This week the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator are promising improved targeting by law enforcement of compliance activities as a result of the National Compliance and Enforcement Policy, published earlier in the week.
It was not long ago that such a bold statement would have been met with cynicism and derision from all quarters. In fact, the statement will probably still receive this sort of welcome in some places. However, those places are becoming more and more few and far between, as the NHVR grinds slowly towards some kind of rationality in the way the trucking industry is regulated and policed.
Not so long ago the perception was, there was little central control over roadside enforcement and state regulators. Those in charge of small fiefdoms around the country would be a law unto themselves and woe betide any poor recalcitrant truckie who got them on a bad day.
The roadside experience was one of tit-for-tat aggression. An unwarranted fine would be answered with a more abusive driver, who would take it out on other enforcement personnel, who would in turn get stuck into the next innocent truckie who rolled into the parking bay. The anger mounted and the relationship deteriorated bit-by-bit.
With the antipathy so deep-seated it will be some time before the air is cleared, but the process has begun. There have been some chinks of light in the gloom and the atmosphere at roadside checks has come down a notch or two.
This is something I witnessed myself sitting with an NHVR team pulling in random trucks at Tailem Bend in South Australia, earlier in the year. Of course, they were on their best behaviour, but the conciliatory atmosphere at weigh stations has been reported to me by truckies in SA even when journalists weren’t present.
One of the aspects of the progress being made in recent years by the NHVR, which has eased the tension, is the perception that someone is actually listening and acting on what they have heard. They may be listening, but we can’t expect an overnight success.
Past performance shows us the NHVR becoming aware of an issue, then talking to as many people as possible to get the full picture. After this it all goes quiet. The process seems to be one of the NHVR working out what would be a sensible approach to the problem and developing a process to get from the current unsatisfactory situation, to one which is more satisfactory to as many parties to the issue as possible.
That’s where the fun starts. Behind the scenes the NHVR then have to negotiate with all of the state and federal authorities and other stakeholders to get a tacit agreement on the way forward. The bigger the problem the longer it seems to take.
This latest announcement shows the NHVR growing in confidence and authority. The policy paper lays down what behaviours and non-compliance, enforcement should go after and how they should do it.
The confidence may also result from the NHVR’s own experience running the roadside enforcement system in both South Australia and Tasmania, as well as negotiating to take over in the rest of the Eastern States. The organisation now has credibility when talking on these matters, it has been there and done it.
On the part of the trucking industry, it seems to be a matter of being patient. It’s important to keep in the ear of the authorities and iron out current issues. It’s also important to keep up the flow of feedback to the NHVR every time they come up with an idea.
We need to work for our mutual benefit. We need them, to get a more rational regulatory system, and they need us to demonstrate a more conciliatory approach pays dividends.