Diagnosing the symptoms, the 457 visa debate

Written by Tim Giles

This week’s announcement by the Australian Trucking Association and the reaction to it are a good illustration of exactly what is going wrong for the trucking industry. The reaction, the way it was reported and the opinion of those working in transport, show us why we get ourselves bogged down in internal battles and can rarely get any real progress on the big issues.

The premise for the ATA was simple, there is a shortage of truck drivers and if the government changed the rules to make it easier to get foreign drivers in on a 457 visa then the problem would be solved. Very simplistic and reflecting the opinion of many of the bigger trucking players who struggle to keep skilled drivers.

The chances of getting a sensible measured debate in the media was quite slim and it didn’t take long for the Transport Workers Union PR machine to get into gear. They also have a straightforward point to make on this issue, conditions and pay for drivers are unattractive and they are leaving the industry in large numbers.

Comment on social media about the announcement did, in some cases, run along the line of a dislike of foreigners coming in and taking Australian jobs but also focused on the awful conditions drivers have to live with. The harassment by the authorities on the road (no other profession can get fined nearly a week’s wages for mis-spelling a location in a log book) was given as a reason for the shortage. Many drivers talk about being poorly treated by employers, consignors, police, other road users and the general public as good reasons to leave the industry.

By the time the story hit the mass media the difference between the effectiveness of the TWU and the ATA in terms of leverage with the media was clear. One of the most misleading reports came on the Channel Ten News at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4PKai_7_KI&feature=share. This managed to conflate the TWU message with the ATA’s as their main focus while showing footage of frightening truck crashes. The ABC did a little better but still linked the story to truck crash deaths.

At the end of the day no-one has got their point across. The public just sees images of burning trucks and remains scared of monster trucks. The ATA’s message is completely lost in the noise around this subject. The TWU get some of their message across, don’t come up with a solution and further alienate the trucking industry.

There is no consensus, so the government can sit on their hands and do nothing, the trucking industry carries on desperate for drivers and disgruntled truckies continue to search for alternative employment. Is that a result?

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Author: Tim Giles

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