FARMERS are expressing concern about upcoming changes to Chain of Responsibility (CoR) laws and use of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s (NHVR) powers.
NHVR spokesperson Andrew Berkman said the changes to the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) due mid-year are only minor and will improve understanding of shared responsibility in areas like vehicle movements on-farm, to improve safety standards.
He said CoR laws had been in place for many years and many farmers already had systems in place that met existing laws and safety needs of their transport operators.
“The changes to the existing CoR laws that are coming into effect in mid-2018 reduce red tape and align better with national workplace safety laws,” he said.
“The primary duty still only applies to a person in the CoR for those activities they have responsibility for and can influence.
“Some examples where a primary producer contracting a heavy vehicle operator may have an influence could be timely access to stock or produce, safe access on and off a property, or the weight of particular load.
“No one within the CoR will be liable for breaches they cannot control.”
Mr Berkman said the NHVR doesn’t fine farmers but there continued to be maximum court imposed penalties which ranged from $50,000 for an individual to $500,000 for a corporation.
“The NHVR is committed to working with all parties in the supply chain to assist them to meet their safety obligations,” he said.
“Since the beginning of 2017, the NHVR has held extensive briefings nationally and conducted a comprehensive education and awareness campaign to outline the changes to many of the 165,000 businesses which make up the heavy vehicle supply chain.
“The NHVR has a dedicated industry operations group for agriculture with representation from the National Farmers Federation (NFF).”
But the NFF CEO Tony Mahar said the NFF had; held a phone hook up with the NHVR this week; written to them to give “clear advice” about its views on the “imminent” changes; and held talks for several month, about the consequences for farmers that “could be enormous”.
“We’ve had ongoing discussions with the NHVR and don’t think the consultation process has been good enough and they haven’t taken back the feedback we’ve provided,” he said.
“But the ramifications could be quite enormous depending what the farm business is like.
“If you’ve got 10 trucks turning up to your property per week, you’ll have to make sure all those trucks are compliant with the law - that’s another job - and if you breach it and are found responsible, the impact could be huge.”
Mr Mahar said the NHVR and state governments were part of the process which involved issuing transport permits with local governments and his group wanted the regulator to take a consistent approach towards its task of using class-one permits for oversize and over mass vehicles, up and down the eastern seaboard.
He said they also wanted to see a consistent approach for measurements of oversize and over mass vehicles and the process of obtaining permits, for farmers.
“At end of harvest season, when headers and other machinery is being moved, it’s hard to get permits and there’s inconsistency between the states so we want the NHVR and states to commit to a consistent approach,” he said.
“We don’t think there’s been adequate appreciation of the CoR laws to understand how that’ll impact on farmers.
“If a truck turns up to a property to pick up or drop off stock, there’s a huge responsibility and onus on the farmer as it currently stands, to look at the registration papers or the safety of the track or tare.
“We think that’s putting unreasonable and unnecessary requirements on the farmer, the farm business owner, to ensure what’s effectively a sub-contractor or service provider, is compliant with the law.
“If it’s implemented to the letter of the law it could have huge implications for farmers and farm businesses, just getting stock picked up or dropped off.
“They don’t have any control over whether the driver or service provider has satisfied their requirements and the regulations and provisions in our view haven’t considered that on-farm.”
Mr Berkman said there were more than 200 fatalities involving heavy vehicles across Australia last year and the NHVR takes heavy vehicle safety “very seriously”.
He said NHVR staff have met with and will continue to meet with local farmers about the role they play in making heavy vehicle travel safer.
CoR laws have been in Australia in some form since 1998 and the changes to HVNL in mid-2018 will see the introduction of Primary Duties.
In Victoria, NSW, South Australia, Tasmania and Queensland, the HVNL will be amended to clarify that all parties in the CoR have a duty to ensure the safety of transport activities related to the use of heavy vehicles.
But the parties in the CoR have not changed, so if a farmer currently has responsibilities under CoR those responsibilities continue.\
Mr Mahar said the NFF was lobbying state governments over the changes and federal Transport and Infrastructure Minister Barnaby Joyce.
A spokesperson for Mr Joyce’s office said the amended laws maintain the existing CoR safety requirements, but are better aligned with Workplace Health and Safety laws which require all businesses to take a proactive approach to heavy vehicle safety for the benefit of the entire community.
“In the past 12 months, the NHVR has conducted more than 100 information sessions across the nation about these changes,” a statement said.
“The changes to the law won’t be introduced for several months, so there are further opportunities for small businesses, including farmers, to contact their transport providers or the NHVR to ensure their heavy vehicles are able to operate safely and legally.
“It is worth noting the NHVR has advised that many of these operators already have adequate safety systems in place.”
Common sense needed on CoR laws
NSW Nationals Senator John “Wacka” Williams said he’d been in the CoR space and followed the NHVR closely, since he was elected to parliament.
“If it’s a metre long job that we need to do, we’re about two centimetres down the road and there’s a lot more we need to do,” he said of moves to introduce uniformed laws across Australia – like volume loading for livestock, driving hours and axel limits.
“This whole CoR, whoever is pushing it, they’re pushing it too far.
“I’m really concerned about the CoR rules for areas like cattle loading.
“Was the driver excessively tired already before coming onto the farm or is the grazier responsible - how far do you go back?
“It’s up to the grazier to present good livestock and good facilities like yards and loading ramps etc - but when they’re loaded onto the truck it’s up to the truck driver to do the right thing and when they get to the abattoir or the yards it’s up to them to do the right thing.
“But to bring the whole CoR back to the grazier, if that’s what they’re planning, I’m very concerned about that.”
Queensland Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan said making the farmer entirely responsible for any breaches of the CoR under the NHVR was “ridiculous” and would “never happen as a matter of law”.
“I’m prepared to say that’ll never happen because it offends all of the basic principles of justice and it’s not going to happen,” he said.
“How could I be responsible for a truck driver that’s heading towards my farm and is tired?
“I would be (liable) if the truck driver said to me on the phone, ‘mate I’m beat I haven’t slept for 50 hours’ and I said ‘you’ll get here or you’ll lose the contract’.
“There’d be some liability, if I had some sense of awareness, and you’ve have to have an awareness of an environment before you’re responsible for it.
“You need to see that the brake linings are buggered.”
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