Higgs questions OSOM permit centralisation

By: Rob McKay

WA operator points to delays and inconsistencies since NHVR took over in east

Higgs questions OSOM permit centralisation
Higgs Haulage has issues with the OSOM permits system


Neville Higgs of Western Australian family-owned Higgs Haulage backs the recent industry call for a Senate inquiry into the Oversize Overmass (OSOM) permits system.

Driven in no small part by the Western Roads Federation (WRF), the multi-state effort comes as patience wears out amongst trucking companies that must use them under the OSOM system run in eastern states and South Australia by the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR).   

The industry grouping includes Northern Territory Road Transport Association (NTRTA) and Tasmanian Transport Association (TTA).

It used one of Higgs’ Queensland permit experiences as the lead example to alert senators to the issue.

Though he has sought permits for other parts of Queensland since, he is adamant that, despite the extra expense, he would rather barge his next loads of oversize trailers on the Queensland leg rather than risk delays going for a permit.

"We got up to the 90-day point and had not got a permit at all — 12 months later, we still hadn’t received a permit," Higgs tells ATN when asked to elaborate on the system’s impact on his work.  

"We had to convince the client to hire a barge to take the equipment to Weipa from Darwin.

"These aren’t one-off permits. The equipment was built in Sherwood in Brisbane. And we used to get permits within five days. 

"It’s not as if we were asking for anything out of the ordinary as they’d been issued once before for these exact trailers.  

"When it came to this time, they couldn’t get their heads around it.

"After 90 days, they were still asking for ‘information required’.

"There was pretty much no more information to be provided at all — they had everything. They had all the engineering certificates, the manufacturer’s letters, the whole lot."

With the demands going beyond what had been experienced before and time passing, that processed stalled.

"In the end, we left it. The customer would have lost the contract.

"They had a start date to meet and there’s no way in the world anyone should have a three month lead time to get a permit to do a job.

"In the real world, no one has that time to do anything.

"If a machine is broken down on a mine site, that mine site wants that machine tomorrow or next available. Not at a time when it’s convenient for the government to issue the permit.

"Mine’s the worst case scenario. The average is anywhere from two to four weeks to get a permit but it used to be five days.

"We’ve got more trailers going to Weipa this year at the same time and we are not even going to apply to Queensland.

"We are not going to waste our efforts. It’s all going to go on the barge.

"It costs $150,000 for the barge in Darwin to go straight to Weipa. We’re not going to bother with NHVR.

"It’s a far cheaper option for us to tow them straight to the site but not if you have to wait three months for a permit that may or may not be issued."

Southern inconsistencies

Higgs’ reality is also about difficulties and anomalies across the southern states.  

He recounts an effort to shift a front-end loader from Perth to Muswellbrook in New South Wales.

"In Perth, we have to do a single trip permit . . . generally, if we don’t have it back in 24 hours, we’ll be jumping up and down," he says.

"We waited 19 days for the permit in South Australia. Then, when we got to New South Wales, the national guidelines covered it and didn’t even have to get a permit."

Then there is the difference between permit guidelines in New South Wales and South Australia.

"it’s all supposed to be national guidelines — the one in South Australia only offers you 4.9 metres in loaded height and in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, you’re allowed 5 metres loaded height," Higgs says.

There was also a 7-tonne SA disparity in trailer weights compared with the Victoria and NSW also involved, the two disparities being where the 19-day permit wait came in.

"We’ve just done one to Toowoomba, where we were 400mm over-height in South Australia and 300mm over-height in NSW and Queensland.

"Because it was on a quad and dolly, we were only over-height in South Australia, only over-height in NSW and we were over-dimensional and over-height in Queensland because Queensland doesn’t cover that size load in its guidelines."

Comparative disadvantage

Higgs is also bemused at the disparities that can occur when shifting the same piece of machinery. As an exercise, he decided to do a test.

"There’s basically three states that you’re applying for, so I deliberately did each state individually to see how long it took," he says.

"South Australia was between two and three weeks, from memory. I think about 16 days.

"In NSW, I got the permit back as soon as they had the money out of my bank account.

"Queensland was four weeks —and I was only going from Goondiwindi to Toowoomba.

"I’ve got the same permit going from Dysart to Moranbah, then going from Cobar up through NSW into Queensland that that way and I got it back within two weeks. Same drill bit.

"There’s no consistency. I’m into my third week now for a permit, I only want to go from Cloncurry to Camooweal, 300 kilometres, and it’s nothing really special. It’s only quad-dolly load and it’s only about 40 tonne."

Western resistance

Higgs fails to see how permit centralisation has been any help when getting large cargo across the country.

He used to go through the WA Department of Transport Main Roads (TMR) for them.

"You can still go to TMR direct but they have to revert back to NHVR and it’s just a headache."

Higgs doesn’t see the difficulties as relating to WA’s position outside the NHVR’s coverage compared with eastern states.

"They have just as many or bigger problems than we have," he points out.  

"To sign up to NHVR would be totally detrimental to WA’s cause.

"We don’t have problems with permits, we don’t have half the problems [eastern state operators] do.

"The Northern Territory hasn’t signed up, luckily enough.

"South Australia now has gone backwards."

In Higgs’ experience, when South Australia was under state transport department control, the longest he would have to wait for a permit was 36 hours.


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