The COVID-19 pandemic has required all of us to deal with scenarios and situations that were hard or even impossible to anticipate.
Of course, the freight and logistics industry has long-held concerns about some of the complexities that arise from having to comply with multiple regulatory regimes as freight crosses the border from one state or territory into another.
Yet the closure of those same borders at the onset of the pandemic has forced the industry to confront and adapt to a whole new set of requirements.
The fast-moving nature of the COVID-19 challenge has also required governments and regulatory authorities to move speedily — and in some instances, this has led to the imposition of rules that are simply incompatible with the realities of freight transport.
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, there were missteps by various authorities in the early stages of the pandemic over practical matters such as ensuring truck rest stops remained open and accessible to drivers.
This showed there was need for a multi-jurisdictional agreement that could provide clarity and certainty for the industry as it sought to keep delivering for communities despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19.
Consequently, over several months ALC worked with its members, regulatory authorities and allied industry groups to build support among governments for a nationally-consistent approach that will protect the health of the freight transport sector’s workforce and the wider community, while still ensuring that our industry can get the job done.
Those efforts bore fruit in late July when the National Cabinet gave its endorsement to a Domestic Border Control Freight Movement Protocol.
The protocol was endorsed by chief health officers from all state and territories and clearly outlines measures that all states and territories agree will allow freight to move safely and efficiently across borders.
This includes a number of common-sense measures which ALC has pursued throughout the pandemic, including the ‘waive through’ of freight vehicles at borders, standardising the duration of border crossing permits, mutual recognition of COVIDsafe work plans developed in other jurisdictions and not requiring truck drivers or rail crews to quarantine or self-isolate when crossing borders if they have not developed COVID-19 symptoms.
Obtaining agreement to this protocol was only possible because our industry has been able to clearly and convincingly demonstrate its commitment to COVIDsafe practices to governments nationwide.
In particular, the members of ALC’s Safety Committee played a pivotal role by offering compelling examples of the extensive efforts being undertaken by major freight and logistics companies to make their operations COVIDsafe.
This gave policymakers added confidence that our industry takes its obligations seriously and understands the importance of COVIDsafe behavior in protecting the wider community.
The importance of having COVID testing available for freight workers frequently crossing borders is also recognised, and the protocol calls for states and territories to offer ‘pop up’ testing facilities in appropriate locations, ensure testing requirements are risk-focused and agree a nationally-consistent set of requirements for the frequency of tests if such tests are to me made a condition of border-crossings.
Importantly, the protocol also requires authorities to consult with industry to understand the effect and impacts of potential changes ahead of any new directions being put in place.
This made it especially disappointing when, less than a week after the protocol was agreed, some jurisdictions disregarded its provisions by imposing changes to border crossing requirements without adequate consultation or even notice to industry.
The protocol can only deliver its intended outcomes if all parties – governments, regulators and industry – adhere to its terms, most particularly around the need for consultation and consistency.
The swift reaction from industry against poorly-designed and impractical border-crossing requirements will have amplified the message for governments. During this crisis, collaboration is not merely desirable, but essential.