As an organisation, the Livestock and Bulk Carriers Association of NSW (LBCA) has represented rural transporters in New South Wales through difficult times. In the last few years a severely crippled Labor government has spent more time worrying about internal party politics than developing good road transport strategy and policy. With the election of the O’Farrell Government back in late March 2011 the trucking industry could look forward to a fresh look at transport policy and the introduction of some new ideas.
In July, Andrew Higginson announced he would be stepping aside from the role as Executive Director of the LBCA. This followed a long career of involvement with the politics of the trucking industry, including seven years at the helm of the LBCA and before that over 10 years as Executive Director of the Road Transport Forum, which later transformed into the Australian Trucking Association.
The new Executive Director was to be Andrew’s daughter, Emma, who is now involved directly in the day-to-day running of the LBCA as well as formulation of policy and involvement in ongoing negotiations with government. This move allows Andrew to take a more backseat role within the organisation and concentrate on his role as Director of HGH Consulting, the organisation behind both the LBCA and the ALTA.
Emma has been working for HGH for seven years, since she left school, developing a strong understanding of the issues surrounding the trucking industry in rural areas and dealing with legislators and regulators along the way. Over the years she has moved from answering the telephone, office management work through to sponsorship marketing and getting involved in the day-to-day running of an industry association. At the same time, on a part-time basis, she has managed to graduate with a degree in psychology.
“I saw taking over as Executive Director at the LBCA as a great opportunity,” says Emma. “The LBCA has always been part of my family. I have been involved with the LBCA for quite some time. I have seen how we have the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives in the industry. It’s so exciting, and I have always had a passion for that.
“Building up a rapport with the members and then gaining a better understanding of the issues has kept me working for the association. After two or three years in the job I had a strong grasp on the issues operators go through and the task they face.
It is so hard and I understood the obstacles they have to go through to get the simplest things changed. I saw the time it takes and how they have been beaten up for so long, told to shut up and go away. Dealing with operators, you can really understand how hard things are and how much they need an association to be there, to give them a voice.
“You can make a difference, and we do make a difference. The members call us up and give us feedback. Things have changed for them on the ground. It’s great to translate something from just talk to something that affects our members’ lives. I don’t think a lot of people understand how hard it is for operators out on the road. They’re fantastic people, they’re real, they’re genuine. I got caught up in the whole LBCA life and the life of our members.”
The other side of the coin was seeing how difficult it is to make progress when dealing with government organisations. She was seeing issues take inordinately long periods of time to go through the process with the regulators and bureaucrats, before changes could be effective out on the highway. It became clear to Emma how vital the existence of industry associations are to the smaller operators in the industry.
Most of the mentorship of the LBCA are small family companies and they seem to feel comfortable with an industry association which was also somewhat of a small family company with both Andrew and Emma Higginson involved. When Emma took over as Executive Director in July she was already well known and accepted by the membership of the association.
“It was definitely a steep learning curve when I took over the role,” says Emma. “I think the fact I have been with the organisation for seven years means I have a good knowledge of the issues. Now I am gaining a greater understanding of them. Even in the last few months, I have seen a change in the way I can make a difference. I am now involved in the core of the issues rather than having to step back from them as I did in the past.
“Having come in with the new government has helped. I have stepped into a new world and there are lots of projects coming alive, so I’ve been lucky in that respect. There are so many different issues I have to deal with each day, it’s always exciting. When I go into meetings, I have to be sure I know what I’m talking about, and talk at the appropriate time because I am still learning. I want to learn, I want to contribute and I want to deliver the message that our membership needs us to communicate with the government.
“Of course it’s been a bit of a shock for the government and our members to have a 26 year old girl come into the role but I do have a lot of support from my members and I still have support from my father as well. It’s not a transition which is going to happen overnight, it will take time and I have had a lot of help. We also have a very supportive committee with a great president, Barney Hayes, and two excellent vice presidents, Jock Carter and Lynley Miners.”
The way the LBCA works is, when they go into meetings, they attend as a team with both representatives from the members’ committee and the executive. The government representatives the LBCA is meeting from the New South Wales government are also new to their job. The coalition was out of power for over 16 years and those involved with the new transport policy are also coming up to speed quite quickly. The new government is introducing new ideas and new thinking, taking a fresh approach to the road transport industry.
The changes have also instigated new thinking within organisations like the Road Traffic Authority (RTA). Advocates for change within the RTA are now having their voice heard as they become more responsive to the pressures being brought to bear on them by organisations like the LBCA.
The way the road transport industry is regulated in NSW is changing fast. The role previously held by the RTA is to be replaced by two organisations. The Roads and Maritime Services (RMS) will be handling the enforcement role out on the highway but transport policy will now fall under the control of a new organisation to be known as Transport for New South Wales.
The new setup is expected to deliver improved service levels to road transport operators in their face-to-face dealings with government. There are also hopes to rationalise and improve access for higher productivity vehicles on routes where they can be effective, like those in and out of bulk grain handling facilities and abattoirs etc.
“We have been calling for an urgent review of the NSW truck registration process,” says Emma. “In the past four months, I have had phone calls just about every day because of the registration process. It’s so hard for our members to do business in NSW. If they are going to focus on customer service delivery then this issue is something they need to attack now. Our members are not registering their vehicles in NSW, they are doing it elsewhere, so NSW is losing those important funds.
“There are culture issues which then translate out onto the road when dealing with the enforcement personnel. It has created a whole range of issues that don’t need to be there. They need to change their registration process and stop relying on an IT system that doesn’t deliver for the customer. Their approach has been negative for too long and the new government is providing an impetus for change.”
Further change can be expected over the next two years with the introduction of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. This new development should drive further change in the interface between the trucking industry out on the road, regulators and the enforcement arm. The RMS will have to develop compromises as they lose control over some of their current areas of responsibility and take on the role of implementing policy which has been developed elsewhere.
The LBCA continues to work hard with the NSW government on reducing red tape and access improvements which are needed right now. A clearly defined 4.6m vehicle height network as well as a usable HML network and reforming IAP are very near the top of the agenda. The LBCA has also been working with the NSW government for many years to develop and introduce the Volume Livestock Loading Scheme for the livestock industry. Under the scheme vehicles would be able to run at HML weights on general access routes if they are accredited within the scheme. NSW Deputy Premier, Andrew Stoner, has announced an in-depth examination into the feasibility of introducing a volumetric livestock loading scheme.
“I think we have laid such good foundations in both our specific areas and in the broader regulatory areas,” says Emma. “We are also doing a lot of work on improving the chain of responsibility issues in both the grain and livestock industries to make them more efficient. We will continue to push down that path to get the supply chain operating at an optimal capacity to make sure the job is efficient.”
A major project, where the LBCA is working with the large grain companies to improve the way the entire supply chain works, has been effective in creating new initiatives. Companies, like GrainCorp, are now asking the LBCA to help them develop procedures and information systems to keep the transporters of grain better informed. There is an impetus to improve the culture within the grain supply chain and also improve relationships between the trucking industry and the grain companies.
“With high productivity vehicles we are making sure that these vehicles are able to use the existing road network effectively,” says Emma. “We will always have a big focus on safety, safety will always come first for our members and we don’t agree or support unsafe practices. Overall, our aim is to get the road transport industry running as safely and as efficiently as is possible.”