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Australian Truck owners get political about fuel costs


"The unprecedented fuel prices we are facing at the moment is adding unimaginable hardship to many in the transport industry, add the new Registration charges, fuel excise increases and driving hours regulation which now come with unreasonable fines and demerit points and compliance regulations, it’s not hard to believe that we are heading in one direction…….Bankruptcy"
Industry spokesperson and Southern Cross Party spokesman, Mick Pattel, 4 December 2008

European truck drivers and farmers and fishermen have been demonstrating for weeks in the face of high oil prices. Now, finally, Australian truck owners are taking action. And it looks like there is a new political party supporting them, The Southern Cross Party.

At a meeting in Toowomba on Saturday, owners and drivers from three states said that they could not remain in business because of administrative costs related to increases in fuel excise and vehicle registration.

This supply interruption has been a long time coming, as perusal of Industry spokesman, Mick Pattel's blog will attest.

"If the government doesn't come to the party, deliveries of bread, fuel and milk will be affected," say spokespersons, Sheridan Steinohrt and Mick Pattel

They also complained about new rules for managing driver fatigue, anticipating problems with demerit points, and describing pettiness over log book infractions and excessive driving times. The truck owners and drivers are down on the National Transport Commission, the national governing body, which they say does not contain representatives from the industry.

Owners claim that they can no longer recruit drivers because of all the rules.

Mr Pattel was reported by the Toowoomba Chronicle to have stated that he thought the action might go on for two weeks, but he thought that the government might come to the table just before the truck owners take action.

According to Fairfax-owned paper, the North Queensland Register, on 29-5-2008, in Reg Burton, "National Truck stoppage go ahead", Mr Pattel had quoted said a spokesperson for Federal Transport Minister, Anthony Albanese, as saying that "he didn’t know why the operators were worried as all they had to do was pass the cost on to the public."

The truck owners hope that the public will understand their plight and support them. Mr Pattel said that the industry was warning the public so they can prepare for an interruption to supplies.

The Toowoomba Chronicle reported that the intuitive Bob Katter, Federal Member for Kennedy, was supportive to the industry, agreeing that they "have no alternative but to take direct action." The Chronicle reported that Vaughan Johnson, Member for Gregory, and Ray Hopper, Member for the Darling Downs, were also present at the Toowoomba Meeting.

The Chronicle, however, made no mention of the surely cogent fact that Mr Pattel is a spokesman for the Southern Cross [political] Party. The Chronicle is owned by APN News & Media Ltd. We have, unfortunately, come to expect this kind of omission from the mainstream press.

("All but seven of the 36 regional daily newspapers in Australia are owned by just four companies: News Corporation, John Fairfax Holdings, Rural Press and APM News and Media. And all but four of the 39 non-metropolitan commercial television stations in Australia are owned by just three operators: Prime Television, WIN, and Southern Cross Broadcasting. And it's clear if media ownership regulations are further relaxed, greater concentration is certain." - Dianne Jones from the University of Queensland, in a program about changes to media cross ownership rules, which featured Toowoomba, on 5 October 2006, at http://www.abc.net.au/rn/mediareport/stories/2006/1754395.htm)

According to their website, the Southern Cross Party is against the traditional party structure per se; it is for independents. It aims to be a party of independents. It voices reasonable and valid concerns about lack of democracy and about corporatised government affecting the access to and use of land. It is suspicious of climate change agreements and the weakening of local democracy by the distancing of political control and the abstraction of issues.

This list of demands was passed by a meeting of truck owners in Townsville on the 24th of May 2008, the additions 16,17, were added at Toowoomba Meeting 14th June 2008. (Information from: http://southerncrossparty.com/blog/2/feed)

"Not Negotiable

1. Disbanding of the National Transport Commission immediately.

2. No electronic recording systems, or work dairies.

3. No changes in the present log book format.

4. No demerit points on log books, or driving hours regulations.

The full list, available at http://southerncrossparty.com/node/783 is

Road Transport Shutdown 2008 List of Demands
Sun, 05/11/2008 - 17:39 — Mick Pattel

This list of demands have been passed by the meeting in Townsville on the 24th of May 2008, the additions 16,17, were added at Toowoomba Meeting 14th June 2008
Not Negotiable

