Opinion

Truck law review: a complete waste of time and money

review

The review of the national truck law has proved to be a waste of time and money. We need to start again.

The review started in November 2018, after the Australian Trucking Association and our members pointed out the problems with the existing law.

We pointed out that the law was stitched together from 13 different sources. All that was missing were bolts in its neck.

We highlighted the complexity of the work and rest hour rules and the massive fines for drivers who made mistakes in their work diaries.

And we pointed out that the industry’s productivity had slumped since the law was introduced.

We provided comprehensive input to the review team at the National Transport Commission (NTC) – and Big Rigs readers helped.

With Big Rigs, we ran campaigns in 2019 and 2020 to get your views about the law and what needed to be fixed. We passed 551 pieces of constructive feedback to the NTC.

In addition, the ATA lodged 11 detailed policy submissions ourselves. Each submission involved a review of best practice and consultation with our members. We spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants. In some cases, we provided the NTC with draft legislation that could have been introduced into parliament immediately.

It was all for nothing.

In the three years since it started, the review has not resulted in a single change to the national truck law or its regulations.

Instead, last month, we saw the NTC’s first piece of finished work on the review: a proposal to replace standard hours with a new system of counting work and rest time. It was the wrong place to start; the proposal would be catastrophic if it was carried out.

It would reduce the income of a semi-trailer driver doing local deliveries by $24,000 per year.

It would make it impossible for drivers on standard hours to operate between capital cities.

The NTC sent the proposal out for one week of industry consultation. It was based on a handful of academic research papers, rather than the 551 suggestions you put forward. The ATA’s recommendations were ignored.

In its consultation meeting on the proposal, the NTC wouldn’t let us raise critical points, such as the need to trial the proposed hours either on the road or in a simulator.

When they meet in December, Australia’s transport ministers should start again. They should put together a panel of actual experts, supported by a small staff, to develop an approach to the national truck law based on best practice from around the world and your on‑the‑road insights.

The NTC’s work on the review would be an input to the panel’s work, as would the detailed submissions put by industry.

Given this head start, the expert panel should be able deliver a law that could come into force in 2023, a year ahead of any timeframe that the NTC process is likely to achieve.

And you could expect it to be a much better law than this waste of time and money.

About the author:

Former truckie David Smith is now managing director of D&S Smith Haulage and chair of the ATA.

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