At this time, Australia, and indeed the world, is experiencing the COVID-19 pandemic and who can we turn to in times like these, why, it is our fluorescent heroes and heroines in the transport and logistics sector, that’s who?
The Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association Executive Director, Mathew Munro looks back at how we are doing so far.
Throughout these desperate times, governments have recognised the special status of the road transport sector. Federal and State governments have reached out to the ALRTA and other peak road transport associations to ask, ‘what else can we do to keep your members on the road?’
“We have been invited to several roundtables at Australian Parliament House to have input into the national drought and bushfire response,” reports the ALRTA. “We have participated in emergency teleconferences convened by the Deputy Prime Minister to plan for COVID-19. Ministers are calling our elected officials and staff after 10pm to seek urgent advice on new measures under consideration.”
As a direct result of this close consultation, governments have removed regulatory impediments to efficient transport operation by harmonising hay dimension standards across jurisdictions, abolishing supermarket delivery curfews, extending timeframes for driver medicals, moving to remote audits and allowing the use of supplementary work records for up to 30 days. Proposed heavy vehicle charging increases have been abandoned altogether. When state governments closed their borders to reduce the spread of COVID-19, freight, trucks and transport and logistics personnel were conditionally exempted.
What a great result for our industry – or so we thought.
Within a few days of the emergency lockdown procedures being implemented, it became apparent that our heavy vehicle drivers were being denied access to the most basic of amenities including meals, toilets and showers. Along with all other cafes and restaurants, the operation of truckstop restaurants had been prohibited, and with that went the driver lounges, toilets and showers. Understandably, our phones and social media lit up with examples, complaints and frustration.
“I am certain that the same thing would happen at Parliament House if meals, toilets and showers were suddenly unavailable,” said one commentator.
One of the problems with the COVID-19 response is that it is being led by Federal and State Health Officials. With good intentions, these officials are recommending emergency responses to the National Cabinet (essentially COAG) that then urgently impose draconian restrictions on businesses and communities. Sometimes they get it right, but sometimes they get it wrong. There is little time to consult widely on such measures, let alone develop any policy details. Lives matter. Time matters.
However, what is also apparent is that political boundaries have all but dissolved. The National Cabinet is made up of governments of all persuasions and the Federal Parliament has put aside political differences to waive through a package of business support measures as quickly as possible. COVID-19 is a common enemy and everyone is on ‘Team Australia’.
The ALRTA acknowledges the efforts of Federal Labor Senator, Glenn Sterle, who along with the industry associations championed the campaign to re-open truck stops. The National Cabinet listened and barely a week after the restaurant prohibition had been put in place, a common-sense exemption was announced for truck stops. Again, governments acutely recognise the importance of the road transport sector in keeping our society functioning.
There are many others who have been integral in fighting to keep road transport safe and viable throughout all of these crises including Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, Assistant Minister for Road Safety and Freight Transport, Scott Buchholz, and NHVR CEO, Sal Petroccitto. It is not easy to coordinate a workable response across a Federated political system but these leaders have well and truly risen to the occasion – and are still listening.
Hopefully, the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may have passed and Australia will have learned a few lessons about the importance of road transport. Too often we go back to business as usual and quickly forget that another crisis lies just around the corner.
To be prepared, the ALRTA says it needs a renewed focus on abolishing the red-tape that holds back our freight productivity. There are many opportunities to do this in 2020-21 as part of review of the heavy vehicle national law, Senate Inquiry in road transport, Productivity Commission review of transport reform and the heavy vehicle charging reform process.
The ALRTSA also publicly acknowledges the frontline people who got us through the COVID-19 crisis. Our communities have proudly rallied around our firies, medical professionals and teachers. Is it too much to ask for a little recognition for the men and women of road transport?