ROAD TRANSPORT LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2008
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 18 June 2008.
Mr ANDREW FRASER
(Coffs Harbour) [4.50 p.m.]: I state at the outset that the Coalition does not oppose the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. However, it is concerned about some of the provisions in the bill and will seek responses from the Government relating to them. The Coalition fully supports those provisions relating to learner, provisional and novice drivers. Despite all the warnings and despite young drivers being educated in proper road techniques, far to often they are involved in accidents in which they are either killed or injured, or their friends are killed or injured. The Coalition does not necessarily believe that monetary penalties and licence disqualifications are the best way to go. This Government has not done enough in the area of driver education.
Recently I attended a road trauma forum at the Acer Arena that was organised by the NRMA and the Western Sydney Area Health Service. People attending the forum gave a graphic demonstration of what could occur in a road accident and they depicted the ways in which young drivers can be injured or killed. I congratulate the NRMA and the Western Sydney Area Health Service on the professional manner in which they conducted that forum. About 12,000 schoolchildren attended that three-day forum. Three or four people who had suffered brain injuries as a result of car accidents addressed those young people and explained to them what life had been like after their accidents. I know of a number of young people who have lost their lives as a result of car accidents.
A group of actors at the forum played out the parts of victims in road accidents and re-enacted each scene. When a young girl who had been thrown through the windscreen of a car and onto the road was put into a body bag there were audible gasps from the audience, which brought home the message. The State Government should fully support forums such as this and hold them in regional areas. I spoke to representatives of the NRMA and asked them to do something similar in regional areas but I was advised that it would cost about half a million dollars for a three-day forum. That forum achieved phenomenal results and brought home to young people the danger of driving on our roads. I encourage the Government to do more along those lines rather than imposing monetary penalties and disqualifying licences.
This Government is addicted to imposing tolls and charges. This bill will extend from six months to 12 months the period that authorities will be given to establish the driver of a vehicle, as many companies have a number of drivers for each of their vehicles. It is difficult for authorities to process legitimate fines for those who are evading fares and tolls if they cannot locate the driver of a vehicle on a particular day. It is only fair and reasonable for that period to be extended to 12 months to ensure that people who break the law are fined. The Opposition is concerned about proposed amendments to section 154A relating to fatigue management and speeding compliance. I was informed only last Friday that this bill would be introduced this week.
This bill is being rushed through the Parliament without giving members an opportunity to consult properly with industry. After talking to drivers in the heavy vehicle industry I established that they are fearful of this legislation. Prior to the introduction of this legislation I met with the principals of three trucking companies—the companies ranged from large to small companies—and I spoke to them about the regulations that will come into effect in September and October this year. I believe that the Roads and Traffic Authority has spoken to firms and drivers about fatigue management. However, Roads and Traffic Authority representatives have not answered fatigue-related questions that were asked by members of the heavy vehicle industry.
Those regulations are not on the table and questions that are fair and reasonable have not been answered. Let me give members an example. It is difficult for large firms to schedule loads that are transported from Brisbane to Melbourne, as they have to come through New South Wales. When firms do their scheduling they have to include fatigue stops for their drivers. The highway between Brisbane and Sydney has been improved somewhat—the area on the North Coast between Kempsey and Ballina is still fairly deplorable—but firms have to schedule driver stops at Clybucca.
The heavy vehicle industry has to comply with occupational health and safety requirements and keep its staff happy, so it sends drivers from Brisbane with a load and drivers from Sydney with a load, and they can drive safely and within the fatigue requirements to Clybucca. When they arrive at Clybucca drivers from Brisbane swap loads with the drivers from Sydney and return to Brisbane—the drivers from Sydney do the same thing—thus reducing the need for them to spend too many nights away from home. Last December a driver who had his 11-year-old son in the truck with him arrived at Clybucca and pulled into the service station to change loads. However, as all the parking bays were full he made a U-turn onto the highway in order to come back into the parking area and he was hit by another truck. Tragically, he was killed and his son was injured.
Approximately 30,000 heavy vehicles a week travel through Coffs Harbour and about 50,000 heavy vehicles a week travel through Ballina, which makes it difficult for firms to schedule fatigue stops for drivers to change loads, drivers, or whatever needs to be done. Under these new regulations, when drivers arrive at Clybucca they will probably have to swap loads and stay there, have an eight-hour rest, or whatever is required, and then be on their way. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to inform me what would happen if drivers were not able to park in that area.
What happens if these truck rest stops are full, which is often the case? Only 10 days ago a truck stopped at Halfway Creek where, unfortunately, a driver who did not have knowledge of the road—an issue I have raised before in this House—took the truck bay exit rather than continuing along the highway and ran into the back of a B-double parked in the bay and was killed. Truck parking bays are becoming congested by truck drivers taking rests because they cannot continue. The Roads and Traffic Authority representative was asked whether drivers heading south, for example, travelling through to Frederickton, Kempsey or further to a truck stop that was not full, would be breaching the logbook rules even if they travelled only another 20 minutes down the road. I was told that the Roads and Traffic Authority representative became quite agitated and refused to respond to the question.
We have a responsibility not just to truck drivers but to other motorists to ensure that they are safe on our roads. If there is no room at the Clybucca, Coolongolook, Halfway Creek truck stops or any other stop I can name and a driver pulls to the side of the carriageway, which was suggested, is that not creating a danger to other traffic? Many areas around Clybucca and Halfway Creek do not provide safe places for drivers to pull over. Many rest areas between Coffs Harbour and Grafton are maintained by State Forests. Currently, the rest area at Sid Burke Forest Park just south of Coffs Harbour is closed due to road works. Many of them are occupied by grey nomads, tourists who have travelled a fair distance or travellers just looking for a cheap night's accommodation. In those instances truck drivers are unable to utilise the rest stop and are obliged to travel further.
Will the new regulations provide flexibility to allow truck drivers to continue to another town? Will more rest areas be provided? The Australian Trucking Association and others are concerned that most major New South Wales routes do not have enough rest areas due to improvements in some areas or, alternatively, truck parking bays not situated strategically to meet the needs of truck drivers. It is appalling that the amount of money spent on the Pacific Highway by this Government in conjunction with the past and present Federal Governments has not provided for more truck parking areas to enable the proposed fatigue management provisions to be undertaken properly.
The trucking industry advises me that the Roads and Traffic Authority cannot agree on the qualifications for accredited auditors on fatigue management. The new regulation proposes that auditors who qualified in the transitional fatigue management scheme will be grandfathered to the new scheme for a period of 12 to 18 months until a new set of qualifications is put forward under the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme [NHVAS]. The bill does not detail the qualifications required of auditors to fulfil the fatigue-management provisions; nor does it specify exam details for an auditor to become accredited, yet these same auditors will be expected to administer the provisions of the new regulations. Auditors must be qualified appropriately to identify speech impediments or similar symptoms relating to fatigue; otherwise we will have drivers being fined incorrectly or ordered to remain on the side of the road for eight hours or longer. The bill lacks details for persons to be classified as accredited auditors. Only recently Fatty Vautin and other celebrities from The Footy Show
on Channel Nine made disparaging remarks about a doorman by wrongly assuming the doorman was drunk when he in fact suffered a medical disability.
The New South Wales Auditor-General's Office has been conducting an audit across the highways and byways of New South Wales into heavy vehicle transport generally, and the safety of the general public and drivers. I am surprised that the Government did not wait until that report was released before introducing new regulations. No release date has been set for the Auditor-General's report, but the dialogue between the industry—lorry owners, drivers and major transport companies—concerning new section 154A, Directions relating to driver fatigue, was not extensive. More consultation needs to be undertaken with industry participants. I intend asking the Staysafe committee to examine this specific issue.
