David Coonan is one of those people who would always talk directly to the problem in his long career associated with the trucking industry. He is a passionate man who does not have a problem with calling a spade a spade. At heart, he is someone who has a sharp intellect and a big heart to go with his passion for the industry. His time at the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) saw him battling the legislators and bureaucrats, toe to toe, on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, Dave had to leave his role at the ATA, to concentrate on the illness with which he now has to contend. Multiple System Atrophy is 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.
Starting from a humble background on a farm near Canberra, he has always had a passion for all things mechanical. Now, his lack of coordination leaves him frustrated, but philosophical. Diesel News went to visit Dave and talk to him about those things he feels passionate about, but first we talked about his background.
“When I was at school, I wanted to do something mechanical,” says Dave. “We were poor, so unless I got a scholarship, I wasn’t going to university. There were nine scholarships for mechanical engineers at BHP, and I was tenth.
“They offered me a degree in mechanical metallurgy, but my older brother was already doing it and I didn’t want to go into the same field as him. Then they offered me a mechanical certificate through BHP, but I found I could do the same thing here in Canberra, without leaving home, and do a trade as well.”
The plan was to do a diesel mechanics trade apprenticeship and study mechanical engineering at the same time. Dave enjoyed working on the Caterpillar equipment so much, it took him eight years to get his qualification, working through his apprenticeship and then handling field service.
“After I had qualified, I thought it was time to get off the tools, because I looked around and there were no old diesel mechanics who could still count to ten,” recalls Dave. “I used my qualifications to get into the public sector.
“I worked for National Biological Standards, doing calibrations in the workshop. Then I went into fleet management for the Department of Housing and Construction in the ACT, getting the machines repaired in the workshop or externally. I was dealing with 40 contractors and 2,000 pieces of equipment, right up to D8s on the dump.”
The next move was sideways into the ACT Motor Registry, where Dave got involved with the writing the mass and dimensions regulations. During this period he worked with the National Road Transport Commission, or NRTC (now the National Transport Commission, NTC).
At this point, he had successfully moved all the way from a mechanic to writing policy. The ACT is a relatively small jurisdiction, so Dave had to deal with many varied policy areas, giving him insight into a wide variety of transport issues.
“I actually had a four month stint at the NRTC in the legislation development area,” says Dave. “Then I went to work for Robert Hogan at the Commonwealth Department of Transport, in the road transport reform field. Both at the ACT and the Commonwealth, I was heavily involved in the charges space, and the policy space around vehicle standards and trucks generally.
“Then I went to the Australian Trucking Association, working in the road safety space, later becoming the Manager of Policy, overall, for eight years.”
Among his achievements there, he recalls getting the first permit for a BAB quad in NSW, organising the first PBS demonstration day in Narrandera. He was involved in development of the Truck Application Impact Chart. Most of his time there was spent ensuring those developing policy and regulation for the trucking were very aware of the trucking industry position, in no uncertain terms. Dave’s passion when working at the ATA was particularly strong in the road charging area.