Heavy Vehicle National Law (South Australia) Bill

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (17:45): I rise to speak on the Heavy Vehicle National Law (South Australia) Bill and to echo the comments of the deputy leader, the member for Bragg. Obviously, this bill is an attempt to create a national scheme for regulation of heavy vehicles. On our national roads, it seeks to provide clarity to owners, operators and drivers of heavy vehicles, and it seeks to enhance efficiency and productivity through having similar provisions operating across all state borders.

Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (17:45): I rise to speak on the Heavy Vehicle National Law (South Australia) Bill and to echo the comments of the deputy leader, the member for Bragg. Obviously, this bill is an attempt to create a national scheme for regulation of heavy vehicles. On our national roads, it seeks to provide clarity to owners, operators and drivers of heavy vehicles, and it seeks to enhance efficiency and productivity through having similar provisions operating across all state borders.


One thing that has concerned me is that, after speaking to many heavy vehicle operators, businesses, owners, drivers, the people who are loading the heavy vehicles, they all think that by harmonising national legislation, everything will be fixed; everything will be alright. Many of them have isolated issues. Many of the operators feel that South Australia is almost becoming, to some extent, a backwater with regard to compliance, whether it be registration, inspection, roadworthiness or defect notices—I guess what you would call the similarity between one inspector and another. It is about getting permits to travel across borders.

But it is not just about travelling across borders; it is about the permits that have to be issued. I have manufacturing businesses up in my electorate of Chaffey that are large stainless steel tank makers. Not only do those tank makers have to get permits for crossing borders and permits for certain heights but they have to get permits for the individual electricity suppliers. So, every time they go through the jurisdiction of one power supplier, they have to get a permit for that power supplier. Then when they go into the next jurisdiction of a power supplier, they have to get another permit. It is just myriads of complexities and complications; it is just barriers to doing business, and it is added costs.

There is so much frustration that I am hearing out there in the transport world. Many people are saying, 'Just sign the agreement. Get it over and done with, and we'll be happy to get on with life.' But it is not that simple. Listening to some of their concerns and looking at the bill, it is not just that we are going to fall into place with all of the other states and everything will be fine.

As the member for Chaffey, I welcome any attempt to simplify the regulatory burdens placed on owners and drivers of heavy vehicles. One needs to drive only a couple of hours out of the city to understand and appreciate the importance of what the heavy vehicle sector means to South Australia and its production capabilities.

For instance, the Sturt Highway, which takes you right through the middle of my electorate, carries 10,000 vehicles a day, and 33 per cent of those vehicles are trucks. Those trucks are primarily on their way from Adelaide to Sydney or from Sydney to Adelaide. Mildura is one of the main stopover points when it comes to that journey. It seems that we are going to have to fall in with national compliance or a national law; it is about the ever-increasing numbers of trucks we see on the roads.

I live on the Sturt Highway, the federal highway from Adelaide to Sydney, and I see the ever-increasing number of trucks, I see the ever-increasing regularity of those trucks going past. It shows me that the heavy vehicle industry is going to be front and centre for logistically moving goods, whether it is moving harvest products, dry freight, or livestock. I have it all come past my gate and I see it on a regular basis.

Again, I have a lot of those transport and logistics companies in my electorate, and I also have a lot of friends that have large operations, in all states—Western Australia, here in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales—and we regularly talk about the barriers to doing business, the issues with compliance, and the issues with dealing with their workforce.

The chain of responsibility is something that is of real concern: when a driver is pulled over for speeding, drugs, or any particular reason, the owner of that truck and business is not notified. The owner of that truck and business is only notified if that driver reoffends—if the owner of that truck or business happens to go up and want to have a look in his logbook. So, that is one of the issues with the chain of responsibility.

Through the course of my contribution, I will touch on a few of the issues that again raise their ugly heads to the owners of these heavy vehicles and to the owners of the businesses. More importantly, it is about them getting their truck to the destination on time. As the member for Bragg has said, we have come a long way, particularly in the last five years, with that chain of responsibility, with the business owners having to monitor where their trucks are every step of the way.

I think it is a great network that they are falling into line with now. Most of the larger owners have a screen, a computer, and all the readouts that come onto their phones or into their offices, and they know whether the truck driver is in transit; they know what speed he is doing; they know what revs he is doing; and in some cases they even know what tyre pressures the trucks have. So, technology is a wonderful thing, but it has to be used in a way that can be for the benefit of the industry.

I think what we are seeing at the moment is that we are moving for the betterment of the industry. It is essentially cleaning up what was regarded for a long time as a cowboy industry. It was regarded as hell on wheels in a lot of instances. I remember, as a younger fellow—I am still young, but I was younger—trucks would whiz past you on the highway. You would have fellows who jumped out of a truck in a pair of thongs and a pair of Stubbies and that was it, and they would drive for days on end. Who knows how they were doing it, but it was to the detriment of the safety of people on the road.

I think, as the industry is becoming more—I would not say 'regulated', but is being held responsible for its actions, it has come of age. The organisations that use national carriers are now asking for more compliance and responsibility with every load that is a part of their chain of responsibility. That responsibility comes with the technology and comes with compliance.

We have to have this industry as clean as a whistle so that that chain of responsibility is not carried on down the line. These big multinationals cannot have any slurs against their name. They cannot have any mud sticking on their name because it is a bad look; it is bad for advertising, it is bad for the consumer, and these days it is all about the image with any business that operates.

Obviously heavy vehicles are important in South Australia with all the food and wine-producing regions, as well as for livestock and grain. We have a very limited amount of rail in this state and the rail infrastructure is getting old. If the trucking industry moved as slow as what some of the rail industry does, with the compliance of the rail lines and the infrastructure in place, the trucking industry would be put off the tracks.

