Let sleeping policy dogs lie

All participants in Australia’s heavy vehicle industry are agreed that improving its safety is imperative, not only in the interests of the workforce, but for the sake of all road users. It is certainly far too important an issue to be conflated with a continuing industrial campaign within some sections of the industry.

So, it is unfortunate that there appears to be push in some quarters to use some of the tragedies which have occurred on our roads recently to buttress an industrial campaign to revive the former Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) in some guise.

The RSRT was abolished more than two years ago, at the conclusion of a protracted public debate and after two comprehensive, independent reviews showed its approach would make no appreciable difference to safety outcomes in the industry.

In fact, after considering the weight of evidence, a 2011 Regulatory Impact Statement undertaken by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) commissioned for the establishment of the RSRT concluded that it was difficult to be “definitive around the causal link between rates and safety”.

Five years later, PWC examined the matter again and stated they had “not found any additional information to change our original view”.

In the two years that have since passed, no credible evidence to establish a link between pay rates and safety has been put on the table. The current industrial campaign is an appeal to emotion over reason, and not, one, grounded in evidence.

The fundamental problem of establishing a so-called ‘safe rate’ remains one of practicality; in a modern, dynamic market, it is impossible to suddenly determine a magic number which can simultaneously guarantee the safety of all heavy vehicles and which is economically sustainable throughout all sections of the industry.

These facts have not altered in the two years since the RSRT’s abolition. It was a dog of a policy – and it should not be revived.

Australian Logistics Council (ALC) continues to believe that the most effective way to enhance safety in the heavy vehicle industry is by achieving greater compliance with, and enforcement of, the Chain of Responsibility (CoR) provisions in the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL).

These CoR provisions will be significantly strengthened and enhanced by changes due to come into effect later this year, and the industry’s focus should be on ensuring compliance with those changes. That is why ALC has been working in partnership with the Australian Trucking Association for the past year to develop an industry-wide Master Code for heavy vehicle safety, capable of becoming a registered industry code of practice under the HVNL.

Additionally, ALC’s recent Position Paper, Improving Heavy Vehicle Safety the Australian Way, sets out other initiatives relating directly to road safety, which should be pursued as a matter of priority. These include amending the HVNL to make it mandatory for heavy vehicles to be fitted with telematics equipment, and requiring heavy vehicle operators to comply with an agreed set of National Operating Standards, to ensure that the nation’s heavy vehicle fleet is operated by competent professionals who comply with vehicle maintenance and safety requirements.

Such initiatives are not unprecedented, or particularly radical. There are nationally-consistent standards in place for heavy vehicle operators in jurisdictions comparable to Australia, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

On the telematics front, it is worth noting that in December 2017, the United States mandated the use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) by truck drivers. Because of this, Canada is committed to doing likewise from December 2019, and the European Union mandated the use of electronic logbooks back in 2006.

If such initiatives can be made to work in those locations, there is no reason they cannot work in Australia. However, it will require an intensive and cooperative effort on the part of governments, regulators and the industry – and we can’t afford for those efforts to be side-tracked by re-litigating past debates over the RSRT. 

The RSRT’s short-lived existence simply produced complication, confusion and duplication across industry. That is not an experience anyone should be keen to repeat.

All participants in Australia’s freight logistics industry places a high premium on better safety outcomes. It is committed to improving awareness and compliance with the HVNL and CoR, by developing practical measures that directly tackle safety, and which take advantage of improving technology.

The industry should be allowed to get on with that task, and not be forced to divert energy and resources from those core objectives.

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