LAW CHANGES: Farmers could be impacted by new laws that will be introduced July 1.
LAW CHANGES: Farmers could be impacted by new laws that will be introduced July 1. Kirstin Payne

Truck safety slug as farmers face huge fines

FARMERS could be fined up to half a million dollars if an unroadworthy truck enters their property under "draconian and unfair" changes to safety laws.

Under the new laws, farmers could be liable if a truck driver is sleepy, or exceeds the speed limit on its way to or leaving a property.

Farm lobby groups have reported the Heavy Vehicle National Law changes, to be introduced in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania on July 1, will mean any farmer receiving or loading a vehicle weighing 4.5 tonnes - the equivalent of a small truck - could be found liable for safety breaches.

The laws mean that farmers must:

KNOW what and how much is loaded on a truck, and how it is restrained.

BE AWARE of instructions, or demands placed on transporters, including cause for a driver to speed, that may be unlawful.

ENSURE the truck is fit-for-purpose, mechanically safe and roadworthy.

KNOW the driver is not tired, sleepy or has worked longer than allowed.

UNDERSTAND safety risks of any activity related to transporting goods, such as delivery time.

ENSURE safety across all transport activities including packing, loading and consigning.

Under the changes, corporates breaching safety duty may be fined up to $500,000, and individuals $50,000.

In a brochure on changes in the chain of responsibility to farmers, the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator states "not knowing the law and obligations it places on you is not an excuse (and) you may face significant penalties for non-compliance".

But farm groups say the sector is ill-prepared for the chain of responsibility changes and have called for a simplified explanation of how farmers will be affected.

The National Farmers' Federation said the changes would have "massive implications".

NFF economics and farm business committee chairman Wayne Dunford said "there wouldn't be a farmer not implicated" by the new rules.

"It's opening up a Pandora's box, and the sad thing is not many farmers know about it," Mr Dunford said.

He said under the changes, "before you load a truck, you've got to know it's roadworthy - now that's not a farmer's job ... farmers aren't compliance officers.

"If a truck comes up the driveway - just like a car - you expect it's registered and roadworthy. Farmers have no control over that.

"It shouldn't be anyone but the driver's responsibility to do the right thing by the log book ... that's not our job, any farmer will tell you that."

Mr Dunford said the NFF supported road safety, but the changes to the chain of responsibility laws, which he said doubled fines, had not been adequately communicated to farmers.

"If you're a large freight company, you've got someone looking at NHVR regulations and changes all the time, but farmers are not sitting at a computer all day monitoring what NHVR says," he said.

"It's all jargon you'd expect (trucking companies) Linfox and Toll to understand, but there's no understanding of how the ag sector works."

Mr Dunford said some farm industry groups were working to create a simplified checklist so farmers could ensure they had met their responsibilities. He also suggested a delay of six months may be needed on the introduction of the changes.

The Victorian Farmers Federation was also worried by what it called a lack of information available to farmers about the changes.

"Any time farmers send or receive goods they will now have a shared responsibility, if not liability, to ensure 'all reasonable steps' are taken to comply with the new legislation, but neither NHVR or agencies such as the police can tell us what 'all reasonable steps' are to ensure we comply with new legislation" VFF grains group president Ross Johns said.

"Many farm businesses will be unaware of the new legislation and the implications for their businesses. This is compounded by the fact that NHVR cannot tell us how they must comply."

Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association blasted the rules as "draconian and unfair" and said "the Government and NHVR had done a piss-poor job of explaining the changes to the agriculture industry".

"It's like they never even considered agriculture," TFGA spokesman Nathan Richardson said.

Mr Richardson said he believed the changes meant farmers were expected to "complete full-blown risk and hazard analysis for any truck leaving a farm or carrying produce, irrespective of who owns, or drives, the truck".

"We're not against safety, but we're farmers, not safety inspectors," Mr Richardson said "While we're filling out the paperwork who is going to be milking the cows or shearing the sheep and mending the fences?"

But the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator's Chain of Responsibility manager, Michael Crellin, said farmers already had responsibility when dealing with trucks, under the existing law.

"I don't think there'll be a lot of change (for farmers)" he said. "A person can only be responsible for that which they can control or influence. If they begin the dialogue with their transport provider, they'll be well placed to minimise the risk (when the laws come in)."

Mr Crellin said while the increased fines looked "hefty and terrible" it would be up to "the courts to weigh it up and make judgment about what is an appropriate penalty".

NHVR spokesman Andrew Berkman said the NHVR had 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".

Mr Dunford said he feared the full impact of the changes would not be known, until they were tested in court.

A spokesman for Transport Minister Barnaby Joyce said "the amended laws maintain existing chain of responsibility 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."



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