Newman sets out stall on presumption of innocence

Fearing weakening of chain of responsibility laws, ALRTA and SARTA face uphill struggle to head off changes to scheme

September 26, 2012

The task facing a transport industry effort to halt what proponents see as a watering down of chain of responsibility laws was put into sharp relief yesterday by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman.

Newman used a speech at the Australian Institute of Company Directors and University of Queensland Business School Leader’s Edge luncheon to argue the case for reducing directors’ regulatory burden on economic and equity grounds.

"I understand that currently in Queensland alone there are over 3,800 offences for which a director can be held personally liable for acts undertaken by their company with or without the director’s knowledge," Newman says.

"We see legislation that is working against the principle of a limited liability company and often it reverses the onus of proof.

"In this respect, directors are denied a presumption of innocence.

"I am not saying that directors who knowingly or recklessly commit illegal acts that lead to harm should not be subject to the full force of law, but my way of thinking is that you should have the same legal rights as other citizens.

"Reforms in this area will look to reduce the liabilities imposed on directors by half and will mean a director will only be personally liable if they encourage or assist in the commission of an offence or they have been negligent regarding its commission."

The speech came not long after the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) and the South Australian Road Transport Association (SARTA) launched the Don’t Break The Chain campaign in a bid to head-off the changes.

ALRTA National President John Beer and SARTA President Sharon Middleton have sent emails to the industry seeking support.

"The facts are simple," they say.

"Australia’s chain of responsibility laws save lives. They make life fairer for truck drivers and operators. By holding big freight customers and senior executives accountable, chain of responsibility laws make our roads safer for everybody.

The email claims the laws are "under attack" and urges people to sign a petition addressed to Newman that argues against the removal of executive liability.

"Ministers from every state have already voted to remove 140 chain of responsibility accountabilities from the new national laws. We urgently need your help. We must stop any more cuts being made," the email reads

The campaign has opened a website with social media links that outlines its aims.

"We want to see the National [Heavy Vehicle] Regulator engage with large freight customers, distribution centres, saleyards and all the other major links in the logistics supply chain," it states.

"We want to see freight customers being educated, trained and assisted to understand their chain of responsibility obligations.

The NHVR will take over the running of chain of responsibility, and the ALRTA and SARTA want a guarantee the regulator will have enough resources and expertise to enforce the laws effectively.

It is seeking the establishment of a taskforce with equal government and industry representation to be given 12 months to "rebuild an improved chain of responsibility law, one that is more effective and agreed to be fair".

"We’d like to see a ‘new-generation’ chain of responsibility, one that is based upon ‘affirmative statutory duties’," the website says.

ALRTA began efforts to block the changes last month after the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) lobbied for the reversal of the burden of proof to be abolished.

The website says there are 35 days left "to save the chain".

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