It’s the run-up to a federal election, so promises, promises, promises are what we hear all of the time. The pollies are going around being everybody’s friend and appearing supportive of anyone with a vote.
The trucking industry shouldn’t kid itself. In reality, we don’t have a vote. Our industry is too spread out geographically and too diverse to be able to put pressure on an individual politician. The only exception to this is probably in the more rural areas where trucking is an integral part of local industry, mainly agriculture. Unfortunately, a few country MPs do not make major changes in policy direction possible.
However, we do have an example of how government action can get changes which benefit the trucking industry. The hard yards are not made on the hustings or in the white heat of an election battle, but in the committee rooms in the state and federal capitals.
One of the bugbears which has plagued trucking throughout living memory is the different rules which govern trucking each time the truck crosses a state border. Issues around this topic were up there in the demands of the truckies blocking the highway on Razorback in 1979 and again at blockades at Yass and Albury in the late eighties and early nineties.
Trucking advocates would bang their heads against this particular brick wall with zero success. Each state knew best and was proud it had created trucking rules which were separate and different from the other states. The authorities in each state capital protected their little fiefdoms and jealously guarded their differences.
This may have been OK in the fifties when interstate trucking was in its infancy, but by the time we got to 1980, interstate travel dominated the industry. Australia was developing a modern, efficient, and often poorly regulated trucking industry to power a modern integrated economy.
Once we got to the 21st century, the industry was modernising and growing fast, but still dealing with antiquated regulation either side of the state borders. It was railway track gauge all over again.
Then something happened. There was a lull in the to and fro of politics and some of the stronger lobbying seemed to get through the fog of bureaucracy and to the state and federal transport ministers. While general politics took its eye off the ball, sensible voices could be heard calling for a rationalisation of truck regulations across the country.
This is simplifying the situation, but out of this relative calm a consensus among the transport ministers of Australia emerged to move towards a nationally consistent enforcement regime. Out of this grew the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator and slowly but surely we are moving towards some commonality across borders.
Now we face a fatigue emphasis, but any attempts to further regulate fatigue are going to be hampered by the parking bay problem. There aren’t enough, we think. We don’t know, nobody knows. The level of data on proper places to park a truck and take a rest is abysmal.
Governments aren’t going to take urgent action, because there is no clear responsibility for provision of parking bays and no real funding. There is no funding because there is no real data telling the powers that be, there’s a problem.
Perhaps the research funding cash which appears to be flowing around, both for associations and regulators, might be put to good use to find out what there is out there on the road, in terms of places for truckies to sleep, clean up etc?
Then when we hand over a document demonstrating truckies can’t rest because there are no facilities, the wheels might start turning in the corridors of power and something might be done about a worsening situation.