People outside or new to the trucking industry often ask why there are so many industry associations and who does what. The answer can often be quite complex and the history of trucking’s relationship with governments, both state and federal, needs to illustrate where they all came from.
One of the issues we may be seeing at the moment is the associations themselves not being clear on their individual roles in the scheme of things and an appreciation of the history which has brought us to our current situation.
One important thing to state at this point is just how much better the industry representation situation is than it has been in the past. We may complain about current issues and reckon the various bodies are not taking any notice of trucking, but it is not that long ago that trucks and trucking were invisible to anyone in power and the only interface between trucking and the authorities was at the roadside, and it wasn’t a very friendly relationship.
Truckies felt themselves to be left at the bottom of the heap and largely ignored. In 1979, this boiled over into action after charges on truck owners were hiked up yet again by the New South Wales Government. The Razorback Blockade has gone down in history as a landmark and a reminder of the terrible relationship between trucking and the authorities. Some negotiations were held and the blockade finally dismantled, but little change eventuated.
Trucking operators were members of state organisations, as they are today, but the membership was relatively low and government was oblivious to much of the lobbying. A new radical association appeared out of Shepparton and quickly picked up strong membership. The National Transport Federation (NTF) spent a lot of time in the courtroom and became a disrupting influence.
During the early 1980s, the livestock industry started to get its act together, with Queensland leading the way, to be followed by all of the other states. This led inevitably to the organisation that is today the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA), which developed a strong and united voice.
1988 saw more blockades, this time in Yass and again both federal and state governments came along to talk to the blockaders. Some concessions were made to trucking but little could be expected to change in the political climate.
The following year saw a tragic catalyst for change. The Grafton and Clybucca bus and truck crashes sent a shock wave through the country and the trucking industry. The New South Wales Government came out guns blazing and it looked like the trucking industry was going to be regulated with a very heavy hand.
Quick thinking and some smart negotiating were required and, in this crisis, all of the interested groups got together to campaign against the planned changes and to come up with a solution. Everyone was in the tent, from the more conservative livestockers and state associations of the time to the feisty NTF.
From this cooperation grew the Road Transport Forum (RTF), now the Australian Trucking Association, ATA). The message coming out of the trucking industry was consistent and reasoned. Safety was brought to the top of the agenda and trucking looked to regulate itself to avoid draconian measures being adopted.
At this time input from all the parties involved created a common strategy developed through the RTF, but taken to the state governments by the state bodies. One voice of trucking was heard all over the country and a consensus policy developed.
It’s nearly thirty years since these events occurred and we seem to have forgotten the core lesson here. Coordinated measures from each interface between trucking industry representation and government is key to getting them to listen.
On the big topics there is no room for divergent messaging from trucking. There needs to be serious debate in the committee rooms and plenty of feedback from members to the associations, but when the position of our industry is presented to government it must be consistent. If not, the government will revert to the old days and ‘divide and conquer’.