Opinion

Stop the HVNL review circus now

The National Transport Commission’s increasingly disappointing review of Australia’s Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) has been a circus. 

Since 2018, there have been endless papers, meetings, submissions and consultancies: everything except trapeze artists and clowns

And it has achieved nothing.

The ATA has decided to elevate the discussion by drafting an alternative policy for comment and negotiation. This proposed policy is called the Road Transport Act, which would replace the HVNL. 

As the peak trucking industry group, we are uniquely positioned to create a workable, intelligent policy that hits the right balance between idealism and pragmatism. 

The draft policy raises questions that governments and industry all need to consider. It starts from this basis: Australia needs laws that have, as their centre, the national economy and the safe, productive movement of freight.

Our draft Road Transport Act sets out positive changes. It would be a Commonwealth Act, not a co operative national scheme, so the law would be the same for all the states and territories that agreed to participate. 

The law would require all businesses operating trucks to have a safety management system (SMS). 

This would mean that every business operating trucks would need to address driver fatigue in its SMS.

The regulations would set out maximum work hours for non-certified businesses. Certified businesses could exceed that level with appropriate risk controls.

Businesses would be required to keep records of driver work hours. They would not need to use official work diaries. This would save operators millions of dollars every year. 

Minor fatigue and work diary offences would be eliminated, ending the onerous record keeping and work and rest hour requirements.

Long term fitness for duty would be handled through the licensing system. All heavy vehicle drivers would be required to have regular medicals against fit for purpose medical standards.

Under the policy, there would also be a smoother and more efficient process for changing the law, and administrative would go to a single tribunal not multiple state tribunals.

We are calling for a stronger linkage to Commonwealth road funding and genuine parliamentary scrutiny of delegated legislation.

Importantly, the board and executive of the renamed Australian Heavy Vehicle Regulator (AHVR) would be held to account through the Senate estimates and other parliamentary committee processes.

The new Road Transport Act would dramatically boost the industry’s productivity.

It would define vehicle access on the National Land Transport Network to include combinations up to 53.5 metres.

The Road Transport Act would also replace the permit system. 

Off the national network, access would be managed through an automated notice system based on the successful Tasmanian model.

Operators would be able to check their access 24/7. The system would match each vehicle’s configuration to the network assets on the vehicle’s possible routes. Operators would generally be able to use an available route without needing a permit.

PBS vehicles would be handled the same way.

The number of access permits would be reduced by at least 95 per cent.

The Road Transport Act would make changes to heavy vehicle registration. Transitioning the HVNL to a Commonwealth law would enable heavy vehicle plates to become truly national.

The inconsistencies in the current scheme would be eliminated and heavy vehicle registrations would be exempt from state stamp duty.

The ATA’s draft Road Transport Act has been described as a revolution. It’s certainly an unusual move but it’s one we feel is absolutely necessary if we’re to stop the HVNL review circus. 

It’s time for the clowns to go home. 

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