Headless Chicken Syndrome

Talking Turkey About Trucking

There is only one topic of conversation in the trucking industry at the moment, the RSRT. Therefore, it is probably a good idea to get some perspective on the whole situation. Inaction is not an option, the issue is very real and here to stay for some time. Trucking, generally, needs to take stock of the situation and come up with a solution.


Sitting at the Livestock and Bulk Carriers of NSW conference last week was a timely reminder of just what the issues at stake are. Robert Gunning, who has been involved with the trucking industry since the eighties, in different guises, is now back as LBCA Executive Director. He led a discussion about the issues around the infamous ‘Order’ at the Bathurst conference which stepped back from the immediate issues at hand.


His point is well made, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal is all about politics, it is not about safety on our highways, it’s all about politics. This is something the trucking industry needs to remember in the weeks and months to come, when the implications of the imposition of the RSRT over the existing laws covering road transport will start to bite.


The source of the problem and its driving force is politics and we need to re-emphasise this again and again. It’s all about political agendas and it is important to remember this when formulating any reaction to the RSRT’s actions.


Running around like the proverbial headless chicken saying the trucking industry will be in chaos is not going to do anyone any good. Gunning’s call was for the industry to stand up and tell all and sundry we oppose the law, it’s wrong and needs to be changed now. There is no use arguing the toss as to how the rules should be interpreted, this is missing the point. It’s all about politics and power plays in the ALP.


The RSRT, or something like it, has been on the agenda for the TWU for a long time. There is no doubt the TWU is a strong campaigner for improved safety throughout the industry, one of the strongest. At the same time, the union is also about members and increasing representation throughout the industry.


The sector of the trucking industry into which the TWU has struggled to penetrate is the owner driver, independent small contractor segment. This group is always in the background when the union negotiates with the big trucking companies. If it’s too hard to do with employee drivers, then just get a few owner drivers in to do the work, problem solved.


Consequently, the RSRT has been precisely designed to target just this troublesome sector, small family businesses and single truck operators. It came in, late on, in the Gillard ALP Government’s term and passed into law just in time to see Tony Abbott take the reins, but without a viable majority in the Senate.


Sentiment in the National Party, was strong to repeal the RSRT legislation, but difficulties in the Senate, with the likes of the Palmer Party, and others, meant it wasn’t possible and not at the top of anyone’s priority list.


Here we are four years later reaping the results of this impasse. The organisation has simply got on and done its job. The roles are clearly defined and the tribunal system works to achieve its stated aims, as directed by the legislation.


Why weren’t the alarm bells ringing four years ago, when it became clear repeal was unlikely? It would seem very few recognised the danger inherent in the tribunal’s gestation. This was not a rational law, developed by an organisation like the National Transport Commission, it was a set up to perform a specific function in bringing about structural change in the trucking industry, by eliminating the owner driver from many market segments.


Yes, we need to sign petitions, lobby MPs etc, etc. More importantly, the industry needs to stand together, as one, come up with a rational alternative and get involved with the real game here, national politics. There is always a deal to be done and it is amazing what can be achieved by getting down and dirty with the dodgy dealing behind the scenes in Canberra. The Road User Charge deal when GST was introduced, being a prime example.


We don’t have a choice. There is no option where the naive, but principled, outsider gets the desired result. It’s going to take political nous, a strong nerve and a strong stomach to get through this, but we, as an industry have to stand up for our interests, and go in hard.