FLAT OUT: Luke Bruce's Ugly Dog fleet has been running non-stop around South Australia.
FLAT OUT: Luke Bruce's Ugly Dog fleet has been running non-stop around South Australia.

Kangaroo Island jumping with work

THE COVID-19 virus that is shutting-down the country is changing the rules for truck drivers but for some, it is bringing some unexpected benefits.

Just a few weeks ago South Australia’s Kangaroo Island copped a hammering from severe bushfires and while the island is coming back to life, its repatriation has been slowed by the deadly virus.

But for Luke Bruce, owner of Ugly Dog Transport, the island’s biggest freight company, things are “pretty crazy right now”.

“We’ve been flat out trying to keep up with everything since the bushfires and now it’s fertiliser season so we’re running freight. We’ve got 10 trucks and all of them bar one is running almost non-stop. The one that isn’t is off the road for repairs,” Luke said.

Social-distancing rules, which were expected to be a problem aboard the SeaLink ferries connecting the island with the mainland, have been largely overcome by drivers either staying in their trucks for the crossing or ‘social distancing’ in the ferries’ spacious lounges.

As for interstate runs, Luke said trucks are getting an ‘OK’ sticker on their windscreens at the SA-Victorian border.

“We did a load of sheep through to Warrnambool (in Victoria) and that was no problem,” he said.

Closed borders are a reality for much of the country with each state introducing its own set of border control requirements. So far, freight movements are exempt and luckily, the rules are fairly similar across the country.

In South Australia, truck drivers have to justify their status at border checkpoints and other locations while Western Australia has management guidelines and strict monitoring in place.

Tasmania allows interstate drivers in and out but only for as long it takes to get from the Devonport ferry terminal to their destination and back again. In the Northern Territory drivers must avoid close contact with others and self-isolate, either in their vehicles or their accommodation.

Drivers, it seems, are likely to be in demand in some areas as the crisis rolls on. Toll recently called for more Heavy Combination and Heavy Rigid drivers for its northern and northwestern Tasmania relief pool.

While the company declined to comment, the rumour mill suggests Toll wants to both have spare drivers available to meet extra demand from grocery retailers and ‘spare bodies’ should regular drivers contract the disease and go into self-isolation – or worse.

A company spokesperson would only say that, where goods are continuing to be supplied, Toll is delivering as normal and that includes areas that are critical to the broader community, including medical supplies, groceries and fuel.

“We’re confident our business continuity plans will enable us to continue to service our customers while making sure we support the health, safety, and wellbeing of our people,” the spokesperson said.

In regional NSW Hunter Valley-based D and R Labour Services, which carries chickens for the Baiada company, is staying busy thanks to a sharp fall in red meat availability leading consumers to a poultry alternative.

Spokesman Ken Douglas said the company’s nine trucks regularly carry up to 6000 chickens from poultry farms to be processed by Steggles.

“But because of the increased demand we now have one extra truck movement each night so an extra five each week.”

If COVID-19 is showing Australia anything it is that, in a crisis, the entire supply chain, from farm or warehouse to retail outlet, depends on the road transport industry.

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