OPINION: Second-class citizens

By: Ken Wilke

The law as we know it is everyone is guilty until proven innocent – unless you drive a truck


The advantages of the new chain of responsibility legislation? Now we have to be proven guilty instead of assumed guilty and it being our responsibility to prove otherwise. My history is not too good. When was it made a plank of democracy that everyone is innocent until proven guilty? Centuries ago I’m sure. It hasn’t been the case for truckies in Australia for some time though.

Where is the morality of these people? Those of us in this industry know damn well that this society cannot exist without road transport and yet we are always treated like second class citizens. No trucks in the right lane being just another example.

I have to compliment Steve Shearer, who has absolutely hit the nail on the head with his summary of issues arising from the bureaucracy’s ill-considered determination to have fatigue regulation monitored via GPS. There appears to be a disease contracted by public officials. One of the symptoms of the disease is a determination to go headlong into new technology irrespective of whether the community has understood the system and irrespective of whether the claimed result for the new technology is proven.

When we are talking about satellite tracking and monitoring of road transport operators from a fatigue perspective, the very first issue that needs to be addressed is the appropriateness or otherwise of the legislation. Stuff the GPS. The rules themselves are a dog’s breakfast.

A friend was written up some time ago and the breach was for doing 14 plus hours in a 24 hour period on a 12 hour book. It was all accidental. As we probably all know, the maximum monetary penalty is in the vicinity of 12 grand and four demerit points. The demerit points are mandatory.

Going back some four or five years, this mature businessman driver is number five that I can name who has gone through the mandatory court case arising from a critical breach and emerged out the other side with no reference by the court to the mandatory demerit points.

Item one on the national heavy vehicle law reform needs to be a scheme to ensure magistrates understand what they are administering. These five people have only found out by accident that their licence has been impacted.


What curfews?

The enquiry into over size over mass has been and gone. How many expectations to change were put forward? Somewhere in the vicinity of 50? But still one has to chase all over the electronic spectrum to find amendments to previous requirements. And where the hell are the curfews listed?

I had an urgent need to check the Victorian code the other day. Got onto the heavy crane section where it talked about curfews in red, but no forthcoming information on where those curfews could be found. Yes I am an amateur but even the specialists claim they have to go to a police site to get the required information.

Queensland Trucking Association head honcho Gary Mahon has spent a lot of time talking about mass distance location charging. For sure, the current system has had me subsidising the heavies and long-haul runners since time immemorial and I am not happy about that. However, I am concerned that there is going to be problems with funding allocation to outback areas.

Does bureaucracy – and I think this is a bureaucratic push rather than a move by politicians – consider how this new fang-dangle system is going to provide adequate funds for out back Australia? Somewhere, somehow, there has to be cross subsidy. How can new industry be attracted to outlying areas if transport costs are going to be inflated to cover new roads out there? Even day-to-day existence could be jeopardised if costs of living are out of kilter with the "soft" areas near the coast.


Fuel-based rego

Talk about the new technology disease that bureaucracy is burdened with: the National Road Freighters Association has developed a fuel-based registration scheme that is fairer than the present system and already the basics are in place. No computers or bureaucratic wishy washy.

We already pay a tax on every litre of fuel used. Change the balance between the upfront charging and the fuel tax. The heavier one is, the more fuel used; the further one drives, the more fuel used. It’s an automatic incentive to buy fuel conservative equipment, but even the present fuel costs bring that incentive.

Every business manager strives to lower costs. It’s a basic factor in operating within a competitive system unlike the bureaucracy. Gary Mahon is concerned that industry gets a better deal on monies spent on industry’s behalf. That raises an interesting point. At over a million dollars a year, Queensland carries one of Australia’s highest paid public servants in the land, and that public servant has control of Queensland Transport which covers the notorious rail fail and the traffic friction-caused congestion on South East Queensland’s M1.

Maybe a look at the costs the industry is trying to cover could be in order. There is no incentive in the public sector to balance cost and delivery.

A report in Brisbane’s Courier Mail last week: the Deputy Prime Minister has got the technology bug. He has called for technical whiz kids to develop a tool to help drivers stay alert. Again, the product is already here. Just talk to the multi nationals about their sophisticated cattle prods to keep their overnight operations manageable.

It would be hard to concentrate on text messages with the seat jumping about.

Your required reading this month is true story by Hetty Verolme – The Children of Belsen.

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