Accidents involving heavy vehicles on the Pacific Highway in the Coffs Harbour region occur monthly or fortnightly, if not weekly. Not long ago a vehicle broke down just north of Coffs Harbour and had pulled to the side of the road. A truck carrying logs approached from behind and ran into the back of the vehicle. After the collision the logs spilled from the truck and across the road. The police could not ascertain whether anyone had died in the accident—the driver had been incinerated—but some time later confirmed that someone had indeed died. The Coroner will eventually deliver his judgement on the cause of the accident. The accident occurred in a 100-kilometre-per-hour area, which I believe should be reduced to 80 kilometres per hour at least around the intersections and the narrow sections of the highway where this particular accident occurred.
Almost weekly we hear of accidents involving a heavy vehicle on the 100-kilometre zone between Sapphire in Queensland and Woolgoolga on the New South Wales North Coast. I do not know whether they are fatigue related. For a long time I have been calling for the speed to be reduced to 80 kilometres an hour, as have many local residents, because of the vast amount of local traffic alone on that section of highway. Each week 30,000 heavy vehicles use the Pacific Highway and this undivided carriageway is a recipe for danger and death. This billion-dollar you-beaut solution has more to do with real estate and poor planning decisions than good management. A Roads and Traffic Authority official at a public meeting in Woolgoolga about four years ago said that when this road was completed consideration would be given to building a far western bypass for Coffs Harbour. The Government should take the advice of the local engineers who pieced together a $200 million upgrade for the Pacific Highway without the great separated interchanges. That is far less than the $1 billion odd the Government is committing to its proposal, which could amply fund a western bypass to remove those 30,000 heavy vehicles from local traffic.
Driver fatigue and other related issues create fear within our community. Last week I mentioned in this House that Dr John Yeats was driving between Coffs Harbour and Grafton when a B-double truck overtook him over double centre lines at an estimated speed of 140 kilometres an hour in wet weather. My community has called for tighter enforcement of speeding infringements for a long time. Today the Minister for Police spoke about the implementation of a program for tracking vehicles by satellite. Most large trucking companies already track their vehicles by satellite. What we need is more policing of our roads.
In the context of fatigue and speed management, I compliment large firms on the global positioning systems they have installed in their trucks. I look forward in the not-too-distant future to inspecting trucks operated by Lindsay Transport Australia—a great company that started business in Coffs Harbour more than 50 years ago under the guidance of brothers, the late Peter Lindsay and Tom Lindsay. Satellite tracking in every vehicle owned by the firm records where the truck is and its average speed, so the chain of responsibility introduced by this legislation has already been recognised by major companies. They are the ones who have been saying to the Coalition that the cowboys should be removed from the industry. Trucking companies have a business reputation to maintain, a workforce to look after and a budget bottom line that they have to respect. Lindsay Transport Australia, Jim Pearson Transport, Mills Transport and dozens of other transport companies manage their fleets and their drivers well. They try to give road safety and driver fatigue management the absolute number one priority, not only for their sake but also for the sake of the general public.
The Opposition will not oppose the legislation, but serves notice on the Government that it will closely examine the regulations. We want to ensure that the Government is listening to the industry. I would have preferred to have much more time to consult with the industry on this legislation, instead of having to make hurried phone calls and write some hurried emails over the weekend. I have conveyed concerns expressed by the New South Wales branch of the Australian Trucking Association and other operators, but over the weekend the inadequacy of truck rest areas throughout New South Wales was drawn to my attention. Some drivers believe that the paucity of rest areas is worse in New South Wales that elsewhere owing to heavier traffic volumes that have been created by larger and more densely populated communities in our State. They are concerned about the closure of rest areas and informal rest areas. A rest area just south of Coffs Harbour is currently closed because of road works. While I appreciate that road works are being undertaken, the reality is that no provision has been made for an alternative rest area while the Syd Bishop Reserve rest area is not available.
The attitude of local government to parking facilities for large trucks is another problem. Prior to being elected to Parliament, I operated a caravan park in the centre of Coffs Harbour. I assure members that many heavy vehicles parked in the streets of Coffs Harbour overnight. A large proportion of my clientele complained of noise from trucks whose refrigeration units ran all night and trucks starting up in the early morning. As someone who was operating a business, I found those aspects of the trucking industry harmful to my business. I used to talk to the truck drivers and I consulted the trucking associations. I pointed out that nobody minds truck drivers stopping overnight, but they should not leave before 6 o'clock in the morning and refrigerated transport units should be kept away from tourism areas because the refrigeration motors run all night. The trucking industry does not have confidence in the Roads and Traffic Authority's commitment to resolve difficulties created by the inadequate number of rest areas. The problem is not difficult to solve.
If Roads and Traffic Authority officers spoke to major companies that schedule deliveries every day of the week they would know where rest areas should be along the Newell Highway, the Great Western Highway and the Pacific Highway. The Government should talk to the industry because the industry knows where rest areas should be located. If the Roads and Traffic Authority adopted a cooperative approach, that would benefit not only the industry but also all road users. There is also a low level of information in relation to rest areas. A couple of weeks ago I raised the issue in the local media that on a long weekend when traffic incidents were occurring all over the place, the one big illuminated Roads and Traffic Authority road sign in Coffs Harbour—I realise there are a lot of them throughout Sydney and between Newcastle and Sydney—sent out a message that had nothing to do with driver safety. The sign told everyone when World Youth Day would be held.
World Youth Day is an important event and I fully support it but, at the end of the day, on a long weekend we should not have a sign in Coffs Harbour, which is 600 kilometres away from where World Youth Day will be held, advertising that event instead of notifying motorists of road safety issues. The sign should have been used to warn people of the dangers of travelling on our roads on a long weekend, considering the increased traffic and many other factors such as accidents causing traffic delays and so on. Other concerns expressed to me are the absence of a manager who is accountable and accessible to the industry and the inconsistency of industry consultation. Although I referred to this matter earlier, I must reiterate that although people in the trucking industry are very interested in road safety they find that they cannot get the answers they need from the Roads and Traffic Authority. I implore the Government to adopt a cooperative approach and ensure that accredited auditors are available to answer inquiries from the trucking industry before the regulations are introduced in September or October. The Government has access to a list of accredited auditors.
I assure the Government that I will be talking to representatives of the trucking industry and I have organised meetings that will take place in July. I will be consulting with them to examine closely the problems and difficulties they face and what they are doing to overcome them. It is incumbent upon the Government that it should consult fully. I also ask the Government to look at the audit report that will be published by the Auditor-General in the not too distant future and ensure that the concerns expressed in that report are dealt with properly. I do not know what the Auditor-General's concerns will be. Some of the concerns I have raised with members of the trucking industry relate to an incident that occurred not far from where a road fatality occurred yesterday on the Pacific Highway. The incident involved a new truck inspection station. Of course, I welcome the addition of that road safety transport measure. However, the northbound egress from the inspection station does not have the advantage of a merging lane. Drivers that come around the corner will see a sign indicating that the speed limit is no longer 100 kilometres an hour but has been reduced to 80 kilometres an hour, and one assumes that the reduced speed relates to the inspection station.
