Victoria rejects fatigue delay: Rest areas 'no excuse

By: Jason Whittaker

The Victorian Government has rejected any moratorium on new driver fatigue laws, claiming industry’s readiness and the lack of suitable

The Victorian Government has rejected any moratorium on new driver fatigue laws, claiming industry’s readiness and the lack of suitable rest areas is "hardly an excuse" to delay the implementation.

While New South Wales is pushing ahead with a six-month transition plan, Victorian Roads Minister Tim Pallas says the State will begin enforcing the new laws on the September 29 national implementation date.

Under questioning from ATN, Pallas told operators at last week’s Victorian Transport Association (VTA) conference that he must honour the original agreement between states.

"I’m not going to adopt the view as a minister that I sign up to a deal for national consistency and then turn around and say because I get a bit of grief from various sectors that my word is no longer worthwhile," he says.

"We have an agreement with the Federal Government, it was an agreement every state entered into, I intend honouring that agreement."

Asked whether the Government accepts responsibility for operators who are not ready for the new compliance system, Pallas says the State is "investing appreciably" in making industry aware of its obligations.

"The Government has to accept responsibility for the effective implementation of its legislation scheme and its responsibilities. As a government we take those responsibilities serious," he says.

But the standard of rest areas is no excuse for non-compliance, according to the Minister.

"The issue of rest areas and the adequacy of those rest areas are something that increasingly will have to be addressed," he says.

"But it can hardly be an excuse to implement an agreement. The physical dimensions of our road space and the opportunities to rest were well known to everyone who entered into the agreements 12 months.

"As a State while we recognise we have to improve the roadside rest area capacity that is hardly an excuse not to proceed with the agreements. When I give my word to implement an agreement I will deliver on it regardless of the inconvenience it might cause me."

VTA Deputy CEO Neil Chambers was quick to praise VicRoads in front of the Minister for its state-wide education seminars, which he says have involved hundreds of operators.

But he remains critical of the short timeframe industry has had to adjust to the new laws, saying industry could have delivered a better safety outcome if it was not rushed into complying by September.

As ATN exclusively reported, the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) is planning to delay enforcing the new laws for six months after the implementation date. Operators who comply with existing regulations will not be penalised during the transition period.

Philip Halton from the RTA tells ATN he is "still working in the pursuit of the idea".

"We’re conscious we need to come to a conclusion fairly soon," he says.

But Halton wouldn't comment on whether the NSW Government was supportive of his plan.

ATN understands Halton's decision to speak out and float the idea of a grace period was met with surprise by other states.

Efforts by the National Transport Commission (NTC), the architect of the laws, to come to an agreement between states on a nationally-consistent transition period have failed.

Queensland, however, is considering a transition period in enforcing its laws.

Queensland Transport’s Judy Oswin, who is responsible for heavy vehicle enforcement strategies, told the recent Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA) conference the Government is "looking at transitional arrangements to ensure there is adequate time" for trucking operators to comply with their obligations.

The NSW Government will not have passed the laws before the September deadline, allowing it to implement any changes under regulation.

Victoria is the only state to have passed the legislation, meaning it would have to pass an amendment to delay enforcement.

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