Industry can move freight – but not with red tape

The review aims to ‘stand in the shoes’ of industry to understand and document the impact of red tape and the cumulative burden of regulation. This is a significant issue that NatRoad has been actively lobbying for on behalf of members for years.

Not surprisingly members responded enthusiastically with 97.2 per cent saying that red tape was an issue for them; 83.3 per cent saying that regulatory compliance was affecting their business’ financial and operational viability; 71.4 per cent saying that it affected their ability to employ new or additional staff; and 70.6 per cent noting that it was affecting their health and lifestyle.

These are startling numbers and hint at the growing dysfunction associated with the intensifying burden and increasingly cost of red tape. Red tape of most concern is compliance with overly complex fatigue management laws, on-road enforcement activities, and interaction with bureaucracies.

Operators, particularly smaller operators with 1-2 trucks, who comprise approximately 77 per cent of the 50,000 registered industry participants, are finding it increasingly difficult to remain financially and operationally viable under the weight of regulation. Tired, stressed out and over-stretched by never-ending red tape, they are saying: “Enough, Is Enough!”

Besides the sheer weight of regulation, it is often the conflicting interpretation of laws by different arms of government that leads to immeasurable grief and confusion of our members. NatRoad, in servicing calls from members, experiences the utter frustration and, indeed, anger of industry at the inconsistency of enforcement by agencies; and the inability of enforcement agencies to understand the limited resources available to industry to comply with ever increasing regulatory and bureaucratic requirements.

Too often agencies simply do not understand the commercial pressures and realities that industry must deal with. While industry takes safety and compliance issues very seriously their main focus of business is, of course, to be commercially viable and to survive in a very competitive business environment.  Regulation must always be sensitive to the commercial imperative. 

The fact that industry takes safety seriously is highlighted by on-going improvements in road safety outcomes and reduced heavy vehicle crashes. Duncan Gay’s recent Media Release, Lowest NSW Road Toll in Nine Decades, is a case in point. 

Moreover a report from the Federal Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, Road Trauma involving Heavy Vehicles: Crash Statistics, shows that the annual deaths from crashes involving a heavy vehicle decreased by nearly a third in the last decade, with annual deaths declining from 281 to 189, or 3.2 per cent annually, since 2004. The report also reveals the fatal crash rate has more than halved for articulated trucks over the last decade – from 20.8 fatal crashes per 10,000 articulated trucks registered in 2004, to 9.7 in 2013. 

Finally, the 91 per cent drop in NSW heavy vehicle speeding offences during the last three years, despite an increase in enforcement, drives the point home.

So where to from here?

NatRoad believes that nothing short total ‘root & branch’ reform of the regulatory environment is needed. This, of course, is at the heart of Heavy Vehicle National Law reform process, and hence, the importance of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator.

We must guard against the power of entrenched bureaucracies and work to ensure that the reform agenda is delivered.  Industry is proving that it can deliver significant road safety improvements, while getting on with the job.  A job it could do much better if it were freed from the constraints of red tape and confusing regulation.

To this end government must act to ensure that its laws are well-drafted and are consistently and fairly enforced. The National Transport Commission noted in its Compliance and Enforcement Review paper that industry has “struggled to comply with fatigue laws firstly because of insufficient definitional clarity and secondly because of a misalignment between what the law requires and real world conditions… In addition to confusion around some concepts, there was (and is) a mismatch between what the law prescribes and the infrastructure that makes it possible”.

I could not agree more. 

Government owes it to industry to move quickly to reduce red tape and regulatory confusion, and to ensure that infrastructure (e.g. rest stops) is adequate to what is required.

To this end I call on the government to act quickly and meaningfully.

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