The inquiry affirms the statement “Without Trucks Australia Stops” and extends that to “Without trucks and truck drivers Australia Stops”, in acknowledgement of the professionalism and dedication of those at the heart of the industry.
This inquiry acknowledges the outstanding national good will achieved by the road transport industry over the past two years. Hence, we have a responsibility to fully recognise the road freight transport industry for the critical role it plays as an essential service during times of emergencies.
From commencement of the inquiry in late 2019 and continuing today, there have been unprecedented national crises and emergencies (floods, bushfires and a pandemic). The Australian road transport industry has prevailed when all the things we have taken for granted stop working as we expected them to.
From the commencement of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the normal economy was split into two speeds—Parked up, or flat out! Under the most challenging circumstances and constantly changing conditions, the road transport industry demonstrated that it was capable of getting the job done and keeping toilet paper on the supermarket shelves.
On four occasions last year (2020), National Cabinet ratified freight as essential, acknowledging our dependence as a nation on a robust and resilient road transport industry:
30 March 2020, when the demand surge during first national lockdown was the equivalent to four Christmas weekends, the decision to lift curfews across the 500 plus local government authorities to ease pressure on the supply chains;
25 March 2020, as state borders closed, all freight movement was declared essential;
National Cabinet decision to recognize truck stops and rest facilities as essential services that must remain open for truck drivers; and
7 August 2020, National Cabinet agreed to a National Freight Protocol for interstate drivers travelling into and out of Government declared hotspots.
The maturity and leadership shown by the industry, in close collaboration with government has done so much more than just kept the supermarket shelves stocked.
This period has demonstrated the professionalism and focus of the industry and for these reasons we don’t support the opening claim that the heavy vehicle sector is one of the most dangerous workplace in Australia. We acknowledge the workplace injury, trauma and deaths have devastating impacts on those affected. However, positively there is a trending improvement in these statistics.
Comment on recommendations
Coalition senators provide the following comments on the committee’s recommendations.
Recommendations 1, 2 and 3
The need to improve the safety and workplace health of the road transport industry workforce was a widely acknowledged outcome of the inquiry. The specific characteristics of the industry that shape the workforce and the workplace, present specific challenges and further investigation is needed to better understand the problems and provide the best solutions to meet these needs.
Recently, the Federal Government, along with stakeholders from the road transport industry, co-funded the “Healthy Heads in Trucks and Sheds” initiative, which is dedicated to providing education and growing awareness of the road transport workforce to support better mental and physical health choices.
The ongoing functioning of the national supply chains and road freight transportation is reliant on a free and competitive marketplace. Recommendations (1, 2 and 3) are the perceived solutions for terrible conditions that still exist in the industry. However, there remains insufficient evidence linking the rates of pay and conditions to safety. This conclusion remains subjective and not supported by qualitative evidence to suggest a causal link. This is referenced by the report under paragraphs 4.17 and 4.18 (see below) in the outcomes of a comprehensive review of safety by the Productivity Commission in 2020 report on National Transport Regulatory Reform.
paragraph 4.17 – insufficient evidence that the HVNL had a significant effect on heavy vehicle safety outcomes; and
paragraph 4.18 – Improving (safety) statistics, largely due to new technology and infrastructure investments.
Coalition senators agree with Recommendation 4.
On the term of reference (d) the training and career pathways to support, develop and sustain the road transport industry, the inquiry received an outstanding number of submissions.
This interest was indicative of:
not just the depth of the problem facing the stakeholders;
the complexity of the problems— different is each jurisdiction and territory; and
the generational changes that have occurred across Australia, that has led to the current situation getting worse not better.
The level of response from submitters was also indicative of the maturity and leadership within the industry to develop industry-led solutions and programs that recognise and face these challenges. The intent to proactively work with government at all levels to develop and to finally implement solutions that will grow the professionalism and sustain the performance of the industry going forward, was also welcomed by the committee.
Coalition senators agree with Recommendation 5.
However, this recommendation is similar to a recommendation made in the Productivity Commission’s 2020 Report on National Transport Regulatory Reform.
Coalition senators agree with Recommendation 6.
Coalition senators agree with Recommendation 7.
Coalition senators question the relevancy of this recommendation to the inquiry’s terms of reference.
Coalition senators agree with Recommendation 9.
Coalition senators do not support Recommendation 10.
This functionality is currently in place in many different formats. The Minister has the ability to take advice broadly across the industry and from a variety of forums. The proposal outlined in Recommendation 10 would likely limit or duplicate this role.
Senator Susan McDonald
Nationals Senator for Queensland
Senator Gerard Rennick
Liberal Senator for Queensland