A semitrailer or a B-double loaded with 65 tonnes, even at 80 kilometres an hour in wet and slippery conditions, is a recipe for disaster at that site. The design of truck inspection stations should include improved signposting. I have mentioned previously in Parliament that the inspection station at Halfway Creek is not signposted. Egress from the inspection station between Halfway Creek and Grafton is poor and invites disaster. I have driven from Coffs Harbour to Sydney a few times this year. I noticed skid marks on the road near an inspection station north of Raymond Terrace near Karuah. Over the weekend I discussed this inspection station with trucking operators and lorry owners and I asked them why there are so many skid marks all over the place near that inspection station. They told me that it is purely because the inspection station is not well signposted and drivers are not aware of its location. Drivers arrive at the inspection station and realise that they have to pull up smartly, so they slam on the brakes. A fully loaded truck travelling at 110 kilometres an hour—I acknowledge that some of them travel much faster than that—will create skid marks and a dangerous traffic situation. That is yet another issue created by the transportation of goods on our roads by heavy vehicles, the incidence of which is increasing.
As much as we would like to see more freight being carried by rail, the reality is that even if the Australian Rail Track Corporation [ARTC] transported 20 per cent of our freight it is estimated that by the end of 2009 the number of heavy vehicles on the road will have increased by 30 per cent. Based on 30,000 heavy vehicles travelling through Coffs Harbour per week, that will add another 9,000 heavy vehicles in my electorate by the end of next year. There are real fears and dangers associated with the transportation of freight by the heavy vehicle trucking industry. The trucking industry needs support, as do all other motorists in the context of heavy vehicle traffic. The Coalition supports regulation of the trucking industry, but it should be done in a manner that ensures that people involved in the industry understand the purpose of the regulations and their intended effect. I honestly believe that the Roads and Traffic Authority is not making anywhere near enough effort to provide adequate numbers of truck rest areas and truck stops. I implore the Government to closely examine travel times when roads are being designed—something that is not hard to do; an engineer could do it easily—and ensure that truck rest areas are included so that truck-related accidents do not occur.
Ms NOREEN HAY
(Wollongong—Parliamentary Secretary) [5.18 p.m.]: The Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill amends the Road Transport (General) Act 2005 to allow New South Wales to implement national model legislation for the management of heavy vehicle driver fatigue and speed compliance. Fatigue and speed compliance legislation have a nationally agreed commencement date of 29 September 2008. Those changes continue the process of national road transport reform that began in the 1990s. They are designed to improve road safety, productivity and regulatory efficiency. In 2000 the Australian Transport Council identified heavy vehicle driver fatigue as the next area of reform.
I am sure all members will agree that every death on our roads is a death too many. Heavy vehicles are disproportionately represented among road fatalities, and fatigue-related heavy vehicle crashes cost the nation's economy more than $300 million every year. This legislation builds on national compliance and enforcement reforms introduced in 2005 that extended accountability to parties in the road transport chain, other than the driver and transport operator, who may bear responsibility for an offence occurring. It extends the chain of responsibility to the management of fatigue and to speeding compliance. The chain of responsibility laws are an important element of these reforms. First, drivers are the weakest link in the logistics chain and too often other parties, such as the consignors, the consignees or the scheduling officers, are culpable when a driver performs dangerous tasks. For example, if a driver complained that he was given an unreasonable roster with tight deadlines that could not be met without speeding or inadequate rest, his boss simply found another driver. Under these laws, the buck cannot be passed so easily.
Second, chain of responsibility laws are already in place for overloading and mass offences, and are shown to be working. Between the 2005 grain harvest—the first with chain of responsibility laws in force—and 2007 the Road and Traffic Authority's identified level of illegal overloading was reduced substantially. The legislation adopts concepts from occupational health and safety legislation, such as general and specific duties, and also requires parties in the transport chain to take reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence of an offence. By creating duties for all parties in the logistics chain, we are making our roads safer. However, the legislation also ensures that nothing in road transport law affects the operation of occupational health and safety legislation, which remains an important protection for workers in this State.
The current regulation of driving hours for heavy vehicles is concerned more with setting maximum hours than with managing fatigue. The bill repeals the regulations that created the current driving hours regime. Instead, the focus will be on managing fatigue through an increased understanding of the human body, combined with maximum driving hours where appropriate. Trucking companies will have the option of gaining accreditation to manage fatigue, and in return will be allowed greater flexibility regarding their drivers' working and rest hours. The adoption of this national legislation supports the Government's commitment to road transport reform. It recognises that, as 80 per cent of Australia's long-distance freight travels on New South Wales roads for at least part of its journey, this State cannot act alone in these matters and must support strong national solutions to problems such as heavy vehicle driver fatigue and speeding.
The Staysafe committee heard evidence from drivers, owner-drivers, and members and officials of the Transport Workers Union about just-in-time delivery requirements and the pressures that major monopoly clients, such as Coles and Woolworths, place upon drivers to meet unreasonable deadlines. They reported that recognised time on the road and kilometres travelled by drivers did not include periods spent loading and unloading. For example, drivers could spend up to four hours in Melbourne in a queue waiting to unload and reload, which was deemed to be their time spent off the road. The failure to manage driver fatigue obviously has serious consequences. I am sure all members agree that the most important thing is keeping drivers alive. I believe the changes in the bill will achieve exactly that aim.
As to the issues raised by the member for Coffs Harbour, I am informed that there are more than 1,400 roadside rest areas and truck stopping bays in New South Wales. The Roads and Traffic Authority has administration of approximately 1,100 of these. The standard of rest areas provided in New South Wales varies widely. They range from informal hard stand areas to those that provide a range of high-quality facilities, such as the Yelgun rest area, which was opened in September 2007, the Frank Partridge VC rest area at Menangle and the Tarcutta trailer exchange facility, which cost some $450,000. The Roads and Traffic Authority is currently finalising the statewide rest area maps, which will be available on its website soon. These maps will replace all current rest area information on its website.
The Roads and Traffic Authority is preparing a strategy based on the National Transport Commission's Guidelines for the Provision of Rest Area Facilities to identify the need for enhanced provision of heavy vehicle rest areas. The authority's strategy will focus on the staged enhancement of rest opportunities on key freight routes across New South Wales that will give heavy vehicle drivers improved stopping opportunities. Through the peak trucking industry bodies, the Roads and Traffic Authority is currently surveying heavy vehicle users of the Pacific Highway. The results of this survey will help the authority to gauge the need for government involvement in a number of areas, including the provision of trailer exchange facilities on the Pacific Highway.
Driver fatigue has clearly led to tragedy. Drivers reported to the Staysafe committee, of which I am a member, that the pressure on them—whether real or perceived—to stay on the road and drive for excessive periods led to their either abusing drugs or driving when fatigued. The member for Coffs Harbour referred to trucks travelling at 140 kilometres an hour and overtaking other vehicles. Numerous trucking companies have assured me that regulators in trucks prevent them from reaching that speed and that, if it should happen, an email is sent immediately to the base and the driver is dealt with accordingly.
Stakeholders and other interested parties will obviously provide differing information, but the Government's main objective is to introduce regulations that will keep heavy vehicle drivers and other road users safe. Some years ago many more trucks were involved in serious and fatal accidents on our roads. The Government is aiming to relieve some of the pressure on drivers, and the evidence provided to the Staysafe committee was most beneficial. I was certainly not aware of some of the pressures on drivers. For instance, I had not heard of the just-in-time delivery requirements of some companies. Expanding the chain of responsibility laws is an important element of the reforms. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr GREG APLIN
(Albury) [5.30 p.m.]: I will make a contribution on the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2008: the Hume Highway, the Riverina Highway and the Olympic Highway all pass through the electorate of Albury. Albury is a major transport hub and many road transport industries are based in Albury and in Holbrook. Many independent operators operate from places such as Culcairn and Corowa. When I read the agreement in principle speech of the Parliamentary Secretary introducing the bill last week I noted these words:
The main purposes of the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill are to introduce a new penalty regime for novice drivers who commit certain driving offences, to improve the enforcement processes when drivers fail to pay a toll when using a motorway, and to introduce a nationally agreed regime to manage heavy vehicle driver fatigue and speeding compliance.
