National freight protocol update targets testing uniformity


August 2021 revision, which also recognises rapid testing, gains ATA backing

National freight protocol update targets testing uniformity
Barnaby Joyce

 

National Cabinet has issued an updated Freight Movement Protocol and Code, agreed upon by transport ministers, which seeks standardisation of rules on the interstate movement of goods.

In particular, the new testing regime set out in the document requires freight workers crossing state and territory borders to have a negative Covid-19 test result in a rolling seven-day period, unless an alternative arrangement for a particular jurisdiction is otherwise specified in the Code's annex.

In some cases, workers may also need to be tested more frequently depending on particular requirements in South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, but the agreement means more than half the jurisdictions will be following a single, simple approach to testing, according to National Cabinet.

Federal transport minister Barnaby Joyce said the changes "would help keep the country functioning as it should".

"With many Australians currently experiencing lockdown, one of the most important things we can do is ensure families can continue to reliably source the things they need, like food and basic goods, in a safe manner," Joyce added.

"Freight workers are well and truly amongst Australia’s most vital workers, helping to feed families and communities, keeping businesses functioning, and underpinning a strong economy.

"We need to keep our truckies, train drivers and other freight industry workers, their families and our communities safe and well while they continue their vital work.

"A week ago we had eight different sets of rules on testing for freight workers.

"Under the revised National Freight Movement Code and Protocol, discussed at today’s National Cabinet meeting, freight workers crossing state and territory borders are required to have a negative Covid-19 test result in a rolling seven-day period."

National Cabinet also agreed that jurisdictions will work with industry to stand-up additional testing facilities along key freight routes, at intermodals and other key freight hubs, in line with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC’s) recommended testing regime.

Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport Scott Buchholz said the updated code’s streamlined set of rules across jurisdictions will ensure freight can move efficiently and testing is as consistent as possible, which the transport sector has been urgently calling for.

"We want to ensure the transport industry continues the great work they have done throughout the pandemic, while carrying out vital freight activities to keep supermarkets stocked and other goods moving in the safest way possible," Assistant Minister Buchholz said.

"This is also why I am encouraging all freight workers to get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible, to help protect your community, and I commend those transport operators who are assisting with the vaccination effort within the sector. 

"States and territories are also standing up additional testing facilities along key freight routes, intermodals and hubs to assist freight workers to more readily access testing facilities, in line with AHPPC advice.

"These streamlined testing rules complement all the Covid-safe practices our freight workers already comply with to help keep the community safe, like social distancing, using masks and hand sanitiser, and checking in to assist contact tracing."

The updated Code is supported by an updated Freight Movement Protocol, which further details the protective measures taken by industry and governments to help protect freight workers and the community from Covid-19.


How Covid outbreaks have sparked freight industry border confusion, here


While the efficacy of the new code is yet to be seen, it has, in principle, the support of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA).

Acting ATA CEO Bill McKinley pointed to the code’s recognition of rapid antigen testing, which noted: "Should new types of Covid-19 test (such as Rapid Antigen Testing) be approved for use by relevant Health authorities, these tests will be recognised under the Code".

"The ATA and our members argued strongly for changes to the previous code and protocol," McKinley said. 

"In particular, we welcome the recognition of rapid antigen testing in the new code, subject to approval from the relevant health authorities.

"It can take days to get the results back from conventional Covid tests. 

"This is too slow for truck drivers, who have meet stringent testing regimes to keep working. Rapid antigen tests deliver results in 15-20 minutes. 

"The new code also states that freight workers crossing state/territory borders should only be required to have a negative Covid-19 test result in a rolling seven-day period.  

"This will reduce the testing burden on drivers and trucking businesses, although it should be noted that the rules for Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia will be different." 

McKinley said that in times of stress and uncertainty, ATA members have been working around the clock to ensure operators can keep moving.  

"It is now time for states and territory governments to show their support by implementing these agreed changes through their health orders. 

"Under the code, changes do not start until five days after they are announced by National Cabinet."

The code document urges the sector to develop a work-based program to deliver vaccines as a priority. 

"As part of our response, trucking businesses can now get a free Covid workplace guide from their ATA member association," McKinley says.  

"The guide shares important information on how to communicate about vaccines, employer obligations, and extensive information about when an employer can issue a reasonable and lawful direction for staff to be vaccinated." 

The revised code can be found here.

 

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