Operator licensing: the next RSRT?

The ATA, our members and Australia’s owner-drivers won that fight and the RSRT was abolished. But now a new threat to small trucking businesses has been proposed: operator licensing. Operator licensing goes beyond requiring trucks to be registered and drivers licensed. It goes beyond requiring businesses to have an ABN and be registered for GST.

Under an operator licensing system, hire and reward trucking businesses and possibly even businesses operating trucks to support their own work would need to have a special business licence from the NHVR.

The UK goods vehicle operator licensing system is sometimes held out as an example of what Australia should do. Let’s take a look at what it involves.

Under the UK system, operators must demonstrate that they are of good repute and fit to hold a licence. Industry associations, trade unions, local councils and planning authorities all have a legal right to object to applications.

That’s right: your potential competitors and the union would all have a say on whether you could run your business.

Operators also have to get approval for the location of their depot or operating centre. Members of the public can lodge objections to the depot location, even if the site already has approval from the local council.

Operators must show that they have financial reserves set aside – or other acceptable arrangements – to meet the financial standing requirements of the system. For a standard hire and reward licence, the requirement is £6,650 (about $11,000) for the first vehicle and £3,700 (about $6,100) for each additional vehicle. Operators must have this money available at all times.

Finally, holders of a standard hire and reward licence must engage, and nominate on their licence, a transport manager who holds a special certificate of professional competence or one of a short list of professional qualifications.

And the Regulator could reject a proposed transport manager: your right to choose one of your key employees could be overruled.

The concept of operator licensing isn’t new in Australia. Buried at the back of the law that set up the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme is an unproclaimed part that would enable the Australian Government to licence interstate trucking operators.

This unproclaimed part has never been put into effect, because Federal Governments on both sides of politics have recognised that operator licensing is a bad idea.

In 2003, the National Road Transport Commission (NTC) compared what was then a new approach to compliance – Chain of Responsibility – to operator licensing. It rejected operator licensing in favour of Chain of Responsibility, concluding that operator licensing was anti-competitive and heavy handed.

The ATA will stand firm against operator licensing. Our industry doesn’t need more red tape and yet another licensing system. What we need to improve safety are practical measures, such as reforming the road transport laws, with amendments now before parliament to impose a general safety duty on all chain parties, including consignors and consignees, and to extend Chain of Responsibility to cover maintenance and repairs.

Practical measures also include mandating stability control technology from 2019 for new model trucks and trailers and from 2020 for new trucks and trailers, with appropriate exemptions as well as a review of truck driver licensing and training, and a national information campaign for car drivers about how to share the road safely with trucks.

This column was written by ATA Chair, Noelene Watson.

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