1. Disbanding of the National Transport Commission immediately.
2. No electronic recording systems, or work dairies.
3. No changes in the present log book format.
4. No demerit points on log books, or driving hours regulations.
5. Recoupment of demerit points for professional drivers who earn their living from their licence to be reduced to 12 months not the existing 36 months.
6. No penalty to drivers exceeding prescribed driving time when attempting to reach a vacant heavy vehicle rest area or when marginally over driving hours in compliance with defacto hours proposed under the new NTC ruling for all drivers irrespective of participation of fatigue management programs, and in any case ‘reasonable defence’ is to apply where compliance is not possible.
7. All fines for logbook breaches to be capped at an agreed fixed amount and relate to safety breaches only.
8. All fines and loss of demerit points for logbook breaches to be rescinded, fines and points to be reimbursed, all licences lost as a result of this legislation to be reinstated to previous status.
9. No increases or changes in registration charges for any truck or bus over 4 tonnes, charges to be set in concrete at current levels.
10. No increase or indexation of fuel excise.
11. No fuel based carbon charges or taxes.
12. No changes or variations to the Federal Fuel Energy Grants Scheme or to the State Bulk End User Rebates both of these are to remain in place indefinitely.
13. Authorities to endorse a driver intercept report sheet to create a reporting system to identify rude and unethical enforcement officers.
14. Main Roads Authorities in all States to construct and maintain all weather road train termination pads of adequate size.
15. A priority funded program to provide all weather heavy vehicle rest areas that are designed to provide adequate parking and amenities for the different truck trailer configurations according to truck traffic density.
16. That the log book period be changed from any 24 hour period to midnight to midnight on any calendar day.
17. That an inspection by an officer of either Queensland Transport or the Queensland Police Service of a drivers log book cannot be inspected past 14 days prior to the interception date.

5. Recoupment of demerit points for professional drivers who earn their living from their licence to be reduced to 12 months not the existing 36 months."

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Comments

The truck drivers are to be congratulated for taking political action against the hardships caused by fuel price increases and compounded by what they see as petty interfering bureaucracy.

Nevertheless, it would seem that some of the regulations they object to would seem to be intended to prevent driver fatigue.

It would be better if the underlying causes which cause so many to drive for dangerously long periods of time could be addressed and the focus was less on drivers trying to make ends meet by breaking the regualtions. However, I am not convinced that relaxing the rules would actually help drivers. I could easily see this causing more drivers to feel compelled to drive longer and thereby make our roads less safe.

With fuel prices only likely to continue to go up as stocks become ever more scarce, it is hard to see a solution that will enable all those currently driving trucks to continue to work and to work for decent pay and conditions.

It seems to me that if, in future, large volumes of freight continue to be carried over long distances in this country it will have to be done far more by rail and not road.

Our governments and business leaders, who have failed abysmally to anticipate the problems which are now threatening many drivers with bankruptcy, should be made to do their utmost to either rectify the problem or else find them suitable alternative means to obtain their livelihoods.

Copyright notice: Reproduction of this material is encouraged as long as the source is acknowledged.

A well considered comment, James.

It's easy to see how a lot of owner-drivers, in particular, would be feeling squeezed right now. Rising fuel prices and high interest rates (many owner drivers have substantial loans on their trucks) will have added to their already stressful existence. An owner driver friend of mine told me last week that in the space of 12 months, fuel has gone from one third to one half of his cost of doing business.

But, like you, I can't help feeling that most of the demands formulated at Townsville are poorly targetted and will not address the long term issues. The underlying theme seems to be de-regulation and many of the points have serious implications for road safety.

Libertarian inspired calls for less Government intervention are bound to strike a chord with drivers operating under increasing pressure. But if they result in cowboy drivers working longer hours and causing serious accidents then the resulting public backlash will lead to more restrictive legislation, not less.

Instead of looking at cutting costs by cutting standards, perhaps transport charges just have to rise? Yes, it'll be inflationary. But what's the alternative? A race to the bottom in terms of income, conditions and safety for drivers.

The formation of an owner drivers guild would provide a framework for collective action to improve the lot of the owner driver, but unfortunately Owners Drivers Australia (ODA) looks like the only candidate for such a role at present. ODA embraces the outlook of rugged individualism, to the point of being like the mutant love child of Horatio Alger and Ayn Rand. Which is understandable to a point because owner drivers are self-employed and thus in competition with each other.

But which also kind of compromises its message about collective action.

The formation of an Australian Owner Drivers Guild, that worked cooperatively with the TWU (instead of bagging it relentlessly as ODA does) to achieve fair rates of pay AND safe conditions for owner drivers would be a step in the right direction.

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