Originally Published in Owner Driver August 2023 Edition
It was 1968 when The Beatles told us: “You say you want a revolution”.
Sometimes it seems like we’ve been talking about reforming Heavy Vehicle National Law for a similar timespan.
The John Lennon lyric above comes from “Revolution 1”, a song from The White Album which suggested “everything was going to be all right” if people freed their minds instead of challenging institutions.
Unfortunately, things don’t work that way in public policy and especially not in the road transport industry.
As I write this, the National Transport Commission is working on a new draft law for heavy vehicles in Australia. A package of legislation and core regulations will be presented to Australia’s transport ministers in July 2024.
It’s been a long time coming and the cynics among us would suggest we’ll hear a new song from the Beatles before we see meaningful change.
For those who are new to the industry or have short memories, Heavy Vehicle National Law was meant to standardise the regulation of trucks of 4.5 tonnes gross or more across all Australian states and territories.
Each was supposed to operate with legislation that adopts or duplicates the HVNL.
It started on 10 February 2014 – but only in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria.
Just like John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the tail end of the Beatles’ career, Northern Territory and Western Australia were outliers.
HVNL was always nice in theory but was never going to be easy to put into practice.
What we’ve ended up with is prescriptive, bloated and seriously flawed.
That’s why the country’s transport ministers asked the National Transport Commission to review the law in 2018.
No substantive changes resulted.
So, after considerable industry agitation from groups including NatRoad, the NTC brought in former New South Wales roads bureaucrat Ken Kanofski…to review the review.
He came up with a long list of recommendations, some requiring legislative changes but many needing only agreement about altered regulations.
NatRoad’s view was that the industry should grab the low-hanging fruit. In other words, do whatever could be achieved in the regulatory space to make our industry safer, more efficient and more amenable to common sense, and tackle the more substantive law re-write later.
In June, the nation’s transport ministers decided to do both and we’re now at the starting gates of an industry consultation process.
The NTC is making the right noises. It says it wants a new law that’s more flexible. It wants to give scope to operators wanting to innovate and provide certainty for those wanting simplicity.
It wants regulations that “move(s) prescriptive obligations for parties down the legislative chain” to both allow adaption to changing needs and an outcomes-driven approach.
Hopefully “moving things down the legislative chain” means introducing common sense.
It is aiming to improve road network access by instigating an online system that automates access decision-making, which will take a lot of mapping work and local government consultation.
The NTC wants fatigue management and record-keeping to be simplified, without compromising safety. That’s leading us towards using of new fatigue detection and distraction technologies and increasing the take up of Electronic Work Diaries (EWDs).
Clarifying the primary duty and parties covered by the chain of responsibility and strengthening laws to prevent drivers not fit for work from getting behind the wheel are admirable aims.
So is a more comprehensive and scalable operator certification scheme with a new national auditing standard.
It certainly sounds like the NTC is moving in the right direction.
But it’s clearly an evolution, not a revolution – which should not be a surprise.
Is it going to be “all right”? Can officials from all states and territories “come together” if not “right now” but in the near future? Only time will tell on that score.