Sometimes it is just choosing your battles and the timing of them which achieves results. Getting the target or the timing wrong and you send the incorrect message and miss your target. The submission by the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) to the joint National Transport Commission/National Heavy Vehicle Regulator heavy vehicle roadworthiness review sets out to attack a direct competitor, sending out the wrong message, if progress is the aim.
The ATA submission includes 11 recommendations in all, many of which are reasonable and well targeted. Yes, some form of standardised heavy vehicle inspection system should come into being and the standards of the inspectors and examiners should be consistent across the country. Yes, the cowboys should be targeted, the defect notice system should be simplified and the defect withdrawal procedure improved.
Down at recommendation nine, the ATA have included the suggestion the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme should be wound down. Although this idea is buried at number nine, in the ATA’s press release on the subject the plan to get rid of the NHVAS was the headline and the only topic discussed.
Not only is this idea not going to get up, this kind of confrontational action is only going to exacerbate problems. The ATA is attacking a direct competitor in the truck accreditation space, one which espouses the idea of improved safety outcomes for the trucking industry on our highways, which is also at the heart of the ATA’s own Trucksafe program.
Nobody is saying the NHVAS is not seriously flawed, the NSW Roads and Maritime Services crackdown after the Mona Vale crash highlighted many of the issues which need addressing and stimulated the haste shown in working through the NTC/NHVR review of maintenance. However, this kind of submission just has the effect of opening old wounds, from 15 years ago.
The NHVAS was a state government driven initiative, which came into being during the drive to improve safety on the highways by improving the maintenance outcomes in the trucking industry. It developed after the introduction of a fledgling Trucksafe by the ATA and gave operators a less comprehensive but, in theory, equally effective accreditation scheme.
It was also a source of income and control for the state governments involved, it was their baby. The late nineties were characterised by disputes between Trucksafe and the state run NHVAS. Trucksafe was looking for the state authorities to recognise fleets accredited in its scheme as fully compliant, without the need for further auditing to get into mass and fatigue management.
State governments would have none of that, to get concessions from them you would need to be part of the NHVAS set-up. As a result, many companies go through the tortuous process of multiple auditing just to get all of their accreditation right. Since then, Trucksafe has ploughed its solo course and is a valuable, comprehensive and very effective accreditation scheme. Unfortunately it doesn’t have the advantage of automatically qualifying fleets for productivity schemes. The parallel schemes are a fact of life now.
The most important issue is to improve maintenance outcomes, get all trucking fleets up to a minimum standard and avoid the tragedies involving loss of life with poorly maintained trucks involved. This is not to be achieved by in-fighting between safety oriented schemes. It will be up to everyone who has truck safety as a priority to work together. We need to get all of the schemes up to scratch, with improved integration and recognition between the different modules.
There is no room for petty rivalries and bickering about events from the last century. Let’s move on, lets make some real progress.