Sunlight is said to be the best form of disinfectant. In relation to access and PBS approvals, sunlight is desperately needed.
Within the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator, AustRoads, NTC and then state governments there is much happening. But progress is not being measured. There is not enough data for the regulator and governments to make pinpoint decisions.
That data is not used to provide trucks with better access to the road system, except for Tasmania – with its automated access system.
The ATA is making significant progress with NSW and the NHVR about such transparency: how many applications for access are in, how many have been approved and the gap.
Time taken for approvals is also a key measure. But be cautious: a ‘no’ is quick and easy and fixes road managers’ performance reporting if time is the only measure.
The ATA has been assured that the button is about to be pushed to open up this information.
That way industry will be able to see where the issues are by sector e.g., some local government, or by design e.g., some PBS applications.
A foundation principle of PBS is that it’s ‘not how the vehicle looks’ but ‘how it performs.’ If it performs appropriately, it should be allowed access to a network based on that performance.
That has not worked well in practice, but as sunlight penetrates the gloom, it will be possible to consider sector wide approvals for PBS and hopefully access.
The ATA position for example on access to the national land transport network is for approvals for 53.5 metre trucks. This would be a significant productivity and safety achievement.
The ATA has also proposed a senior negotiating group from NSW and Victoria with the NHVR to sort out improved access to the Hume Highway for triples. This needs start and end points for unhooking and ensuring that rest areas have long enough parking bays to do the job.
The ATA is particularly pleased that ministers have agreed to this high level, positive approach to fixing the heavy vehicle laws. The ATA discussions with heads of department have been productive. These people have accepted that the road freight industry requires senior level involvement.
The same approach has been adopted by the ATA, with discussions finally taking place about the detail of the future of the law.
An early item of discussion has been the membership of the NHVR board.
The existing NHVR directors do a great job but are stretched. There is no guarantee that future directors will have the expertise needed for a modern, industry-focused regulator.
In 2003, an Australian government review concluded that the boards of regulators should have between six and nine members. The NHVR board has only five.
The chair of the NHVR, Duncan Gay, and the deputy chair, Julie Russell, both have industry experience. This is great, but the law does not require even one member of the board to have an industry background.
The law should require that two members of the NHVR board have industry experience as either a director or executive of a truck or bus business. These members would be appointed as individuals for their experience and judgement.
We also believe that all government regulators – including the NHVR – need board level expertise in using data for decision making and building digital systems to reduce your workload as a trucking operator.
There’s a team within the NHVR doing good work, but it needs leadership from the very top.
That’s why the ATA believes that one of the new directors should have expertise in digital government, because that is the future of regulation.
David Smith is Chair, Australian Trucking Association