This week I sat in on a meeting in Perth of the great and the good in the freight industry and was regularly told how everything is different in WA. As the group ploughed through the problems and possible solutions for trucking in Western Australia I was struck by how similar the problems are that we face all over Australia, not how different they are.
People in the West are always keen to try and distance themselves from the rest of Australia and tell us how they are the forgotten state and suffer from neglect. The subject of the Eastern States ripping them off through the GST is a regular comment, as is resistance to the highly populated East imposing their rules on the very different West.
If there is a point of difference which does appear to be the case, it is in the way the WA road transport sector approaches the problem and comes up with the solutions. There seems to be a much more collaborative attitude between regulator and regulated, to get the situation working properly.
Solutions are to be found by the government giving a little and the trucking industry giving a little. This is in stark contrast to the intransigence found in the East and especially in New South Wales which regularly talks about following a national approach, while making up its own rules and applying them differently to the rest of the country.
Back to the problems. WA freight operators see one of their biggest problems being the perception of the trucking industry. Everyone is tarred with the same brush when a rogue operator does the wrong thing. A traffic accident is always a truck crash if a truck is involved and it’s always the truckie’s fault.
Sound familiar? It does to me, it is something this column has returned to again and again. The solution is for the whole industry to work together and display a concerted and consistent approach to the rest of the world, the media and, particularly, the government. There is little doubt this kind of initiative would have the desired effect, especially if it was a single national one. Everyone would benefit.
Next up it’s driver training and qualifications or lack of it. The industry can’t access good qualified drivers to fill its current driver needs and is hindered in attempts to develop its own youngsters to offer them a clear career path to a good job and good remuneration.
Yet again, guess what? It’s a national problem and if we all work together, across the country we can make some progress and halt the ever increasing average age of truck drivers. There is a clear problem here and it works on both state and federal levels. Truck driving needs to be a trade or a profession and not just a job which anyone can do if they have a license.
Fatigue is an issue over which there is considerable divergence between East and West. The rules in WA are completely different to those in the East and some operators in the West are going to fiercely defend them. This is one of the issues which also seems to deepen animosity from some sections of the trucking industry to the possibility of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator extending its remit to the West.
On this and many of the topics the operators are simply asking to be playing on an even playing field, in a situation where those who are doing the right thing are not being disadvantaged by dodgy competitors under-cutting them. Just about every operator in the Eastern States is also looking for exactly the same thing.
Maybe the answer is to clearly acknowledge the fact, yes the Western half of Australia is very different, yes they need special treatment and need to be heard in a national forum. If they are able to express themselves, they may get the solutions they are looking for. As long as the rest of Australia gets the same solutions: consistency of enforcement, sensible fatigue rules, productivity gains in return for safer trucks. Then we’d all be happy.