Opinion, Rod Hannifey

The truck our office – Eyes on the Road

During COVID, truckies were held in high esteem as they kept the country moving, but not now.

The 17th National Road Freighters Association (NRFA) conference was held at Shepparton on Saturday, February 10 and was a resounding success with a large rollup of guests and excellent speakers.

However, with the passing of the Closing Loopholes legislation in Parliament during the week, some of the serious debate, had it still been in process, wasn’t needed and some guests had changed plans.

Members of the NRFA executive who have been supportive of the bill and spent days in Canberra, not just this past week, but many times before involved in many meetings, were of course elated. I thank those who put in an enormous effort at great personal cost to see this get up and the rights of drivers and owner-drivers to get a fair go, be finally actioned.

This of course is just the start. There is much more work to be done to make the legislation effective and workable and to see it achieves the aims of all those who have supported it. Nothing is simple and there have of course been those who have opposed it.

From where I sit, this is for those who are getting screwed by big companies wanting transport for little and not caring about those who actually do the work.

If you have good work and get paid well for it, this legislation should not affect you, but if you are being asked to do work at below cost or told to cut your rates with everything else going up around you, there will be a mechanism to fight with.

Razorback impact

Years ago, the industry came together, mostly at the owner-driver level and fought to get a fair go. Razorback did achieve some important changes but was eventually undermined by others.

Since then, we have sought improvements in our lives on the road and as many of you have said, little has changed since. We are still trying to get the road recognised as our workplace and have those roads safe, not just for us but for the motoring public as well.

We have asked for decent rest areas and facilities and, at this point in time, we are going backwards. We were treated terribly during COVID, particularly by those in authority, punished and abused, and not allowed to eat a meal at times.

Yet, when things ran out, all of a sudden we were important. Of course, as soon as the worst was over and we had kept working and delivering everything to everyone, we were then forgotten and ignored again.

We have roadhouses closing, kitchens closed down or shutting early and yet we are still expected to deliver it all. We have some new roads, some of which were flood affected, while staff shortages affected roadhouses. We have more trucks, cars and caravans on the road, yet we have lost more parking as towns were bypassed and many spots that were available have been replaced by just a few.

Many road ‘improvements’ took away shoulders, the wire rope end-to-end on the Hume in Victoria meant there were few places to stop if you needed to. Look at Rockhampton, spend a million and halve the truck parking – what a terrific way to spend money.

Go to the Territory. Nice bitumen bays with purple bins, no shade or a toilet in sight and you can’t even park on the shoulder in most to use the facilities for car and caravan drivers.

I have recently seen Loves in America, a chain of truck stops which will spend a billion dollars this year on upgrades and new sites. There is Federal money there too for truck rest areas, but few are willing to build them.

National parking bays

At the conference and, although unable to attend, we had a video from Assistant Minister Carol Brown who announced the approval of the first four rest area projects through the Heavy Vehicle Rest Area Steering Committee (HVRASC). One each in South Australia, Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania.

The Victorian one is for a number of highways and green reflector bays, but now we just need them done nationally to fill the gaps until we can get some more rest areas built. I am still pushing the use of stockpile sites.

Sal Petroccitto, CEO of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR), following my approach, also announced at the conference that hopefully in April, the NHVR will start a trial of leaving NSW weighbridge sites open for us to check weight. Two sites will be trialled and, if successful and all goes well, it is hoped it will be extended to others.

I had raised the issue of Broadford currently being gated off and was told they are waiting for parts to do repairs to the bridge there.

My concerns that every weighbridge upgrade in NSW had led to sites gated off when not in use, further loss of possible parking, even just as overflow, and that allowing us to check weigh loads in transit can only improve safety and compliance.

You won’t be able to fix it there obviously, but you will know for next time, be able to inform and/or educate your customers if they have not given you correct info.

There will be surveillance cameras to deter any stupidity or vandalism, but they will not video you and send you a fine in the mail.

Most of you would also know by now, Transport and Main Roads (Queensland) will be taken over in April, leaving the NHVR now running all states for heavy vehicle enforcement except for Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but they are still working together on some things. A new Tassie system for route approvals may be the next big thing from NVHR in the future.

The NRFA AGM was held on the Friday night before the conference and Glyn Castanelli, who has been vice president, was voted in as president. I will remain on the board as immediate past president and continue to do what I can for those of us on the road.

ROD HANNIFEY, a transport safety advocate, has been involved in raising the profile of the industry, conducting highway truck audits, the Blue Reflector Trial for informal parking bays on the Newell, the ‘Truckies on Road Code’, the national 1800 number for road repairs proposal, and the Better Roadside Rest Areas Group. Rod is the current past president of the NRFA. Contact Rod on 0428 120 560, e-mail rod.hannifey@bigpond.com or visit www.truckright.com.au

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