I want to examine the bill in relation to heavy vehicle driver fatigue. The Parliamentary Secretary noted that the main purpose of the bill is to allow regulations to be made to implement national model legislation in New South Wales extending the chain of responsibility concept to all parties in the heavy vehicle industry in relation to these important matters. The explanatory note on schedule 4 to the bill headed "Amendments relating to fatigue management and speeding compliance" states:
Schedule 4.1  inserts proposed section 11B into the Road Transport (General) Act 2005 The proposed section enables regulations to be made for or with respect to the management and prevention of driver fatigue in connection with the driving of heavy vehicles and heavy combinations. In addition to (and without limiting) that general power there is also power to make regulations for or with respect to matters including the duties of drivers, employers of drivers, prime contractors, operators, schedulers, consignors, consignees, loading managers, loaders and unloaders, the duties of other persons, the periods drivers spend resting and working, records in respect of heavy vehicles or heavy combinations and other matters.
Missing from that considerable list are consumers, who are the ultimate beneficiaries of the products that are carried on those heavy vehicles. The Parliamentary Secretary also noted:
The bill will apply the chain of responsibility provisions, which form part of compliance and enforcement amendments introduced in 2005, to all parties in the heavy vehicle industry to manage fatigue.
He noted further:
Off-road parties in the transport chain must take reasonable steps to prevent the occurrence of an offence.
I will demonstrate that most operators effectively provide that at the moment. They are very conscious of their obligations and they take safety very seriously. Unfortunately, they are not always getting the response from the Government that they should, and in that respect this bill is diluted by its emphasis on penalty not on delivery of what these transport operators are seeking throughout New South Wales. Border Express is one of the largest transport companies in New South Wales, and is based in Albury. I will read a letter written in March 2007 to the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA], Northern Regional Office, with a copy sent to me:
I wish to bring to your attention a situation that [is] in the interest of the road safety of our interstate linehaul drivers, those employed by other freight companies and the public in general [and] needs urgent attention from your office.
Border Express along with most other freight companies have a very large amount of customers that trade between Sydney and Brisbane.
In our endeavours to provide our employees with better working conditions and to promote our industry as an attraction to potential long distance drivers, we have taken the option to run as many of our services in Interstate routes doing scheduled change overs, in other words the drivers travel half way from each end and return to their home each day.
As we have heard from the member for Coffs Harbour, that is a sensible and increasingly frequent means of operating long distance transport, which relies particularly on the efficiency of the operator to consider, first and foremost, the safety of their drivers. The letter continues:
The Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane has a halfway point, Clybucca.
The member for Coffs Harbour has also referred to that changeover point. The letter continues:
Clybucca has very limited facilities.
In other words, he is referring to truck stops suitable for these activities. The linehaul manager who wrote this letter visited Clybucca and noted various issues that may create a hazardous situation when truck drivers are doing their jobs. He visited two areas at Clybucca: first, the BP truck stop and five kilometres north of the pads. In relation to the BP truck stop, and bearing in mind this is a private operation, he said:
[It] was absolutely full of trucks both in the parking area beside and behind the BP fuel stop and café, also there were large amounts of trucks parked both north and southbound on the areas on the Highway shoulders, with many of these vehicles doing change overs there, obviously with the facilities available most operators prefer to use these amenities [as they are available to the truck drivers].
My first view was why do we not use this facility, however, with the congestion and lack of room it is not a practical option, the congestion causes many near misses with trucks entering or leaving the site and the north and southbound shoulders, the speed limit past the BP is 100 kilometres per hour.
All of these conditions point to a traffic hazard that will create a very serious accident between slow moving and fast moving trucks.
In relation to the pads, he said:
"The Pads" is 5 kms north of the BP facility. [Drivers] prefer to use this site as it is less congested and quieter. I have some very serious concerns regarding [the safety of the] site.
The site is simply a paved area on each side of the main Highway that is approx 2 truck widths (5 metres) wide and 100 metres long, on a 100 kilometre per hour stretch of road that is on the southbound lane just after a bend in the road.
With B Double vehicles performing change overs under these conditions there is going to be a very serious accident involving slow and fast moving trucks.
Apart from these two options, there are no real alternatives to suggest that will enable drivers to legally drive the trip, for our drivers to do their job and be able to return to base (Sydney/Brisbane) on a daily basis—the driving time each way is 6 hours.
Not to mention that the service that we along with our competitors offer our customers is an overnight transit between Sydney and Brisbane and we wish to provide our drivers legal time to perform their tasks
The RTA reply a couple of months later stated:
As you will also know, the cost of providing trailer exchange facilities in the area favoured by your company is substantial—
that has to be questioned against lives, nevertheless that is what the RTA said—
and, in determining the extent of demand for such facilities, the RTA must consider the needs and priorities of all fleet operators.
As that was the point of the original letter, that was not a particularly pertinent note by the RTA. The reply continued:
The RTA is also mindful that the development of Highway Service Centres over the next ten years could, at least to some extent, effectively take on the role of a trailer exchange facility.
That is some planning when we have issues now! Once again I refer to the emphasis by the parliamentary secretary on penalties as opposed to delivery of services. The reply continued:
To facilitate this, the RTA is working with local Councils and the Department of Planning to ensure sufficient space is made available for such facilities.
That is worthwhile and should have been in progress long, long ago. The reply continues:
The RTA does, however, acknowledge that there may also be a need for sufficient trailer exchange facilities at specific locations that would suit many operators, and will review the provision of suitable areas in the context of the overall Rest Area Strategy for the Highway.
In 2006 the Border Express manager drew to the attention of staff a problem relating to what he called a Clayton's changeover at the Aeroplane Hill changeover near Holbrook. He said that they had five B-double changeovers each night between the depots, performed at the perceived halfway point between Melbourne and Sydney, that being Aeroplane Hill changeover. He said that he had concerns regarding the safe practice of doing the changeovers at this site, particularly after a visit on a typical night.
The safety issues noted were: congestion of heavy vehicles on site, lack of drivers facilities, phones—including mobile access—toilets, food et cetera, prime movers crossing a roadway with traffic, heavy and light, each way travelling at or in excess of 100 kilometres per hour, and uneven work surface. No changeover is done without a B-double facing uphill or downhill.
These are important elements. The writer noted that in the past 12 months they had had two recorded incidents when drivers could have been severely injured, if not killed, and equipment extensively damaged. On the first occasion a B-double rolled away and came within inches of running over the driver. On the second occasion the B-double rolled away and ran into another unit, causing $4,000 worth of damage. In both cases the consequences could have been catastrophic. As he said, the task is to find a safer location and to provide a site that is safe and has all the amenities 24 hours a day. In that respect he notified all his staff that they should travel to Holbrook, which is 33 kilometres south of Aeroplane Hill changeover, in the interests of providing a safe workplace.
Unfortunately his prediction came true some nine months later when a truck driver was crushed as his truck rolled on him at Aeroplane Hill changeover. The Border Mail
reported in July 2007 that a truck driver died when his own B-double crushed him at a truck stop about 40 kilometres north of Holbrook. The man had stopped his truck at the Aeroplane Hill parking bay after driving north along the Hume Highway. A fellow truck driver said he believed the man might have been swapping the trailer of his truck with another driver. The report states:
"From what I've heard, he unhooked his prime mover and swapped trailers with another driver, which happens a lot with drivers between Melbourne and Sydney," he said.
