ALC wants NTC probe on trucking operator licencing

ATA rejects concept as national rail law gets a beating as basis for road transport COR proposal


The Australian Logistics Council (ALC) has called for examination of operator licencing’s extension to trucking if the admittedly unsuitable National Rail Safety Law (NRSL) is to be the basis of chain of responsibility (COR) reform in road freight.

Couched as a way of increasing trucking company safety competence, the idea arises as use of the NRSL is taking something of a beating in submissions to the National Transport Commission (NTC) on its ‘primary duties for chain of responsibility (COR) parties and executive officer liability’ proposals.

The South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) describes basing reforms on the NRSL and treating consignors and consignees differently from truck owners and drivers as “fundamentally flawed” due to structural differences between the industries.

SARTA gains some ALC support on the rail law aspect but from a slightly different angle.

Rather than focus on market power imbalances, the ALC notes rail operators must win regulator accreditation and comply with an approved safety management system including health, drugs and fatigue aspects.

It argues that trucking industry fragmentation, makes adopting general duties “unlikely to bring about improved safety outcomes without the development of practices and procedures that will build operator capacity”.

Given the number of entities involved in the heavy vehicle sector compared with rail, it sees one positive – “a licensing regime [for trucking] is probably the more efficient way to mimic the accreditation/safety management system created under the rail safety legislation”.  

The ALC calls for the Transport and Infrastructure Council to “task the National Transport Commission to consider the implementation of operator licensing in Australia as a matter of priority”.

But the idea gains short shrift from the Australian Trucking Association.

“The option of operator licensing was considered by our Trucking Australia 2015 delegates in Hobart in March. Our delegates made it clear that they did not support the option,” a spokesperson tells ATN.

In its submission to the NTC, SARTA executive director Steve Shearer points out that price-taking truck operators, which are “routinely and directly influenced and often effectively controlled by the clients and their demands” are generally unlike rail operators, who are few and mostly big price-setters.

This is not an insignificant difference. It is in fact absolutely fundamental as the reality is that road freight clients by and large have a substantial and direct influence on the operational demands and consequentially on the behaviour of truck operators and their drivers,” Shearer writes.

“This is especially so with the very substantial number of large corporate clients including supermarkets, manufacturing, mining and others.

“Their demands and contractual conditions imposed by clients, including the freight rates paid, as well as their control over the loading and unloading tasks and procedures, are all too often at the root cause of serious safety problems within the road freight industry.”

“Governments and the NTC as their advisor, couldn’t be taken seriously in relation to the push for improved safety within the road freight industry, let alone for resolving the remaining serious safety issues, if they ignore this reality and continue to focus on the low-hanging fruit, the truck operators and drivers, rather than on also addressing the systemic issues throughout the chain effectively.”

He states the trucking industry only supported a ‘reverse onus of proof’ in COR due to the government pledge to use it to also tackle the adverse impact of powerful interests on its safe operations.

Sarta insists the “aim of these reforms must be to resolve the critical systemic and hard problems”, by making COR laws effective “on all parties” and this trumps any call for further work on and delay of the reform.

“The argument from some amongst the consignor/ee ranks that applying the Primary Duty to them would be unfair, is absurd, flawed and disingenuous,” Shearer writes.

“They, like truck operators, are already covered by the Primary Duty provisions under the WHS laws and they manage their responsibilities accordingly.

“If anything, meeting their responsibilities under the NHVL COR Primary Duty would be easier and well within their expertise and capacity, if they are actually serious about safety and their reputation.”

Sarta also wants a tightening of role-specific duties proposals focused on avoiding the breaching of mass, dimension and load restraint requirements; and/or speed or fatigue requirements by the driver.

“This would not cover or deal effectively with unacceptable and unsafe but none-the-less established practices of some consignors/ees, such as requiring the truck driver to remove all load restraint out on the road before entering a depot/DC to unload,” the submission reads.

“Some large DC’s require this ostensibly under their own WHS policies and in doing so they show complete disregard for the Load Restraint laws and for the safety of the truck driver.

“Any role-specific duty that applies to consignors/ees must cover all aspects of heavy vehicles operations and not just mass, dimension, load restraint, fatigue and speed.”

Any congruence with Sarta’s positions fails to extend to imposing COR on other parties.

“No evidence has been presented as to how such an extension will assist safety or productivity outcomes,” the ALC states.

“As would be understood, such an extension would need to be tested by a regulatory impact statement to ensure that such a step would provide the Australian community with a net public benefit.

“That said, at this stage ALC cannot support any further extension of the COR obligations under the HVNL.”

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