Interstate operator Kevin Macdonald couldn’t believe what he was seeing and hearing when he pulled into the Shell roadhouse at Gilgandra, NSW, recently.
Normally the busiest on the Newell Highway and “chock-a-block” with truckies looking to refuel on the Melbourne-Brisbane run, a stunned Macdonald instead was greeted with a closed dining area and near-deserted truck parking.
Macdonald said frustrated roadhouse staff told him that local police have threatened them with a $5000 fine if they let truckies dine in, which conflicts with the National Cabinet exemption allowing dedicated stops and lounges to remain open during Covid lockdowns.
Staff told Macdonald it was the same scenario at the nearby Caltex roadhouse. Big Rigs contacted both for comment. The Shell manager didn’t return our call, while a Caltex staffer referred us to head office.
“This copper, or whoever has made the rules there for the areas, is just crippling them,” said Gladstone-based Macdonald.
“I stopped in Bellata on the way down and had my dinner where they’ve got sit-down meals, showers, toilets…they’re really good.
“But they’ve basically hamstrung these poor bastards in Gilgandra and there is nothing they can do.
“It’s hurting them financially, and it’s hurting the truck drivers.”
With facilities also closed further south in West Wyalong for similar reasons, Macdonald said truckies are now forced to drive from Albury to Bellata (833km) with nowhere to sit down for a meal and a rest outside of the cab.
Macdonald said he’s worried about the mental health impacts this type of treatment has on his drivers and other interstate truckies who are already under immense strain trying to cope with the arduous Covid-testing regime.
An incensed Senator Glenn Sterle, a former truckie himself, has now taken up the fight, writing to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and other state cabinet members to get on board and ensure police abide by the National Cabinet directive on truckies’ facilities.
“I urge you to please show some leadership, put an end to the confusion and ensure that the above- mentioned exemption is upheld and roadhouses are allowed to stay open to provide the services our essential truck drivers rely on,” said Sterle in a sternly-worded letter this week.
“The health and the livelihoods of our essential truck drivers relies on you taking urgent and required action now.”
Sterle also reiterated that last year the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) and the National Cabinet approved an exemption for roadhouses, dedicated truck stop facilities and truck driver lounges to remain open so Australia’s heavy vehicle drivers have access to showers, restrooms and facilities to undertake their mandated fatigue management breaks.
“Premier and Ministers, you participated in that National Cabinet meeting, why is this exemption being ignored by your law enforcement officers? What we are seeing in Gilgandra is completely unnecessary and I call on you to fix it immediately.”
UPDATE – 1.19PM
Common-sense has prevailed in Gilgandra and staff at the roadhouses there can now serve sit-down meals to truckies without the threat of fines from police, advises Senator Sterle’s office.
After a flurry of follow-up emails between the NHVR, Transport for NSW and local police, the drivers’ lounges are back in business.
Below is a note posted today on the Facebook page of the HomeStyle Diner & Takeaway restaurant at the Shell, confirming the win for truckies and management:
“To All our DRIVERS , after many phone calls emails and messages we are glad to inform you that our Drivers lounge is open for Drivers only to ensure that we follow rules the tables have been set out to the square meter rule . You can sit down and eat your meal providing u only sit eat your meal and follow the COVID rules .. this is an amazing outcome for our Transport drivers ..
No Locals and or Traveler’s can sit in this area it is for Drivers only to manage their Fatigue so the staff ask that if you have ordered food that you please wait in your vehicle to ensure that we keep this area open for our drivers .
Thankyou Everyone for your support , have an amazing day .”