ATA stands firm on equal rights for trucking businesses

Submission to parliamentary inquiry into proposed national regulations criticises clause holding individuals automatically guilty if their business commits an offence

February 7, 2012

The directors and managers of trucking businesses risk having their rights curtailed under national regulations unless changes are made, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has warned.

Its submission to a Queensland parliamentary inquiry into the National Heavy Vehicle Law Bill criticises a clause holding individuals automatically guilty if their business commits an offence.

A reverse onus of proof will apply to every director, executive office, partner or unincorporated business manager if an offence occurs, meaning they must prove their innocence.

ATA CEO Stuart St Clair says directors and managers should have the same rights as anyone else – innocent until proven guilty.

"The presumption of innocence is the golden thread that runs through our legal system. Trucking business directors and managers should have the same legal rights as other Australians," St Clair says.

The submission has not been released publicly, with the ATA saying it will be available once the inquiry publishes it.

The ATA has listed examples of what may happen unless amendments are made to the Bill.

It says a finance manager of a trucking business would be presumed guilty of an offence if the business was convicted of breaching fatigue laws, even if the individual had nothing to do with operating trucks.

"In many small, unincorporated trucking businesses, one partner drives a truck and the other does the books and organises work from home. The partner staying at home would be presumed guilty of an offence if the driving partner was caught speeding," the ATA claims.

St Clair says the ATA has proposed detailed amendments to the Bill so individuals can be prosecuted personally for offences.

"But the prosecution would have to prove its case. That’s the way we do things in Australia," he says.

The Australian Furniture Removers’ Association (AFRA), which rejoined the ATA last week after leaving the group a year ago, says it is concerned about the reverse onus of proof.

"We can’t see why people who run a trucking or removals business should be treated this way when every other Australian gets their day in court and is presumed innocent," AFRA President Andrew Garrety says.

The ATA has also sought changes to access conditions, arguing the measures currently in the Bill are not strong enough to deliver productivity gains.

State and local governments have the final say on road access applications, but the ATA wants a clause allowing operators to appeal to an independent review body if an application is rejected.

"Unless the Bill is amended, the whole National Heavy Vehicle Regulator project will be a failure, because its success will largely hinge on the regulator’s ability to promote better road access decisions," St Clair says.

The Bill was introduced into Queensland’s parliament late last year to enact national regulations, with other state and territory jurisdictions to follow. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will be based in Queensland.

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