Road user charging, here we go again

The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) needs to be pulled apart and redone, aside from the new safety provisions in what will become Chapter 1A of the law.

This comprehensive rewrite will require sweeping terms of reference and an independent review team.

The HVNL was assembled from 13 model laws. It never came together properly. During the drafting process, the ATA and state governments identified 1,020 problems with the law, ranging from issues of principle to minor drafting errors.

Since 2012, the industry and governments have worked to streamline the chain of responsibility part of the law. The results of that work will come into force on 1 October. The new safety duties will make our industry safer and will also eliminate many fiddly, unnecessary requirements.

The rest of the law needs a similar, tough-minded review.

The National Transport Commission has sent around draft terms of reference for the review.

We don’t think they go nearly far enough. At the request of our members, we prepared an industry version of what should be covered in the review. We’ve sent the draft to the NTC and all the HVNL states.

Our draft terms of reference make it clear that the HVNL needs to be rewritten completely, apart from Chapter 1A. We seek disruption in this day and age, not bureaucratic fine-tuning. If Australia is to progress as a nation, so must our thinking and our policy setting procedures.

As its highest priorities, the review needs to look at the prescriptive work and rest hours, and the road access arrangements for trucks.

The original Queensland fatigue law was on a single page, as my colleague Gary Mahon has pointed out.

The fatigue laws now take up more than 140 pages. People are still talking about adding more offences, more defences and more special cases. Meanwhile, we expect drivers to track their time in 15-minute increments, as if they were partners in a top tier law firm.

The review needs to radically reduce the complexity of the work and rest hours. It needs to add flexibility for operators who use technology or other measures such as demonstrated risk identification and management to reduce their risk. And it needs to stop penalising drivers who make minor mistakes in filling out their diaries.

The other top priority needs to be reducing the red tape involved in getting truck access permits. The OSOM review is a great start, but the whole of the access decision-making process needs to be updated to reflect the technologies now  available.

We don’t think the new safety duties should be part of the review. Chapter 1A does not even come into force until 1 October. It represents the best efforts of governments and industry to review the evidence that exists and work out how to introduce a primary duty and executive officer due diligence into the road transport law.

The best time to review Chapter 1A would be in three to five years time, once we have some information, including court judgments, safety statistics and on-the-ground experience about how well it is  working.

Otherwise, we’ll end up repeating the arguments of the last six years, with no new evidence to change anyone’s mind.

The ATA believes the review should be completely independent of the NTC. Because the review needs to start from scratch, it would make sense to bring in a team who were not involved in the development of the current law.

We need new ideas from people who are experienced in other areas of regulation, not the same ideas again.

The review team should be supported by an expert panel, including a driver with daily experience in filling in a work diary and someone who has personal experience in applying for road access approvals.

The HVNL review is a chance to continue fixing the mistakes that were made when the law was put together. We’ve made a good start with the new safety duties, but the rest of the law needs changes that are just as radical. This will require terms of reference like the ones that the ATA has drafted and a completely independent review team.

Ben Maguire
Australian Trucking Association

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