"He then backed under his new trailer to attach it to his prime mover.
"Because of the slope of the parking bay, the prime mover started to roll away and the man chased after it."
The driver said conditions at the truck parking bay were not ideal for truck drivers:
"The parking bay's on a slope and there's no lighting there at night, which can make it difficult, especially when you're swapping trailers."
Border Express Pty Ltd wrote to me to tell me of that incident and the fact that it had predicted that such an incident could occur:
It is very common practice now within the industry for trucks to do "change-overs", yet the facilities within NSW are a disgrace at best.
Compare the drive between Albury-Melbourne and Albury-Sydney and try stopping in a safe place with toilet facilities. In NSW on the Hume, they are virtually non-existent. There is enormous pressure on our business to provide a safe workplace, yet the government provides no facilities for drivers so they can operate in a safe work [place] when they are not driving.
How can they have such good facilities in Victoria and such poor facilities in NSW? Unfortunately it takes an incident like this to raise community awareness. Without trying to sound like a complete pessimist, I would suggest that the driver's company will now be subject to a Health and Safety audit and wear a fair portion of the blame for the accident. Unfortunately that's how the system works.
Border Express told me towards the end of 2007 that one of their company drivers was killed at Clybucca while effecting a changeover. The company said:
we are under enormous pressure to provide a safe work place by state government legislation, which we don't have an issue with. However, it does concern me that the government is neglecting their role in the process.
On 6 September 2007 I wrote to the Minister for Roads stating that I was writing following receipt of information from Border Express regarding the development of more trailer exchange rest stops on the main New South Wales transport routes. I explained the problems at Aeroplane Hill and said that the company had recently lost a driver at Clybucca on the Pacific Highway. I explained that the company was concerned that the transport industry was required to comply with State regulations on resting drivers and changeovers but the areas to facilitate this were limited, overcrowded or dangerous. I wrote:
Although the RTA is mindful of this and is hoping that the development of private highway centres may prevent the need for further development of road side stopping points, the timeframe for this is lengthy—
remember I said it was 10 years—
and will not address the problem in the short term.
I ended my letter to the Minister for Roads by saying:
I would be grateful for a response on the issue of additional or improved changeover and rest points on our major highways.
I am sorry to tell the House that although I wrote the letter on 6 September 2007 I have not yet received a reply. It is no surprise, unfortunately. It takes me back to where I started: The emphasis in this bill, as the Parliamentary Secretary in the Chamber said only last week, is to introduce a new penalty regime. Unfortunately, we are still waiting for the delivery of safe changeover facilities for our truck drivers.
Ms DIANE BEAMER
(Mulgoa) [5.46 p.m.]: I support the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill. As the previous speakers have said, there are important reasons why in New South Wales and indeed across Australia we have to manage driver fatigue. This bill seeks to amend three Acts of Parliament, two of which relate to penalties and the third relates to driver fatigue and the way in which it is managed. It does not have the component we are talking about in regard to paragraphs (a) and (b) of the objectives of this bill. The reason that driver fatigue and speed are very important not only for truck drivers and their families but for all people on New South Wales roads is that they are represented in an inordinate number of crashes. Heavy vehicles comprise only 2 per cent of the total vehicle fleet on our roads and account for around 6 per cent of vehicle travel, yet they are involved in about 19 per cent of fatal crashes. Being involved in a truck accident is a very serious thing indeed.
Driver fatigue and speeding are clearly safety issues for the transport industry. Compliance with current driving restrictions that are meant to manage fatigue is poor. Twenty-seven per cent of drivers surveyed reported breaking the regulations on every trip and 36 per cent of drivers admitted to infringing driving hours regulations to "do enough trips to earn a living". Crashes in which the driver is fatigued are prevalent and costly. Heavy vehicle fatigue-related crashes are estimated to cost over $300 million a year across Australia. Likewise, speeding by heavy vehicles is a major concern. Research has indicated that if all heavy vehicles complied with speed limits a 29 per cent reduction in heavy vehicle crashes could be expected. These are quite sobering figures. Just reducing the hours and the onus on drivers to get from point A to point B when a company says they must be there would lead to far fewer crashes and far fewer fatal crashes.
At the moment a long-haul study is being done not just of New South Wales drivers, because as members will be aware we are talking about Brisbane to Sydney and Melbourne to Sydney and, quite rightly, about changeover points. We are talking about companies whose headquarters might be in Melbourne or Queensland. This is a national issue and that is why this legislation is important. This is benchmark legislation across Australia.
I congratulate all those who were involved in coming to the table to talk about these issues. Companies would like to work on a level playing field. They say that if the traffic rules mean it takes ten hours to go from point A to point B, they do not want someone undercutting them by saying that they can get the freight there cheaper by pushing their drivers to do it in eight hours. That has happened in the past and that is why chain of command legislation is increasingly important. That is why we have to say that it is not just the truck driver who is trying to earn enough money to make a living who has to be responsible; it is also the people who are managing the business and saying, "You can do it a bit quicker" who have to be responsible. That is why the legislation talks about all the various groups—the contractors, drivers, employers of drivers, prime contractors, operators, schedulers, consignors, consignees, loading managers, and unloaders. The chain of command is important to a safe driving system for truck drivers across New South Wales and indeed across Australia.
We really need to work at the management options. We have to look at standard hours, basic fatigue management and advanced fatigue management so that truck drivers understand that their job is about the safe movement of their consignment from point A to point B while making enough money to earn a living. These are the things that the Transport Workers Union, which has been pushing this legislation, has talked to me about. It is about the way truck drivers are being asked to do unreasonable things on our roads on numerous occasions and being put in a position where they are either sacked or asked to leave the company if they do not comply with requirements that are basically unsafe. That is why these matters are so important.
A standard hours option sets default limits on work and rest. It is aimed at regular scheduled operations with a lower fatigue risk and will suit most businesses. The basic fatigue management option gives operators a greater say in when their drivers can work and rest, provided the risks associated with working long and night hours are managed. Operators will need to be accredited under the national heavy vehicle accreditation scheme and comply with six accreditation standards. The advanced fatigue management option is even more flexible and less prescriptive than either standard hours or basic fatigue management hours. In order to use this option the operator has to put in place a comprehensive control system to manage the greater risk. Work and rest hours are proposed by the operator and limits are approved by the Roads and Traffic Authority on a case-by-case basis.
I turn to the additional powers for police to suspend the licences of provisional and learner drivers who drive at more than 30 kilometres per hour over the relevant speed limit, and learner drivers who drive unaccompanied by a suitably licensed supervising driver. Immediate licence suspension is not without precedent: since the mid-1980s police have been able to immediately suspend the licence of a motorist charged with a serious alcohol offence. The number of learners detected driving unaccompanied has increased sharply in recent years, with 5,178 offences recorded from 2007 to date. This is extremely concerning. A learner driving without a suitably licensed supervising driver commits a serious offence that can be equated to unlicensed driving.
The knowledge that a driver who displays dangerous or irresponsible behaviour can be immediately removed from the road will send a clear and strong message to the community that this type of behaviour by novice drivers is not acceptable. The legislation supports the Government's recent young driver road safety initiatives. Evidence based on 2007 preliminary crash data has shown that the initiatives are already delivering road safety benefits. Fatal crash involvements of P1 drivers in 2007 declined by 35 per cent compared with 2006 figures. The inclusion of learner licence holders in the Government's zero tolerance approach to speeding will send a clear road safety message to novice drivers that speeding at any level will not be tolerated. Drivers whose licences are immediately suspended by the police under the new provisions will have a right of appeal to a local court. However, the suspension is not set aside in the interim unless the court so orders.
