We need to fight like you mean it. A few of the little issues which have popped up recently should remind everyone involved in the trucking industry just what our place is in the psyche of the Australian nation. Unfortunately, it’s not a very good place, if you are looking for fairness and people doing the right thing by you.
No, as an industry, people involved in road transport need to know they are quite a long way down the pecking order. Even the largest transport operators have to shout very loud to be heard, and then may still be completely ignored by governments or other big businesses.
The industry as a whole has to go cap in hand both to those who regulate the industry and to the major customers, who are big enough to generate the kind of revenue a big fleet needs to survive in the contemporary business environment.
Hold on a minute, there is a major industry sector which constitutes 8.6 per cent of Australia’s GDP and is being ignored by government? Yes, even though we are nearly a tenth of the economy, we appear to count for very little.
Unlike an industry like farming, trucking is not concentrated geographically in a particular region. The farming community and its environment is the core support for a major political party, the Nationals, who happen to be in a coalition with the Liberals, and in power.
Trucking is not concentrated anywhere particularly and its people are not part of any significant demographic sector. The nearest thing we have to a tribe is probably general small business, a group seen to miss out on consideration at just about every turn.
The only trucking group with any clout in Canberra is probably the Transport Workers Union, it is a player in Labor Party decision making. The TWU also has a problematic and often divergent relationship with those running trucking businesses, as we saw in the battle around the RSRT last year.
So, we have a trucking industry which has paid more than it should in road user charge for a number of years and nobody can do anything about it. Trucks are going to be banned from a wide range of vital routes in and around the Port of Melbourne and be forced onto a toll road at exorbitant rates, just to keep the voters in a couple of the city’s suburbs from voting out their local members.
At the same time as this is going on a major stevedoring company, part of a global giant, DP World is feeling a squeeze from its global clients on its finances. It needs to charge more to its customers but it decides this is not a good idea. Instead, it decides it will start charging its suppliers of transport services, the trucking companies, for picking up the containers it has unloaded from its customers’ ships.
The trucking industry is trying to make a big noise about this and has managed to get a delay in the imposition of these charges, but there seems to be an inevitability about the way the charges will come in. The big company will have been able to bully trucking into accepting just one of the many impositions it has to suffer.
The trucking industry will have to fight every step of the way to get any improvement in its circumstances. We do not have any chance of becoming electorally significant any time soon. The government will always be able to ignore road transport and get re-elected. Lindsay Fox has been giving it a red hot go in the media recently, but is he going to get a real reduction in the tolls trucks have to pay around Melbourne? I am not getting my hopes up.