TA 2019: Operator’s insider perspective on HVNL review

By: Mark Gojszyk

Middleton hopes reformed law will reflect operational realities

TA 2019: Operator’s insider perspective on HVNL review
Sharon Middleton


Whiteline Transport director Sharon Middleton provided her perspective on the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) review at Trucking Australia 2019, saying it must reflect operational realities in industry and maximise the ability to deliver the freight task as efficiently as possible.

As director of Whiteline and president of the South Australian Road Transport Organisation (SARTA), Middleton was selected on the original panel to oversee the overhaul of the current laws.

"My role is to deliver what it's like to be on the road, what it's like to try and run a trucking business and what it's like to try and deal with cross-border harmonisation and what it's like to have high-brow documents put in front of you and try to translate that into how we operate on a daily basis.

"It's well and fine to make rules and regulations but if it doesn't fit the task it's just a big waste of time."

Middleton has been running Whiteline Transport with husband Bob for about 35 years.

With a strong presence in Western Australia, one of the states not originally part of the national law, she has seen "the challenges of having jurisdictions that aren't part of the heavy vehicle national regime".

"With the remoteness and the difference about Australia, the one-size-fits-all approach does not work," she says.

"What's got to happen between mainstream Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, to what's got to happen when you come across to the northern border or up through the centre to the Northern Territory, things are different and you just can't throw a blanket over all of us and say, ‘This is how you're going to operate,’ because the task just not allow for that.

"I think any laws need to take that into consideration, otherwise we're going to always have jurisdictions that need to stay over there to preserve their product and efficiencies and safety gains and we're also going to always have states that are derogating."

"[Which is why] from my very first meeting, I was told this is not about getting jurisdictions to sign up for something old – this is a clean slate."


Read about how the HVNL reform process began, here



National Transport Commission (NTC) chief planning officer Paul Davies, in his update, says the parties involved were aiming to work collaboratively with all states towards an "agreeable and workable law", noting that currently, what is illegal and harmful in industry doesn’t always align, leading to pedantry in enforcement and fines for offences that can be seen as superficial.

One of Middleton’s bugbears –one shared across the board - was the inability for the law to keep up with technology and operational advancements in the industry.

"While these new configurations are coming through, has the heavy vehicle national law kept up with all these advancements in the industry?" she asks

"Back in the 1980s it was single trailers, and then it became doubles and it became road trains and then it became triples, and as all these things in the industry grew, accreditation grew.

"We're swamped with it now. Some of us are just in so many schemes, we're subject to so many audits [including] compliance type audits from our customers, it's just unforgiving.

"At SARTA, we've got one operator that couldn't come to a board meeting because she was undergoing her 12th audit for the month - it's just ridiculous.

"And a lot of it was the same sort of stuff, so why can't we have mutual recognition in some of these accreditation schemes?

"We need a law that doesn't work or limits operator's ability to function at all, the major problems with the over-size over-mass permit is a glaring example of this. Electronic work diaries has also created a lot of controversy."

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) CEO Sal Petroccitto shares similar views in his update, where he admits the need to work towards aligning productivity outcomes and transparency in self-regulation, and that the technical aspect was critical – along with a need for regulatory frameworks to govern them.

Middleton does have sympathy for those who have to try to enforce a law that is recognised in most quarters as difficult and convoluted, and hopes the new iteration will make the task simpler for operators and authorities.

"The creation of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator tasked with implementing the law has seen frustration from all sides of the industry where the law hasn't been able to accommodate operational realities like we need it to," she says.

"It's important not to create division with the industry, mindful that every transport task around the country is unique and one size doesn't fit all.

"The current law comprises of more than 800 sections – the result is inconsistent approach, difficult to read and interpret, and erroneous for industry and difficult for the regulator to administer."


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