The bill also extends to 12 months the period for commencement of a prosecution of a toll offence. This brings the time to commence prosecution of toll offences into line with other camera-detected offences such as speed camera detected offences. Sydney now has motorways with free-flow traffic environments and full electronic toll collection. In such an environment it may be difficult for a toll operator to determine whether a vehicle is driven in contravention of the requirement to pay a toll at the time the vehicle passes the collection point. Anyone who has a toll pass that has failed to work and receives a letter from the toll company asking them to pay knows it is quite easy to explain, but it is very difficult for a toll company to ascertain whether people simply have a defective pass or in fact do not have one.
In practice, it may be possible to determine whether a vehicle has not paid the toll at the time it passes a toll collection point only once registration details of the vehicle have been matched to electronic tag or pass accounts held by the toll operator or an electronic tag issuer. If toll payment is permitted by a toll operator in another manner, as allowed by the regulations, determination of whether a motorist is contravening a requirement to pay a toll may be further delayed. The majority of motorists pay the required toll. Toll operators allow motorists up to 48 hours to notify them if they have failed to pay a toll and they then have an opportunity to pay. A toll notice is sent to a vehicle's registered operator if they have failed to pay after 48 hours, allowing the operator to pay the toll. Sometimes a second opportunity is given if there is no reply to the first notice. A penalty notice may then be issued.
As there is no limit to the number of nominations about who was driving the vehicle that may be made to a single offence, extending the time to prosecute from six to twelve months reduces the possibility of toll evaders avoiding prosecution by delaying the processing of penalty notices so as to render the penalty notice statute barred. People have been using multiple nominations to avoid paying tolls. If only they would use their ingenuity for good. The amendment acts as a deterrent to motorists who do not pay their tolls.
I commend the bill to the House. Road safety is a top priority for the Iemma Government: we will be spending $141 million on road safety initiatives in the 2008-09 financial year. These funds go to a huge range of road safety initiatives, including campaigns on speed limits and the associated dangers of speeding, schools and poor behaviour on roads not being tolerated. We have a strong and clear system. Road safety is a paramount goal for all residents of New South Wales.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [5.57 p.m.]: The Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 will amend various Acts to introduce: licence disqualification penalties for learner drivers who drive unsupervised, suspension of learner or provisional licences if drivers exceed the speed limit by between 30 and 45 kilometres per hour—hear! hear!—improved enforcement processes when drivers fail to pay tolls on motorways; and a scheme to manage heavy vehicle driver fatigue and speeding compliance.
This bill represents significant deviations from current policy as police powers are being extended to control speeding of novice drivers. The heavy vehicle driver fatigue and speeding compliance measures bring New South Wales in line with the recommendations of the National Transport Commission. Police powers will be strengthened to suspend and confiscate learner and provisional driver licences when the drivers exceed the speed limit by in excess of 45 kilometres per hour. I am sure everyone in the House would agree with that provision. Learner drivers will also have their licences automatically suspended for three months if they are caught driving without supervision. Courts may suspend the driver's licence for a maximum of 12 months for such an offence. The offence of driving unsupervised will no longer attract demerit points.
I wish to elaborate on a number of issues relating to this legislation. The bill will amend provisions in the principal Act to cover tolling changes by extending the period in which criminal proceedings for toll offences may be commenced from six months to 12 months, thus reducing the time for toll evaders to avoid prosecution from processing delays. That provision will relate not only to toll evaders; it will relate also to those who receive fines as a result of not having appropriate toll clearances. People in country and regional areas often approach their local members after they have travelled on the M7 and M5, as they did not have appropriate toll clearances. Extending this period from six months to 12 months will save a lot of headaches for the Roads and Traffic Authority, local members and others involved.
The bill will apply chain of responsibility provisions to all parties in the heavy vehicle industry to manage fatigue, but I am not aware which organisations were consulted in relation to that issue. The Roads and Traffic Authority will have a lot to answer for if chain of responsibility provisions apply to all parties in the heavy vehicle industry. I note that the Government did not consult with the Livestock Transporters Association or the Australian Trucking Association. I do not know which organisations were consulted about this legislation, but the organisations to which I referred are glaring examples of what little consultation has taken place. Fairly major organisations should have been consulted if they are to be included in the chain of responsibilities.
Trucks try to use the Mount Lindsay Highway, which runs from Woodenbong to Legume, but they are not able to do so as it is one of the worst highways in New South Wales. The trucking organisations that try to use that road to access other towns in New South Wales have done everything right: their truck drivers have accreditation, they own great rigs, but the road is deplorable. Is that not part of the chain of responsibility? Industry has done everything right but in some cases State and Federal governments have not provided adequate support for Local Government to provide road infrastructure for heavy transport. I continually receive complaints about the state of our roads.
The Roads and Traffic Authority and the Federal Government have documented the deplorable state of the Mount Lindsay Highway between Woodenbong and Legume Road, so where does the chain of responsibility lie? Last Friday I attended a function held by the Brown and Hurley group, one of Australia's biggest Kenworth dealers and a great supporter of the heavy vehicle industry, to open a new branch at Yatala. Five hundred truckers and I had the honour of attending the official opening. When those truckers established that I was a member of Parliament, many of them came to me to register concern about this legislation. Representatives from Mills Transport and Hernes Transport have also approached me.
Most members would be aware that have had a great deal of experience in the livestock industry, so I know that I can speak for the Livestock Transporters Association. Representatives from Wickhams Transport, Frasers Livestock Transport and Flynns Transport have also approached me. All those companies have worked hard, their drivers have been accredited and they have good equipment. However, they are concerned about the lack of strategically placed fatigue stops along the Pacific Highway to enable drivers to rest. Imagine drivers pulling up at a truck stop to rest and being confronted by a truck from Martin's Livestock transport from the Hunter with a load of bullocks, cows or calves that are still well and truly awake. That would not be conducive to people in the industry getting a good night's rest.
What would happen to drivers in the livestock and refrigerated transport industries that pulled up at those truck stops? The Roads and Traffic Authority must be practical in what it is trying to achieve and it must provide necessary and warranted fatigue stops for truck drivers. It is all right for the Roads and Traffic Authority to make the rules but what will happen to truck drivers if they do not have appropriate fatigue stops? Drivers might not be able to stop because there is no room for them to park. They might then be forced to travel for another hour to a truck stop further along the highway, which might put them in a dangerous situation.
Truck drivers cannot just park their trucks on the side of the road. I refer to other people who use these truck stops, that is, the grey nomads or the owners of Winnebagos. I already have grey hair so it might not be long before I have a Winnebago. As the owners of those vehicles have nowhere to pull up they use the fatigue stops provided for truck drivers. New South Wales has three laws about truck driving: the road transport law, the occupational health and safety law, and the industrial relations law. Those laws have different applications, rules and definitions, which makes compliance complex, confusing and dangerous.
New South Wales adjusted the National Transport Commission's model driver health and fatigue management regulations, which will not lead to uniformity, erode safety benefits, increase costs and reduce operational benefits from national laws, thus resulting in higher prices on supermarket shelves and an increased risk of death for people in New South Wales. There have been enough deaths on our roads. Work diaries must be used for all local running and the national package exemptions must be removed, as they will impose huge costs on local delivery operations for little if any benefit. I refer, next, to the "no reasonable steps" defence. Drivers cannot use as a defence for not taking minor rest breaks the excuse that a rest area was full. Basic fatigue management rules must be varied to deny the driver-initiated split rest option.
