For many years David Coonan worked at the heart of road transport policy development in Australia, he was known for his strength in passion and policy. Unfortunately, he passed away this week after a prolonged illness. He is survived by his wife, Kathy, and two daughters, Jennifer and Elizabeth.
Anyone who came across David Coonan in his long career associated with the trucking industry encountered a passionate man who did not have a problem with calling a spade a spade. At heart, he was someone with a sharp intellect and a big heart to go with his passion for the industry. His time at the Australian Trucking Association saw him battling the legislators and bureaucrats, toe to toe, on a daily basis.
This was a man who had worked on the actual machinery involved on the ground and also had a broad knowledge of the way policy is formulated at a higher level. He had a foot in both camps, able to understand the thinking both mechanically at truck driver level and from 30,000 ft at the policy development level.
He had also spent time writing legislation, and understood the thinking required there. Looking at, ‘what law needs to be to reflect the outcome’ is how Dave described it.
“I’m not aware of anyone who would have done hands-on roadside stuff, through to writing the law and developing the regulations,” said Dave, in an interview with Diesel Magazine in 2017. “If you think of someone who’s worked in local government, the private sector, Commonwealth Government, National Transport Commission and lobby space, I don’t think you’ll find anyone who has done the same.
“I think a lot of people found me very threatening because I was very direct. I didn’t tolerate fools very well, especially when I was getting sick. Unfortunately, if they can’t establish an argument about policy and sustain sound political arguments, they attack the person.
“It was sad to see bureaucrats not able to carry the argument, so when the arguments were put by the NTC about over-charging trucks, the bureaucrats simple refused to accept the outcome and simply voted to keep the charges the same or increase them. Rather than actually do their job and be brave enough to say, ‘yes there was overcharging and we have to correct that’.”
Unfortunately, Dave had to leave his role at the ATA, to concentrate on his illness, Multiple System Atrophy, a rare neurological condition, involving the gradual loss of nerve cells and atrophy in the parts of the brain controlling movement, balance and the body’s automatic functions.
He had retired to his 20 acre block, about 30 km outside of Canberra, among his prized possessions, including a substantial collection of vintage tractors. Some fully renovated and others awaiting renovation.
In November 2016, Dave was presented with the ATA’s Technical Achievement Award for his work in fighting the industry’s corner in developing technical policy. Unable to make it to the TMC in Melbourne, he was presented with his award on a video, shown at the awards event.
“The trucking industry is a hard industry to be in, but there a lot of people who do the right thing and do it very well,” said Dave. “There’s a lot of good inspectors and there’s a lot of good truck drivers. A few of the bad ones cause the issues. The vast majority of truck drivers want to come home at night, to behave themselves and operators want to run good businesses.
“Look at the work diary, do you think the average person could sit down and fill out something like it for their life, and not get a $600 fine? The last set of reforms of driving hours were bad for drivers because they took away flexibility. The nana nap is very difficult to have now, but it saves a lot of lives.
“The seven hour break routine is fine for six hours sleep, if you can sleep where you feed. Instead, we make them drive out of town. I think some of the rules are cruel. I wonder how many of those working on the work diary in the regulator space have ever sat down and had to fill one out around doing their job.”
The passing of David Coonan has left a vacancy in the trucking industry for someone willing to show their passion in no uncertain terms, wear their heart on their sleeve and remain determined to stand their ground.