Governments are very good at making promises, not so good, sometimes, on delivering on promises. This week Michael McCormack, the Deputy Prime Minister, talking at the NatRoad Conference in Hamilton Island delivered on and added to the promise made five years ago to fund roads and parking bays for the trucking industry.
This is all part of the The Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program (HVSPP), which was promised $368 million in government funding from 2013 to 2022 for improved roads and parking facilities, with an on-going commitment of $40 million each year following.
The cash committed to by the Minister comes to $132.5 million, with a list of 93 projects included in the list. They are all commendable with new parking bays and lots of upgrades scattered all over the country. Forgive me for being a little cynical, but this announcement comes at a time when the current government stocks are low.
They tell you not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but with no more than nine months to go before an election, this kind of pumping up of expenditure looks like it might shore up useful votes in the trucking sector at a time when every vote counts.
Unfortunately, as an industry, a lot of the time the trucking vote does not count. If it did the government would have sorted out the disconnect between our fatigue laws and the lack of any decent facilities for the trucks drivers of Australia to comply with these laws a long time ago.
These latest spending commitments are simply a late attempt to play catch-up in a game in which we are never going to catch up. The number of new good parking places on our highways is not likely to keep up with the number of new trucks on the road as the freight task increases.
We are also losing large numbers of informal but effective parking bays as the new roads bypass the old highways and don’t replace those lost in the realignment. There are new parking bays going in but not in big enough numbers and also not well designed, as evidenced by another speaker at the NatRoad Event, John Ernst from Safe Freight Networks. He showed some examples of dangerously bad designs for parking bays where the truck driver loses out from the layout.
Yes, the funding is useful, but some real and informed top-down pressure to be applied on the state and local governments by Mr McCormack’s Department might get us some better outcomes and some genuinely smart parking bays.
Fatigue is an issue, but you can’t just blame the truckie for the problem, if the infrastructure is not there to enable compliance. Let’s hope some of these issues will get a good run at the upcoming National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s Fatigue Safety Forum aimed at providing the material for a new draft fatigue management regulatory framework to inform the review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law.
On a side note, I am not sure if many people picked up the irony of another announcement from the Deputy Prime Minister at NatRoad. He announced that the Pacific Highway will be four lanes all the way from Sydney to Brisbane by 2020. Sitting in the audience was the NSW Roads Minister who originally announced the Government’s intention to dual the whole Pacific back in 1990, Bruce Baird, NHVR Chairman. It has only taken thirty years but we got there. Let’s hope improved parking and fatigue reform don’t take quite so long