Debacle, embarrassment, disappointment, nasty joke – take your pick!  It is unfathomable, given the impressive level of co-operation and communication that has been demonstrated via the operation of the National Cabinet, that we are still waiting for implementation of a decision on roadhouse exemptions by State and Territory Governments that was made 10 days ago. The National Cabinet is ‘moving mountains’ to ensure that the Australian people and the economy are protected, as much as possible, from the impacts of COVID-19.  They really should be commended for their operation to date. 

However, the benefit of this new national ‘war-time’ decision making mechanism risks being undermined by delays in executing the decisions that are made – and the farce relating to the management of the COVID-19 exemption for truck driver dining at the Nation’s Roadhouses and Truck Stops is a case in point.

Following the closure of restaurant dining areas in response to COVID-19 the industry sought clarification that the Roadhouse and Truck Stop network would not be included, stressing the vital role that these places serve in ensuring Heavy Vehicle Drivers effectively manage their fatigue.  The response was a clear and welcome – the intention is not for these sites to close, but they would need to up the distancing and cleaning.

Days past and enforcement agencies were approaching Roadhouses and ordering the closure of the dining and truck stop facilities.  While the sites complied with the instructions of the police they reached out to their associations, who reached out again seeking formal exemption this time.  Again, the clear and welcome response came – these sites will not be closed, as long as the can meet distancing and cleaning requirements.  This time it was clear that this item would be up for discussion and formal approval at the National Cabinet.  The industry, and the Truckies breathed a sigh of relief, this would be over soon.

On 28/3/2020 the National Cabinet met and agreed to a formal exemption for Roadhouse and Truck Stop Facilities, in recognition of the vital role they play in managing the safety of Heavy Vehicle Drivers on the road.  Specific distancing and cleaning requirements as well as number limits were discussed and agreed.  The industry celebrated, National solutions would be here soon.

On 29/3/2020 the Hon Michael McCormak MP, Minister for the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (and the Deputy Prime Minister) announced the National Exemption noting;  “Our truck drivers are transporting everything from supermarket supplies and fuel to vital medical equipment and medicine to where it is needed across Australia.  We have heard their concerns loud and clear and this is a common sense solution which ensures heavy vehicle drivers have access to essential amenities, can take regular breaks and eat properly whilst delivering their vital cargo.  Roadside service stations, roadhouses and truck driver lounges provide a vital function allowing truck drivers to eat, shower, use restrooms, refuel and rest comfortably before resuming their work – which is critical for them to continue efficient and safe freight distribution across the country”. 

The industry cheered, the confusion gone, dining areas opened, covered in For Heavy Vehicle Drivers ONLY signage, utilising heightened distancing (3.5 m between tables, single chair per table) and the drivers were thankful. But that is where what had been an understandable situation of confusion, turned into an utter debacle.

From the 30/3/2020 all the way to today 3/4/2020, across NSW, VIC, SA and QLD reports of Roadhouses being visited by police, often using very heavy handed tactics, including physically removing Truckies who were at tables, and threatening the issuing of fines in excess of $6,500 to the Roadhouses.

As the industry association representing the Roadhouses, ACAPMA has been working with the State and Federal governments on this issue since 23/3/2020, privately and cooperatively.  Like the rest of the industry, ACAPMA celebrated on 29/3/2020 as what had been a confusing, stressful and potentially dangerous situation finally had clarity.  So it was with great disappointment that ACAPMA continued to receive many calls from Roadhouses who had been told by their local police that the tables had to be removed or fines would be issued.  ACAPMA immediately reached out to McCormack’s office and received amazing response and cooperation.

In an effort to bring clarity to the situation and on 1/4/2020 the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications published the National Exemption and provided this to ACAPMA for circulation to all members.

Despite this published Exemption in hand, police were forced to close Roadhouse dining areas, because their State had not yet ratified the Exemption.

It is worth noting here that the police are acknowledged as simply following the instructions that they have been given, the blame for the confusion should be laid at the feet of those elsewhere in the State government who have dragged their feet on getting the State versions of the exemptions approved and communicated to the police, as they had agreed to do more than 10 DAYS AGO.

So, 10 days of confusion for the industry, unnecessary work of the police – who arguably have other things to focus on, genuine risks to the Heavy Vehicle Drivers of the country – who are working harder than ever to keep Australia stocked with essential goods, this is the result of one thing; the States dragging their feet.  Enough is enough. 

It is not ACPAMA’s usual way to address issues in the media, nor is it typical to partner with the Transport Workers Union, but enough is enough.  ACAPMA, together with the Transport Workers Union, have written to all of the States seeking urgent action on this critical issue (see links below for the letter). 

 “Our thanks go to the National Secretary of the TWU, Michael Kaine, for working with us to bring community attention to this issue”, said Mark.

It is time that the admirable and impressive speed with which the National Cabinet is making decisions is supported by timely implementation of decisions by State and Territory Governments.

“The fact that it has taken more than 10 days to resolve this issue is poor – our industry and the Nation’s truckies, both of whom are working long hours to ensure freight continues to move and fuel is available, deserve far better”, concluded Mark.

National Exemption published 1/4/2020

ACAPMA and TWU Joint Letter to State Premier NSW

ACAPMA and TWU Joint Letter to State Premier QLD

ACAPMA and TWU Joint Letter to State Premier SA

ACAPMA and TWU Joint Letter to State Premier VIC

Late news: Just prior to distribution, the QLD Government had completed its exemption process and we understand that announcements in SA and VIC are imminent.