Dear Premier Newman: Don’t BREAK the CHAIN

Last week, ALRTA’s National Council met to discuss a terrible threat facing our industry.

High up in the Queensland Government, a backroom player has been pushing to rollback the nation’s Chain of Responsibility laws.

In the last few weeks, a deal’s been done to slash the number of ‘Chain of Responsibility’ offences that can apply to company directors, chief executives, and senior managers of corporations.

Caving in to that pressure, the key bureaucrats have already taken proposals to the nation’s Ministers.

The ‘Chain of Responsibility’ provisions that will apply to top-ranking decision makers under the ‘National Heavy Vehicle Law’ will be cut, from 300 provisions down to just 160.

On Monday 13 August, every Minister in the country actually voted in favour of this change.

It’s already a done deal. There’s nothing anyone in industry can do about it.

But the news gets even worse.

All the indications from Queensland are that the State Government is likely to call for even more cuts to the Chain of Responsibility before these laws are finished.

Why on earth is this happening?

It seems that the new Queensland Government has become convinced that these laws have ‘got to go’ because they are written in a legal style that ‘reverses the presumption of innocence’.

And that’s true. They do.

Current Chain of Responsibility laws in this country are written in this style, because this is how almost all road transport laws are written.

Roll past a stop sign, and it’s up to you to prove that you were really trying to avoid doing so. Go faster than the speed limit, and you’ll need to prove that you had a good reason for that.

Right or wrong, that’s how most of this nation’s Chain of Responsibility have been written too.

Under current Chain of Responsibility laws, a senior manager is accountable for ensuring that a truck, its driver, and the freight on-board are all legal and safe. If something goes wrong, that manager has a ‘reasonable steps defence’. He or she has to show that every reasonable step had been taken.

The Chain of Responsibility laws are tough. And they were meant to be. Because that’s what it has taken to make freight customers even begin to sit up and pay attention.

Chain of Responsibility laws put every freight customer into the same legal situation as the driver at the wheel: you’re liable, and so is your customer.

But it seems that the Queensland Government is now convinced that this is no longer acceptable.

In the backroom, a demand’s been made for an end to provisions which ‘reverse the presumption of innocence’ for top level decision makers. And the change is being rushed through immediately

Stop this reckless attack on Chain of Responsibility

Cutting the Chain of Responsibility from 300 provisions down to only 160 may not be the end of it. There may be more cuts to the Chain coming.

Some people in government are so naïve, they think that bosses of large trucking companies will greet this as good news. After all, ‘you’re going to be substantially let off the hook’.

But so is your customer. So is every customer. And every port, every feedlot, every silo, every abattoir.

In the cuts to Chain of Responsibility that have already been approved, governments have made no assessment of whether the laws that are left will be effective in keeping customers motivated to do the right thing.

And even more cuts to the Chain of Responsibility may occur before these laws are finished.

Who knows what’ll be left? Who knows if the Chain will have any real strength left in it?

For every driver who’s out on the road, the gains we’ve started to see through the impact of Chain of Responsibility are now at risk.

If we lose the Chain, do you really think we’ll get it back?

We’ve been complaining about what’s been happening and our concerns have started to make a difference.

From Sydney, NSW Minister Duncan Gay has successfully pushed for a national commitment that the Chain of Responsibility laws will be reviewed, and may be upgraded or replaced after the Regulator is set up. Minister Albanese has been happy to endorse that request. We appreciate both Ministers’ support.

But we’re still worried that the cuts being made to Chain of Responsibility are already a terrible weakening of the effectiveness of the law. Any further cuts could be fatal.

If Chain of Responsibility laws are cut down to the bone, to the level where they aren’t adequate to motivate customers, does anyone really think that replacement laws will easily spring back up?

It took more than ten years to get the current Chain of Responsibility laws in place. There are no guarantees that any replacement laws will be delivered any quicker, or even at all.

Don’t tear down the Chain until a replacement is ready

We’re happy to support the current laws being replaced with new, fairer and more effective laws.
We have proposals for what good, alternative laws might look like.

Australia can have Chain of Responsibility laws that are fair, strong and effective, all at the same time.

But governments must not tear down what we’ve got and leave us with just a promise to repair the damage.

We’re opposed to what’s been happening. Last week, ALRTA’s National Council unanimously agreed to publicly fight any further rollback of the Chain.

Unless and until a replacement law is available, the ALRTA will be fighting cuts to the Chain.

No more cuts to Chain of Responsibility

Members know that we have some really large operators on our National Council, and we also have a lot of blokes who are single truck owner-operators.

At National Council, every one of our larger members spoke against cuts to Chain of Responsibility.

Each of our large operators was asked:  ‘do you realise you’re putting your own head back in the noose?’ Everyone of them agreed to do it. That’s how important Chain of Responsibility is to this industry. That’s how strongly we are concerned.

Premier Newman, please don’t break the Chain.

John Beer

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