as essential workers are left to deal with the chaos of each border closure and this must stop.
“Having truck drivers stuck for hours at borders each time there is a Covid outbreak is not acceptable,” said Berger.
“It is clear we will have to live with Covid for some time yet, therefore it is vital that a national plan is put in place to protect truckies and other road users.
“Fatigue is a major killer in our industry and it is abhorrent that drivers are being forced to work fatigued all because the Federal Government won’t put in place clear guidelines on border closures.”
The TWU also wants to see a national plan on borders to include:
· Border closures implemented during daylight hours and with adequate notice, to minimise risk association with peak freight times
· Assurances that truck stops will stay open so that drivers can still access rest areas for food and showers.
· Assurances that showers and rest areas at truck stops for truck drivers will be cleaned and disinfected adequately
· Clarity that trucks will still be allowed to cross state borders and that truck drivers will be exempt from self-isolation requirements
· Clarity about any measures in place at border crossings to check trucks and truck drivers crossing, whether this includes temperature checks on drivers, logbook checks and more
· Assurances that truck drivers will be supplied at these border crossing with hand sanitisers, masks, gloves and information
· Clarity on any measures in place for truck drivers when they enter states to protect themselves and others
· Assistance in ensuring that clients pay owner drivers and transport operators on time.
· Assurances that owner drivers who are in financial distress are given financial assistance
Federal Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz declined to comment on the incident when approached by Big Rigs last night.