Opinion

VTA: Fighting for common sense at the borders

VTA-0920-Fighting-for-common-sense-at-the-borders

Like many readers, I was disappointed Big Rigs was recently shuttered as part of consolidation occurring in the publishing industry. For decades, Big Rigs filled a void servicing the interests of owner-operators and small-medium sized freight and logistics operators right around Australia, who relied on it for timely and relevant information about the transport industry.

So, I was thrilled when Prime Creative Media added Big Rigs to its stable of transport industry publications, and that editor James Graham would be bringing the paper back to life.

I look forward to regularly engaging with readers on all the large and small issues confronting our industry.

A common misconception is that the VTA mainly represents large employers. Our members share similar values and concerns of owner-operators, sub-contractors and small and medium fleet operators whom we know are avid Big Rigs readers.

As an industry group, we represent these vital segments because their issues and concerns are common to us all.

One of these is the untenable situation the industry finds itself in with border crossings, that has been the subject of debate inside and outside the industry.

Coronavirus has seen state governments introduce controversial border restrictions, understandably in the interests of protecting constituents. While freight transport has rightly gained conditional exemptions so drivers can travel interstate, regrettably some jurisdictions are impeding interstate freight by not fully honouring the Protocol for Domestic Border Controls (Freight Movement) the National Cabinet agreed to in August.

A sticking point is the requirement in South Australia – enforced by SAPol – for freight transport drivers to have a COVID test every seven days, as one of many requirements for a permit to enter South Australia from Victoria.

Unlike most jurisdictions, Victoria does not allow asymptomatic casual testing, and requires anyone that does get tested to self-isolate at home until they get a result. For Victorian-based drivers, it means they cannot legally get tested in their home jurisdiction and continue to work.

While South Australia is beginning to open more testing stations, many aren’t operating on a 24/7 basis, making it difficult for operators to run a seamless and efficient line-haul business.

If you are going to operate COVID test sites at South Australian borders, it is essential they are around-the-clock operations – especially if they are on gazetted interstate freight routes.

Calls for Victoria to ease asymptomatic testing requirements are easier said than done because Victoria doesn’t have the capacity to do more testing as we manage the second wave of COVID. At time of writing, we are conducting an average of 25,000 tests per day, and there isn’t capacity for more.

That said, we are trying to get the bottom of a directive from the federal Department of Health that would seemingly enable asymptomatic essential heavy vehicle drivers to have a bulk billed COVID test in Victoria. If the directive enables heavy vehicle drivers to get tested anytime in Victoria without having to self-isolate until they get a result, it would help our border issues with South Australia.

The simple, quick and common-sense solution would be for South Australia to follow the lead of New South Wales and make seven-day COVID testing a recommendation instead of a requirement. As the protocol National Cabinet agreed to states, freight movements have not been identified as a source of community transmission of COVID-19 to date, underscoring the tremendous work the industry has done to comply with COVID Safe requirements and keep their drivers, and those they interact with in the supply chain, safe and well.

The interstate transport industry has proved it can operate within the law and regularly and safely cross borders, whilst complying with reasonable border crossing permit requirements, COVID Safe Plans, contact records and hygiene training. The South Australian authorities should acknowledge that accomplishment and remove its onerous requirement for seven-day COVID testing.

If COVID has taught us anything it is that we must adapt and work harmoniously as a nation and with each other to minimise disruptions to our lives and our businesses.

As an industry group the VTA is petitioning and lobbying very hard, and through every channel, to gain a common-sense solution.  Thank you to those companies and individuals that have supplied so much information to date on this issue.

Peter Anderson is CEO of the Victorian Transport Association (VTA)

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