I have been researching recently about why Western Australia and the Northern Territory have not taken up the so-called national heavy vehicle law (NHVL), as the eastern states have.
I pondered this for a while and came to this conclusion: nothing can, or will change, while we devise such a fragmented structure of law and then enforce it onto the heavy vehicle industry and their drivers.
WA and NT have similar laws which have been accepted by the majority of heavy vehicle drivers working within those two jurisdictions, as being a good workable system.
It was presented to us [in Tasmania] with no training, yet we were expected to know how it worked.
We were told we are the professional drivers and should know the law, but we would have to do our own research for the interpretation of this law. Explains a lot about the misunderstandings some drivers have with this law, doesn’t it?
If this law was presented in the correct way, we would not need to interpret it. It would be easily understood in one reading.
Many times, I have read parts of the law when faced with some aspect of it I did not understand. In retirement I have read even more of it, and to be fair, I consider I am now even more confused than I was at first.
How I managed to operate under that law for almost 10 years and not get a penalty still has me baffled.
Here in Tasmania officers came from Victoria and NSW to train officers employed by the regulator, most likely forgetting the law operating in Tasmania was different to the law of the state they came from to train our officers.
How many drivers received penalty notices not relative to the Tasmanian law? Same goes for the other states, except Queensland.
Currently we have five different laws on the east coast of Australia.
Then there is WA and NT, giving us seven differing laws. Five laws on the east coast called a national law, or administered as a national law. A national law would be just one law, nothing more.
A national law would allow us to cross seven borders and not find ourselves in breach of the law in any of those six states and one territory.
The NTC is only making it worse
Does the National Transport Commission (NTC) lead? No. It is a bureaucratic think-tank that has no powers to make a law, or pass it into a law themselves, in their wisdom they send their ideas to the only state with no upper house of review, (Queensland), and get them to force it through parliament into law.
That then becomes a Queensland state law, which then has no authority in law within any other state other than Queensland.
Other states then take up this law under some convoluted arrangement but have to make a change or changes to that law, so it is then different to the original Queensland law.
The state making the change can then use it as that states law. Confusing, yes. Why does NSW, Victoria, SA and Tasmania take this Queensland law, then make their own changes to it?
This is done to satisfy the Australian constitution which states each individual state is responsible in establishing their own individual state laws.
One state cannot use another state’s law, it has to be fiddled with to make it different. What we end up with is five laws for the east coast of Australia, and one or two on the western side of the nation. There is no ability for a department devised by bureaucrats, (currently NHVR), to control this law as a national law, due to complexities around each state having different wording in sections of the law.
All it does is create a gold mine for lawyers and blocks valuable time in the courts, creating huge backlogs in cases which have no need to be before the court in the first place.
Here’s how we fix it
Get rid of the NTC, or make changes allowing it to have powers to make the law pass through the federal parliament in its own right. That is highly unlikely to happen, as the existing law would be thrown out by the senate when they did their scrutiny of the current laws after they set up a committee to scrutinise it.
They may even call for some of the present NTC heads to roll for devising such a divisive law in its current form.
If we could create a similar law enforcement agency to the federal police where the federal police do not intrude on the state police powers, we then would have a national transport body overseeing a national law, while not interfering with state transport officers.
Then we may be closer to having a National Heavy Vehicle Law.
Both state and federal police each have their own roles. That seems to work well enough. Why not in transport?
We should remove bureaucrats from positions as heads of departments in both state and federal governments after a set term or after each election.
These are the people who hold their job no matter the political party that has won government.
They hold their positions for very long periods and get stale in the way they think and will not listen to another opinion in fear of the person offering that opinion may be able to take his/her job.
It is often said that Liberal and Labor in government are no better than each other in their operation of government, simply because the decision makers are not changing only the politician who is in real terms only a mouthpiece for the invisible bureaucrat, who is often on way more salary than the minister who can lose his job if the people dislike what was done while in government.
When a minister loses his job, it is not necessarily his fault, as too often he was misled by the invisible, who holds his/her job to serve the next lot of elected politicians that are voted in.
Where is the support that authorities speak of?
State governments can’t agree on anything. Just look at the way states managed Covid. Every state had a different idea of what was the correct way to deal with it. States just do not have the ability to agree on anything, that being the curse of the five different state laws being portrayed as a one national law. Never did, never was, never will be a national law in its own right.
When suggestions are presented as a possible fix, a definite that will not work is the usual response.
Attitudes such as that will never see progress, it will just bury good ideas under a pile of paperwork and excuses.
That only saves that official from scrutiny at all times. Remember that same official will keep his/her job when a change of government occurs.
The law is far too complex for the ordinary heavy vehicle driver to understand the complexities of it as it is written currently.
A large number of current heavy vehicle drivers have only a medium level of education, but they have a huge amount of common sense with an uncanny ability to be very good operators of today’s modern trucks.
When faced with a problem they soon develop a unique ability to come up with a way to fix the issue they are faced with.
How lovely it would be if our federal and state bureaucrats could develop those same abilities.
They then may be able to fix the shambles of a mess they have created in this NHVL.
Don’t hold your breath though. It will be a long time coming.
• As told to Alf Wilson.