We have rail networks in my electorate, but we have speed restrictions. We are not allowed to use the rail line over 32 degrees. We are not allowed to go over 30 kilometres an hour in certain sections of the rail. How is that efficient? How is that compliant with today's rules and regulations? If we look at what we are trying to achieve in the national heavy vehicle bill, I think it is chalk and cheese.

There are some lines that are presentable, and the member for Bragg and myself did visit one of the more prominent rail network organisations last week. They showed us the way that they are doing business, the way that they are training their drivers and the way that they are dealing with safety and compliance, and it is first class, but the infrastructure is what really bothers me. I know the infrastructure is not the train, like the truck is to the road, but there needs to be a reflection and, if we are looking at heavy vehicles, perhaps we need to look at trains as a heavy vehicle.

Trucks bring their produce to the market, the warehouse or the terminal—whether it is at the port, the silos or a holding pen—and it really does mean that we have to have the reliability, the compliance and the safety within the industry. We are looking at industries that are worth billions of dollars that are now relying on heavy vehicles on our highways. In my electorate, we transport nearly $700 million worth of fresh fruit and vegetables a year, and there is $7 billion worth of grain in this state per annum, let alone the livestock.

The cost of livestock is huge these days. I am sure everyone here has been to the butchers and their jaw drops when they look at the price of lamb or any of the livestock products. It is now an industry that is looking for that transport or truck to be compliant and squeaky clean, and to pick up the produce on time and be at the market, the next warehouse or the next port of call on time. That is why I think the national law must very much be a national regime. There cannot be a little bit of, 'It's okay in this state and it will work okay.' I seek leave to continue my remarks.

In 2010 in South Australia the transport and logistics industry had a turnover of $8.4 billion, representing about 6.9 per cent of gross state product, it employed 29,000 people, about 31,000 full-time equivalents, and paid an estimated $355 million in direct taxes. This makes the transport and logistics industry 40 per cent larger than the wine industry, 40 per cent bigger than the motor vehicle industry, and 70 per cent of the size of the agricultural and mining sectors.

The economic multiplier effects add an additional $5.5 billion to the economic impact of the industry. In 2010 in South Australia the road transport sector had a turnover of almost $3.9 billion, including generating $1.7 billion of value-add, and employed over 19,000 FTEs, and the road sector paid an estimated $100 million in direct taxes. All of these statistics are from 2010. I am advised that the transport sector has increased by 4.5 per cent from that date to the current date.

Quickly touching on the registration issue, a very recent example of the effect red tape is having on registration in South Australia is the cost, the regulations, the inspections. Transport companies that are wishing to register their trucks are saying that they are choosing to register their vehicles—their trailers—interstate, not in South Australia. That is of considerable concern to not only the opposition but it must be a considerable concern for the government to have a large amount of money vested in other states, when we have got transport operators using our roads, using our infrastructure.

The reason they are going interstate is because of the regulations that are put on them, the irregularities with vehicle inspections and the cost. As I said, it is a deterrent for transport operators to register here in South Australia, and that must be of concern to the minister. I have spoken to many truck operators—many large, national truck operators—and they have all told me the same story; that is, it is cheaper to do business elsewhere. So, that is something that I think the government needs to take account of because this national law will not change that.

Just as an example, one of the larger transport businesses that I have spoken to has spent about $700,000 a year just on registrations of trucks, and, of that $700,000, $500,000 goes to registering their trucks in Victoria. What is that telling us, when looking at the South Australian economy? That money is going to the Victorian economy. That money is going towards repairing Victorian roads, it is going towards repairing Victorian infrastructure, so we need to have a look at that and make sure that South Australia is the beneficiary of all the transport operators here in South Australia.

One area that I have real concern with is the current process for heavy vehicle registration through Service SA outlets. I have had constant feedback from constituents in my electorate alone that a trip to Service SA is not a pleasant experience, to the extent that companies are completely avoiding registering their vehicles at these outlets. They are choosing to go interstate.

Inspections are another issue that I do not think the national regulatory body will supersede, and it is inconsistent that we are seeing too many token defects on reasonably new trucks. We are talking minor defects. We are talking a hole in a mudguard. We are talking mudflaps that are 20 millimetres too low or too high. We are talking about these token defects that, once detected, are then taken to the inspection stations where they are then referred to as a major defect, and then that truck is given a full going over. That is time off the road, that is more cost and it is affecting the viability of a business here in South Australia.

One of the solutions that could be a part of that is that we have inspection stations that are open temporarily. We have inspection stations that are open one day a week, one day a fortnight or one day a month, in some cases—that is not good enough. As we all know, heavy vehicles in transport industries are a 24/7 business. Everyone needs to have those vehicles up and running.

So, we need to have an inspection regime that is basically looking at a model like they have in Victoria. In Victoria, they do not have inspection stations as such: they have accredited service centres that are open seven days a week, during all business hours, so that trucks can book in and go straight there. They do not have to book a truck in with a week's wait. They do not have to make a trip, say, from the Riverland down to Adelaide. What they can do is just go to that accredited service centre and have that compliance looked at and sorted out.

What I would hope is that the ultimate beneficiaries from this national law will be the small and medium businesses and the family-run businesses. My hope is that this bill will reduce currently excessive regulation in the industry, which, no doubt, will come as a relief to more than 4,000 small businesses, particularly in Chaffey, many of whom have a connection with heavy vehicles because we do not have the rail network to help our industry. We grow a particularly large amount of produce that is all taken to export markets, to port, and is logistically moved around the state by heavy vehicles. So, again, I think that is something that needs to be addressed. In finishing, I have outlined my concerns and issues with the heavy vehicle transport industry, but given my support to the heavy vehicle national law, which I think is a step in the right direction.

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