The split-rest option is important to drivers as it enables them to stop in town for a short period and buy food, et cetera, which is a valid point. A driver might pull up at a rest stop on the road where there are no showers. However, he or she might prefer to drive for another half an hour and to stop in town to have a shower. But that is not part of his stop. If a driver can prove that he has stopped to eat or refresh, he should be credited with that time. Truck drivers should be permitted to take comfort stops and then travel further down the road to sleep in a quiet rest area—provided that Martin's Transport or someone else does not pull up with a load of cows and calves! This option is about healthy living, not scheduling.
Necessary training of drivers is behind schedule because the details of variations are not readily available. Truck drivers have expressed concern that the delay in training will affect necessary accreditation required for long runs such as those from Sydney to Brisbane. Another area about which I am critical is the lack of industry consultation. The Minister has not consulted organisations such as the Australian Trucking Association [ATA] and the Australian Livestock Transporters Association. If he has done so, I have missed it and stand to be corrected. They are big organisations with whom the Minister should consult. A national audit of rest areas by Austroads concluded that industry rest area needs were not met due to excessive spacing between rest areas and unsatisfactory services, that is, no shade, no toilets or other facilities. The audit did not agree with the national guidelines developed by the road agencies. More properly serviced roadside rest areas are required because those already available are always occupied to capacity. Perhaps that can be achieved by providing a caravan park on site!
Mr Geoff Provest:
A new toll.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
Another toll. No, do not mention that. One further issue is that refrigerated trucks, which must leave the motor running all night, and livestock transport with pigs, cattle or sheep, make it impossible for other drivers and travellers at existing rest stops to get their necessary sleep.
Mrs DAWN FARDELL
(Dubbo) [6.12 p.m.]: I speak on the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 and particularly in respect to its impact on the heavy vehicle industry. In 2007 New South Wales voted to support the National Transport Commission fatigue package. I express my disappointment that my office received notice from the office of the Minister for Roads that on 27 May information sessions on the new laws affecting the heavy vehicle industry would be held at the Dubbo RSL on Wednesday 28 May and Parkes Services and Citizens Club Cooperative Ltd on 29 May. Anyone operating within the transport industry understands how difficult it is to attend something that is arranged within 24 hours. I could not attend the information session in Dubbo as I had other appointments, but my media researcher attended as my representative. The meeting was attended by 50 men and 3 women, including Mark Thompson from Thompson Brothers; Chris Fallon, logistics manager from Dawson's Removals; Roger Fletcher, Dubbo's largest employer; and my husband and son. I must declare a conflict of interest as they each have a truck driver's licence, and quite a few other fellows also work for us.
The presentation was delivered by Roads and Traffic Authority spokesman Mr Kinney. He said he was pleased with the attendance at Dubbo as only a dozen or so people had attended at other places. I imagine that happened because not enough time was allowed to advertise the holding of the meeting. My husband and I told as many people as we could about the meeting. The local radio station plugged it following my media releases and John Morris from the Australian Road Train Association also was interviewed on radio. At the meeting we were told about the key elements of the new reforms; the three scheme options of standard hours of 12 working hours per day, basic fatigue management and advanced fatigue management; and that a driver no longer will be able to separate loading or maintenance hours from driving hours.
The meeting was informed also of other reforms. A stepped rate of penalties will apply for every 15 minutes a driver is caught driving over the 12-hour or 14-hour limit with which they are accredited. This restriction will present difficulties for a driver caught in road works, particularly on the Newell Highway. If the Government is focused on implementing new road laws particularly for heavy transport vehicles, new infrastructure needs to be provided. If a driver is delayed by road works or an accident on the Newell Highway for longer than the proposed stepped-rate penalty period, he or she is not assisted by the inadequate number of recognised rest areas to pull over. The Newell Highway, and I imagine also the Pacific Highway, does not have enough rest areas to allow truckies their time out. Of course, those drivers then get pinged if they do not arrive at their destination by the specified time.
The new rule certainly will target all players and stakeholders, whether it is an owner-driver, a small business or a large company. Once again the owner of a company also could be pinged for the idiot factor of one of its employees. Mr Kinney said that all State Ministers agreed on the proposed reforms in 2007. He said that the new work diary will not be substantially different to the current logbook. Members must understand that many truck drivers have a low education level. They are expert drivers and are very good at what they do, but they have not had the same schooling as many of us: they have low literacy levels. They are not unintelligent but they have problems completing forms; however, they can drive a truck and read sufficiently to do their job well. Many truck drivers have not been fined for driving offences. Any new legislation that requires additional bookwork is frustrating for them. The number of truck drivers is diminishing. Rod Pilon Transport in Dubbo, for example, has many drivers from Indonesia. As older drivers retire many young ones are not entering the industry.
In considering how companies can be fined, for companies such as Thompson Brothers or Rod Pilon Transport based in Dubbo their freight scheduler largely will be responsible for overtime breaches or accidents. The new rules will apply to all vehicles greater than 12 tonnes and buses with more than 12 passengers. Questions were asked at the end of the presentation about the reasonable steps defence and how they will affect drivers. The following questions were asked:
Q. Will there be different rules based on a driver's age?
A. Yes, the same rules will apply as those currently in place for aged drivers.
Q. What criteria will be used to determine if a driver is fatigued or not?
A. RTA staff will receive special training similar to the training police officers receive to determine if someone is intoxicated or not.
Q. Will there be an increase in the number of parking bays to accommodate all these drivers that will be forced to take breaks?
A. I don't know
Mr Kinney did not know the answer to that question. He added:
there has been some discussion on the introduction of casual or artificial parking bays—
whatever that means—
however that is only in the visionary stages so far.
Roger Fletcher asked:
Is anyone in government or the RTA looking at how these new laws will clash with the animal welfare laws?
For example: The animal welfare laws demand that stock not be kept in trucks for extended periods. But these new fatigue laws could prevent a driver from continuing to their destination within the allowable timeframe to get the stock unloaded and watered and fed.
This creates a Catch 22, where drivers are in breach of one law or another no matter which decision they make. In addition, under the proposed fatigue laws will the farmer and the abattoir owner—
like Mr Fletcher himself—
be liable as well, if the driver fails to get the stock unloaded and re-nourished in time?
Will the new rules take into account wet weather and bad roads? Will everyone in the logistics chain be liable if a driver has to make a diversion due to bad roads, or is held up due to delays in loading difficult stock or some other unforeseen circumstances?
It's alright when you're in the city with nice sealed freeways and you're only moving freight from warehouse to warehouse, but things are seldom that easy in the bush.
Mr Kinney could not say if any concessions would be made for the serious circumstances Mr Fletcher identified. However, he did say that all States had agreed on the legislation. The Government needs to answer that question before this law is passed. Mark Thompson from Thompson Brothers argued that the National Transport Commission and politicians could not work the scheduling they were asking trucking companies to comply with. He said:
You keep placing more restrictions and costs on our businesses when you wouldn't know how to run one yourself.
The majority of drivers and trucking companies are already responsible—we have to be. We've got a lot of money tied up in these assets—
We have to look after our gear otherwise they'd get flogged to bits in no time on these roads.
Instead of placing more restrictions on us you should be building better roads—we pay enough taxes. It's the highway and road system that need reforms not the safety laws.
Two weeks ago on my return from the Parkes picnic races I was pulled over by the police breathalyser unit on the side of the road. I spoke to the highway patrol officer in Peak Hill and we discussed how, in a two-week period, the back trailers of two B-doubles had tipped over on a bend at Hallinans Creek near Peak Hill and Alectown. Thank heavens no-one was injured, but great loss was suffered in terms of the load, by the driver and because of the incident. That accident was not caused by bad driving but, rather, was attributed to the bend in the road. The highway patrol officer told me that when he is driving a police vehicle there, he has to hug the middle line to take the bend safely because of the camber of the road. The outside of the bend has potholes and the grade is sloped the wrong way. I have made representations to the Roads and Traffic Authority about having the bend in the road removed to resolve the problem.
