NT view on national policy

The NatRoad Board recently spent some time in Darwin where we held a series of meetings with politicians, senior staff from the Department of Roads, our friends at the ATA – NT and a number of high profile transport operators from the region.

Given NatRoad is the ‘National Road Transport Operators Association’, we have members either based or working in every state of Australia. As such, the introduction and role of the recently announced National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is of particular interest to our membership.

Recent experience with the roll out of the national fatigue and speed regulations certainly highlights the need for our industry, through our associations, to be actively involved in the consultation process in relation to the development and implementation of national policies and regulations which will directly affect our businesses.

It was refreshing to spend time with the Minister for Transport Gerry McCarthy and his policy advisor. Both have a thorough understanding of the important role that the road transport industry plays in the future development of the Northern Territory, as well as what the introduction of the National Regulator will mean to NT operators.

I guess if you’re based in Tennant Creek and you have to commute every week (by road) 1000km each way to Parliament, you do get to a good understanding of what’s moving and the on road issues associated with plying your home state’s highways and roads.

The message was clear from Minister McCarthy, namely, that the NT government is right behind the single national regulator, provided his Territory isn’t disadvantaged from its current position.

We also met with several high profile operators including Will Shaw from Shaws Darwin Transport and his main man in the NT – Gary Broughton, and Brooke David from the Austfuel Group, which includes DirectHaul.
Both Shaws and Austfuel made our Board feel very welcome and were open and honest with us in relation to their own views on our industry and the daily issues they face working across the continent.
It was a great opportunity for our Board to spend uninterrupted time talking through the similarities and differences between our operations.

I found it inspiring to see how these companies have embraced information technology, not only for the things you’d expect like vehicle tracking, but as a real business tool, automating the monitoring and measurement of just about everything they do.

I must admit, through some pre-conceived notion, I didn’t expect to see the adaptation of the very latest in information technology in a remote place like Darwin. More fool me! I came away embarrassed at how advanced they were compared to my own operation.

Back to industry policy – the consistent message we heard in Darwin was the same as we hear from members across the nation:
“We’re really supportive of the move to a single national regulator PROVIDED there is consistent agreement and support for one set of rules and regulations and not seven different interpretations and therefore, seven sets of enforceable regulations, each differing – albeit ever so slightly, from what was meant to be a uniform “national policy.”

The other issue which was discussed was mass distance charging.

There was general agreement that it is inevitable users will be paying directly for roads going forward. After all, roads are no different to any other of the main services which have traditionally been funded by tax payers collectively, like pensions and hospitals and schooling etc.

It’s unfortunately an almost accepted view that governments just don’t or won’t have the funds to pay for the upkeep of such services in the future. Sad but true!

The biggest concerns discussed were:
a) what sort of convoluted reporting system will be invented by the regulators which we’ll be expected to adopt; and
b) understandably, state and local governments want to be assured that funds raised will be used in their own jurisdictions.

Despite industry recommendations that the best answer today is to expand the user pay system for roads through our fuel levy there is no guarantee Government will head that way. A fuel levy based system is undoubtedly the easiest to administer (there’s already a system in place to do this), however it appears there is a view – at least in some quarters – that we need something way more complicated.

Perhaps that’s the case, but please, let’s not rush into another program that adds a whole lot more cost and requires those on the ground to add another layer of red tape and accounting expertise to their business, just because somewhere else in the world, a similar system is in use. Food for thought.

Have a great month.

Rob McIntosh

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