All of the representatives of the trucking industry have agreed to a single submission to the National Transport Commission on amendments needed to improve the current chain of responsibility situation. Speaking at an industry information forum, hosted by Cooper Grace Ward Lawyers on the Gold Coast today, Chris Melham has outlined the road transport industry’s position on COR.
“Chain of responsibility is an extremely complex and inconsistent piece of legislation,” said Melham. “Over the last three of four years, the industry has, through NatRoad and other representative groups, been working with the NTC on COR.
“Our submission is going to be lodged with the NTC, by NatRoad and the ATA. This particular submission has got the support of every single road transport representative organisation in the ATA family. So that’s pretty powerful, going to government with one voice about what we think about COR and where it should go.
“We are at a really critical stage, in terms of industry and industry representation, because the jurisdictions are going to dig in. We are going in hard and going in united. That’s the message we are trying to get out there.
“One of our first concerns was how the bureaucracy put the draft out just before Christmas. This is what occurred with COR. Given the importance of this legislation, we were stunned the NTC saw fit to wait until Christmas, and give us a six week turnaround. We have put the federal and state ministers on notice, saying we can respond but we are far from happy with the window they’ve given industry to respond to the most critical piece of legislation in our sector.”
Currently the COR law is structured in a complex way by subject matter and duplicates rules in different sections. In the recent case against Demorange in Victoria, the judge acknowledged the magistrate may have interpreted sections of the law incorrectly. The submission from the trucking industry is calling for a new structure to the rules.
“Our job is to try and pull this legislation apart and make it simpler,” said Melham. “It will allow every party in the supply chain the opportunity to better understand what it is each individual company needs to do to design codes of practise, instruction manuals and guiding materials for employees to comply. The act should be structured to allow you to do that.
“It’s our opinion it doesn’t do that. Because of this, it works in favour of the prosecutor, in this case, state governments, who have the backing of their treasury to take you to court. How can we defend that kind of scenario in a court of law? 95 per cent of the industry can’t and they cop the fines, infringements or vehicle groundings. That’s not what the law was set up to do.
“What our submission is actually saying is the act, particularly section 1A should be dismantled. Moved aside and replaced by a new format. The act should be structured along the lines of the parties in the supply chain.”
The submission suggests the first section of the act should define who are the parties in the chain of responsibility and what their specific duties are. It then asks for it to clearly define what ‘reasonable steps’ are, so the chain can understand what each part is expected to do so no-one in an operation is breaching the law. When the specific duties and responsibilities are clearly outlined, operators can then work out how to ensure they are compliant.
It also calls for the NTC and the NHVR to develop and produce the criteria for the NHVR to recognise a code of practice. Once this is achieved procedures already being followed can coalesce into a code of practice the trucking industry can use. When codes are in place, any business can be audited and compliance can be assured in an operation. An audited compliance can be held up in a court of law, if regulators prosecute operators.
“New South Wales is a very ruthless state when it comes to prosecution,” said Melham. “Our recommendations say jurisdictions should not be adopting a punitive approach. They should, actually be looking at education and awareness. We want to see NHVR to start rolling out greater communication with the industry and explain the law to us.”