National border crossing disunity must end now

It’s been well over 12 months since the National Cabinet, created by the Morrison Government to navigate Australia through the COVID-19 pandemic, established a Freight Movement Code for the Domestic Border Controls in late June 2020.

This Freight Movement Protocol was ratified on 7 August 2020 and was intended to provide a degree of consistency for freight drivers and operators that were required to regularly cross state and territory borders to carry out their essential work transporting goods.

This well-intentioned document recognised that uninterrupted supply chains were essential to support our fragile economy and to give consumers confidence that they would continue to have access to food, fuel, medicines and other essential household goods.

Whilst not legally binding, the Protocol agreed to by every state and territory was an important step towards providing operators with confidence about COVID settings in our various jurisdictions, and what would be required of drivers to safely carry out their work.

It allowed for some differences, but the spirit of the document was that there would be limited variations on requirements travelling across borders in terms of testing, quarantining and interacting with customers.

Sadly, it’s abundantly clear that this document isn’t worth the paper it was written on with states and territories effectively going it alone and establishing border-crossing rules and regulations that are ignorant of the Freight Movement Protocol.

The result of this is disunity amongst our jurisdictions, creating confusion and angst among operators and drivers who just want to serve their customers and communities safely, competently and efficiently.

The freight industry has had enough and has joined forces to petition the Commonwealth for a unified, national framework for the movement of freight, with a particular focus on COVID-19 testing requirements for professional linehaul drivers.

Current testing regimes for COVID-19 for all interstate heavy vehicle drivers vary from two-day, three-day and weekly testing cycles.

The weekly cycles of testing can be met within the industry sector however, the less-than-a-week cycles are difficult to meet due to issues with fatigue management, testing locations and physical intrusion upon the individual.

Having a pipette pushed to the back of the nasal cavity every few days wears the skin and creates blood noses on a regular basis.

This is a health risk. To meet all obligations while still being able to remain unharmed the VTA, along with NatRoad, the Queensland Trucking Association, Tasmanian Transport Association, NT Road Transport Association and Western Roads Federation have endorsed an appeal to change the current testing regime to include the rapid type testing and provide the same level of COVID security.

Our proposal is for interstate drivers to be tested every two or three days using the testing types such as the Ellume process and then have a standard COVID test through a registered testing laboratory weekly.

This would mean that the driver could carry out a self-test throughout the week, check their clearance of the virus and be sure that they are not infecting others. Accessible, reliable, and fast diagnostics are integral to the COVID-19 response.

The rapid testing regime provides a result within 15 minutes to reduce an individual’s personal intrusion, manage outbreaks and community transmission, and reduce pressure on healthcare systems.

We have requested that the Federal Government have TGA grant an exemption for rapid testing to include specifically the interstate heavy vehicle driver sector under specific conditions.

It is important to note that we are not requesting that the rapid process replace the process of testing through an accredited pathology laboratory but rather to minimise the risk and discomfort associated with meeting current requirements.

Freight drivers have maintained their social licence to continue working despite invasive testing requirements that have been a source of angst and distress for many.

They deserve a better testing regime that respects their physical and mental health and well-being, whilst keeping the community safe from transport-related outbreaks. As vaccination rates continue to increase, exposure to lockdowns and the havoc they case at border crossings will reduce.

However, as new strains of the virus emerge, a national framework that states and territories genuinely unify behind is urgently needed for our supply chains to continue to function. The VTA will continue to advocate for this important outcome on behalf of our members and the industry.

Peter Anderson