Weekly News: Holding Executive Officers to Account

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The degree to which the current chain of responsibility laws can hold senior managers and executive officers to account is often talked about. Most operators I speak to reckon there is too much focus on the driver and operator and not enough on those further up the chain.

Not many operators would be aware that the Council of Australia Governments has approved a set of guidelines for applying personal liability for corporate fault. These are intended to be applied consistently across all Australian legislation. The NTC has reviewed the Heavy Vehicle National Law against the guidelines and found that of around 300 offences currently applying to executive officers, very few of these fully adhere to the guidelines – possibly as few as 17.

While removal of ‘return of permit’ type offences would be of little consequence, removal of other safety related offences (even by way of collapsing these into a single offence) is likely to reduce the accountability of executive officers when most drivers believe that it should be increased.

The ALRTA has argued that such changes could only be made as part of broader package in which any reduction in the scope of offences is offset by new positive duties, general duties, increased penalties or improved investigative powers to ensure that executive officers are sufficiently motivated to take all reasonable steps to prevent breaches of the HVNL.

Work is already underway on many of these issues and no changes should be recommended to Ministers until such time as stakeholders can agree upon an overall package that enhances chain of responsibility rather than diminishing it.