From the CEO: Let’s hope the Year of the Rabbit yields reform

Read time: 3 mins

By Warren Clark

Original Column – Deals on Wheels (Published 13.2.2023)

In the Chinese horoscope, 2023 is the Year of the Rabbit.

The Chinese consider the rabbit to be the luckiest of the 12 animals to be born under the lunar calendar. They consider it a gentle animal that thinks before acting.

The Year of the Rabbit is said to bring an energy that will help those looking for more of a balanced life.

Of course, there are those of us in the road transport industry hoping that 2023 will bring something else that starts with the letter ‘R’ – Reform.

Reform comes in many guises.

The Kanofski Review of the stalled Heavy Vehicle National Law reform process is an example.

It found that reform had indeed ground to a halt, and that the best way forward in the short term was running with a range of changes that mostly do not require legislation.

NatRoad supported this because it looked to be a practical course of action and spoke in favour of it at the Infrastructure and Transport Ministers Meeting in December last year.

The Transport Ministers asked the review’s author, Ken Kanofski, to lead major stakeholder consultation activities for developing a new HVNL.

A Steering Committee of some of Australia’s most senior transport officials has been established to ensure the new law delivers on his recommendations.

A key objective was that non-legislative reforms are developed and implemented promptly.

After so many years of trying, the prospect of an HVNL overhaul still sounds daunting. It boils down to a new simpler, more flexible national law for heavy vehicles that’s less prescriptive and easier to follow.

Western Australia and the Northern Territory sit outside the HVNL tent because they consider the systems they have in place are already doing the job.

There are plenty of things you can talk about when it comes to reform but one of the biggest highlighted by the Kanofski Review was access approval.

Kanofski found unanimous industry support among the people he consulted for an on-line access approval process using a pre-approved network, similar to the Tasmanian Heavy Vehicle Access Management System (HVAMS).

HVAMS divides Tasmania’s freight routes into various classes. You access online maps according to the type of vehicle you’re operating.

For example, the 23 metre B Double Network shows roads mapped in three categories: Approved (green), Conditionally Approved (orange) and Restricted (red).

This network shows Tasmania’s gazetted arterial and municipal roads for Class 2 B-Doubles operating at up to 23m overall length and in compliance with the National Class 2 B-double Authorisation Notice 2020 and operator guide.

You go online and click on a route or bridge to show any conditions that apply.

Green means you’re good to go. Restricted structures (red dots) must not be crossed. Roads conditionally approved (orange) require road manager approval for access by permit.

Application for access by permit is still made through the national regulator and the system is flexible enough to permit travel off route if the road is marked with detour signage.

The onus is on operators to check for road closures and road conditions prior to travel. For roads managed by Tasmania’s Department of State Growth this information is available on a web page.

Just like a rabbit, you’re required to think before acting.

It’s a much simpler and efficient system than that operating in most other jurisdictions.

As it stands, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) obtains consent from all road managers prior to issuing a permit, including permission from local councils.

Councils and road managers have up to 28 days to respond to an application. If they fail to respond, there isn’t much anyone can do about it.

Imagine how efficiently our national road freight network would be if it used an on-line, pre-agreed network approach?

Sure, there will be issues with travelling between jurisdictions and a lot of mapping and consultative assessment will be needed.

But done properly, it would drag access into the 21st century – and save countless hours in approvals, permits and unnecessary bureaucracy.

The Transport Ministers committed to developing an implementation plan by mid-2023.

In Chinese culture, families give red envelopes full of money to children and the elderly at the onset of a new year, symbolising good luck.

It’s not too late to hope 2023 brings our industry a few red envelopes similarly stuffed with reforms.