Those two incidents would have been recorded in Roads and Traffic Authority statistics as truck incidents. Neither was the fault of the truck driver. The fault lies in the construction of the road, and the highway patrol officer agrees with me. Another question asked from the floor was, "If all States have agreed on these new laws, why can't they agree on uniform axle weights?" Why stop there? The answer was, "I don't know—that's something you will have to ask the politicians." That response is not what truck drivers want to hear when they attend a forum. Another question was, "What is it going to cost to get accreditation?" The response was, "I don't know. I suspect that is still being determined." Another question was, "Has the latest draft of the 'work diary' been finalised?' The response was:
I don't know. They have a draft, which probably won't get changed much from now, but I don't know what the final product will contain.
In closing the forum, the person answering the questions, whose name I will not divulge, advised that there would be other forums held in July and regular updates would be available on the website. Those responses were not acceptable because of the indifference with which truck drivers had been treated. I acknowledge that there are mavericks in every field, but the people in my electorate who are involved in freight transportation are very responsible. I have made only one representation on behalf of a truck company owner and one of his truck drivers since I was elected to this House in November 2004 so I have to say that people involved in the transportation industry in my electorate are very responsible. But the truckies have had enough.
Members may not realise it, but the national transport industry will be shut down from 28 July. Already people right throughout Australia are becoming organised and coordinated by sending text messages and the like in preparation for the national shutdown. They are taking that action mainly because of a lack of communication, not because they have nothing else to do. Although that will be significantly costly for the industry, employers and drivers, they have to take desperate measures to obtain answers. A meeting will be held at the Dubbo RSL on 29 June from 10.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. I have been invited to address the meeting. I will be supporting the issues that will be discussed at that meeting. Those in attendance have a list of 17 demands from the Road Transport Forum 2008 and those demands are not negotiable. Issues will be added to the list and the list will be ratified at each meeting.
These men are fighting for what they do. They are working on roads that are in a shocking condition. They have to cope with rising fuel costs and rare rest stops. No consideration is given to their good driving records. Their licence has 12 points, just like mine, and there is a no-points system whereby they can have additional points based on the extra qualifications they have. We really need to have a proper investigation of road transport issues instead of blaming the truckies and accusing them of causing every incident that involves a truck. In my view, half the incidents involving trucks are not caused by the trucks at all but rather caused by bad driving of other people on the road, or the surface of the road. I cannot support the legislation. It shows no consideration whatsoever for people involved in the heavy vehicle industry.
Mr GEOFF PROVEST
(Tweed) [6.23 p.m.]: It is with pleasure that I join in debate on the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2008. Traffic safety is of paramount importance to the people of the Tweed. As I have said on numerous previous occasions in this place, my electorate shares a border with the Gold Coast, which is Australia's sixth largest region. Consequently, as well as the 750,000 Tweed residents who use New South Wales roads, a significant proportion of more than 500,000 Gold Coast residents use New South Wales roads to travel to or from locations in New South Wales. The increase in the number of people using roads in my electorate will not slow down. Indeed, the Tweed population is expected to grow by 60,000 over the next decade, so road safety will become an even bigger issue in the future than it is now because more and more people use New South Wales roads.
For that reason I do not oppose the Road Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2008 that was introduced by the Parliamentary Secretary, the member for Maroubra. I will deal in detail with a number of the issues concerning this bill. The legislation will amend some of the Acts that presently govern road transport in New South Wales to provide harsher penalties for learner drivers who drive without supervision. It also provides for suspension of both learner and provisional licence holders if they are caught speeding at more than 30 to 45 kilometres per hour over the limit. The bill will improve enforcement of motorway tolls as a result of failure to pay, and it will introduce a scheme to improve safety and mitigate driver fatigue associated with heavy vehicle traffic.
Driver fatigue is an issue of major interest to the people of the Tweed. My electorate is one hour from Brisbane and is traversed by the Pacific Highway. Many tens of thousands of heavy vehicles use the roads in my electorate. As the Parliamentary Secretary, the member for Maroubra, would acknowledge, the Pacific Highway is also used a great deal by local traffic. It is the local arterial road and the road mixes local traffic with B-doubles. The Tweed is geographical positioned approximately 11 hours away by road from Sydney. We experience northbound B-double trucks driven by people who are fast approaching the end of their shift. At the point at which they reach he Tweed, they are often trying to make up time, meet their schedules or meet Brisbane Markets deadlines, et cetera. I imagine that fatigue is a major factor at that point.
The Tweed electorate has only two designated track rest stop areas, one on the southbound road and another on the northbound road, and they would be capable of taking only half a dozen heavy vehicles. The other truck rest stop area is much further along the highway at Byron Bay in the electorate of my colleague the member for Ballina, Don Page. Road transport safety is a matter that concerns me greatly. One of the first things I did after being elected as the member for Tweed was to heighten Government awareness of the current loophole that exists in the Road Safety Act 2005 concerning the blood alcohol limits of interstate provisional licence holders. That issue was brought to the Government's attention in 2005. Previously interstate provisional licence holders could drive on New South Wales roads under alcohol limits applying in their home States. Now that the legislation has been amended—I am pleased that that was done, but only after the issue was forced by my prior introduction of similar legislation—interstate provisional licence holders must comply with the current zero tolerance blood alcohol levels that apply in New South Wales. That important change will result in many young lives being saved in the future.
However, I am saddened to inform the House that, as the member for Lismore would be aware, in the past week two fatalities occurred on roads in the northern part of the State. One involved a young 21-year-old girl whose vehicle unfortunately ran off the road, and the other involved a motorcyclist who unfortunately lost his life on the Tugun bypass. Road safety is a matter of major concern to the people of my electorate. Currently trucks must traverse the stretch of road over Sexton Hill—a road that has been the subject of major debate in Parliament as well as in the Tweed electorate. Recently the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, opened a new section of the Tugun bypass. I pause to observe that I am the only New South Wales politician who was invited to stand shoulder to shoulder with a Labor Premier, and I reciprocated by giving her a hybrid waratah that has been planted in the gardens of the Queensland Parliament.
The Pacific Highway is a significant roadway where local traffic mixes with B-doubles. Three weeks ago a B-double overturned. I find it quite strange that the Roads and Traffic Authority decided on the Friday preceding the long weekend to resurface the road. That road continually has 57,000 vehicle movements daily. During resurfacing of the road, the B-double overturned on the hill. Another issue concerning Sextons Hill is that, according to reports in today's media, the speed camera at Sextons Hill has been turned off because temporarily the speed limit has been reduced to 60 kilometres an hour in an area with an overall speed of 80 kilometres an hour. No-one, including the Roads and Traffic Authority, can determine the speed at which people should be travelling along that stretch of road.
I do not oppose the amendments concerning learner and provisional drivers as ultimately they will make roads in the Tweed much safer. I support the amendments in schedule 3 , new sections (1A) and (1B). The amendments also deal with heavy vehicles. That is an extremely important issue in the Tweed, where heavy vehicles frequently use the roads for haulage and general transport purposes. However, the truck checking station in my electorate is rarely open, which is quite unusual considering the large number of heavy vehicle movements in the area.
Pursuant to sessional orders debate interrupted and set down as an order of the day for a later hour.
[The Acting-Speaker (Ms Diane Beamer) left the chair at 6.30 p.m. The House resumed at 7.30 p.m.