Permits unbecoming

Despite its promise, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is being tied up in bureaucratic delays, with operators paying the costs, writes Ken Wilkie


My dad used to recite an equation: "If it takes a blind man three days to pick the bones from a sausage, how long does it take a cockroach to crawl through a barrel of molasses?"

Dad passed from this life in 1968 and I have spent a lifetime pondering the answer. Finally, I think I might have it.

It’s about the same amount of time it takes for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) to supply permits for transport of oversize, over mass articles.

The equipment in question that needed to be transported consisted of eight over width, over length and over mass items that combine to become an asphalt plant. The equipment is designed to be mobile and the shift I took part in was just one of several movements this particular plant has undertaken over recent years across several states.

Peter, manager of logistics for the company involved, stated that they have never had so much trouble in the past.

More and more I understand that bureaucracy is risk averse. It is simply the nature of the beast. And Australia’s paranoia with legal liability issues is contributing to this country’s economic demise and enhancing the reticence of bureaucracy to put itself at any risk – perceived or otherwise.

How many bureaucrats are so risk averse that they are reluctant to make the decisions they have accepted responsibility for? We are drowning in a quagmire of bureaucratic inertia. The people required to sign off on this move are bureaucrats – people whose productivity outcomes have no bearing on the end of week pay cheque.

It’s not unlike the forklift driver I had an amicable discussion with in Brisbane the other day. I was a bit peeved that I’d waited two hours for the truck in front to be off loaded. It should have been less than an hour with lunch break included.

The forkie’s comment was that I was lucky; it could have been five hours. Had the boot been on the other foot and he was going unrewarded for that length of time, I wonder if the response would have been so disinterested and dismissive.

Costly delay

Millions of dollars’ worth of equipment is required to be moved from northern Victoria to north central Queensland. The move is planned to be completed in a set time period so that it can be set up and operating efficiently by start of the next contract. That operating ‘efficiency’ requires that the set-up phase be completed well before the start of the government contract is due to begin.

To accomplish the testing process, salesmen from the asphalt company sell small jobs in the area prior to the main contract commencing, to fine-tune the re-established plant.

Owing to the time delay, testing might well be not completed and those commitments to smaller jobs having to be undertaken from a permanent plant some 100 or more kilometres away at some financial cost to the provider.

I must advise that on contacting an officer of the NHVR, that officer was more than happy to accept a call from the permit facilitator in a bid to iron out the issue. This might seem a churlish attitude but while the officer from NHVR was more than happy for that permit facilitator to call, I think a more appropriate response would have been to offer to make the call to her. After all, it is (and this is an ongoing problem) the failure of a bureaucratic system to fulfil its obligation to private enterprise in having an efficient transport system.

Bureaucracy is calling the shots and then cannot provide the required outcome. And a process so complicated that it supports a permit facilitator?

The stuff up I talk about has cost a major company how many dollars? Only that company’s accounting staff can advise whether it runs to thousands or millions of dollars. Consider the small operator – one or two trucks maybe. He or she accepts an oversize contract to a point some 100s of kilometres away. At delivery point, the operator is advised that there is another move that has just become available from point B to point C.

Can that operator wait some weeks to undertake the second operation owing to some disinterested bureaucratic performance? Or what of the operator who is contracted to do an oversize shift from the east coast to the west coast? Not only does he have to find a way to operate seamlessly into WA – a feat in itself – he has to find a way of doing it in six days. The maximum permit period is seven; but we have all heard that God created the earth in six and rested on the seventh. We just can’t get a permit that covers more than seven days. Reality check? One is certainly needed.

And what of the magic computer system that the NHVR spruiks about. I don’t do oversize so am not required to try the system. However, I am not hearing of too many contented users. Too complicated!

Techno bureaucrats

Which raises another concern – bureaucracy is smitten with new technology. If it’s new and computer orientated, it’s great. Or is it? Can it pass the test of real life ‘useability’?

Take the Gunnedah Agricultural Field Day. An operator has applied for a permit some five weeks prior to shift equipment for the event. Three weeks after the permit application, the operator receives a phone call from a Gunnedah Council staffer in relation to the permit application. The application had just landed on the staffer’s desk, staffer claims – three weeks after submission of the application! And the conversation included words like ‘should be able to’ in connection with a rail underpass clearance height.

Shouldn’t those height clearances be known and recorded on council road records? And said staffer is of the view that chain of responsibility only applies to fatigue issues. When so much economic value is placed on the conducting of the field day in that town and others of like ilk, wouldn’t one think such event organisers have checked availability of oversize access and advised of such routes on their advertising pamphlets?

Still on dimensions: Rockhampton is to have multi combination access from the south to north of the river to allow road trains to deliver without splitting up. Operators are invited to apply for permits. Sorry, how about any complying operator being given open access?

This permit crap is just a means of giving a bureaucrat an excuse to draw a cheque – and an opportunity for some enlightened enforcement officer to write a breach to justify his or her economic existence.

Freight favourites

Carting cotton, hay or wool? One can obtain a permit to run marginally over width owing to the size of the product packaging. Just go on the computer I’m told and print it off. If it’s okay for one, why not all?

Tractors are being produced to comply with the 2.5 metre extreme width to allow transport, without considering over dimensional aspects. The trouble is the tyres bulge at the bottom and protrude past the transport vehicle’s extremes. One then is expected to run under over size requirements.

What is the difference between outgoing primary production and incoming equipment? Some can run to 4.6; why does machinery face different expectations?

I am told that Paradise Road; a convenient connection between Acacia Ridge and the Logan Motorway on the southern extremity of Brisbane has been approved for B-double access to permitted operators. Again, how about one law for all?

Heavily discounted registrations for primary producers – and I mean heavily discounted. With astute primary producers ensuring ownership of the produce does not change hands until delivery has been completed, the failure of enforcement is anywhere near effective in policing it.

It becomes just another example of small commercial transport operators subsidising both primary industry and the large commercial operators who shift big weight and fully utilise their equipment via two-up running or double shifting equipment.

Performance-based standards is another scheme distorting the economic playing field under the guise of improved productivity to the nation’s producers.

Did I mention business leaders who under the claim of commercial in confidence hide discussion with national leaders as they work to gain personal advantage?

The National Road Freighters Association, in addition to its position on fatigue, has a fuel based registration scheme designed to return to government fair cost recovery but equally as importantly, return something of a level playing field to the transport industry.

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