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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
15/02/2017
Aspects of road safety in Australia

BAILEY, Ms Melinda, Executive Director, Compliance and Regulatory Services, Roads and Maritime Services, New South Wales

CARLON, Mr Bernard, Executive Director, Centres for Road Safety and Maritime Safety, Transport for New South Wales

Committee met at 16:05

CHAIR ( Senator Sterle ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs Transport References Committee. The committee is hearing evidence for its inquiry into aspects of road safety in Australia. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to the committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witness give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which objection is taken. The committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground that is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time.

I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits only questions asking for opinions on matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted. Officers are also reminded that any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by a minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis for the claim. I remind people in the hearing room to ensure that their mobile phones are either turned off or switched to silent. Finally, on behalf of the committee, I would like to thank all those who have made submissions and those who have sent representatives here today.

I welcome representatives of Roads and Maritime Services and Transport for New South Wales. I invite you to make an opening statement, should you wish to do so, before we go to questions; otherwise, we will kick off.

Mr Carlon : We would like to make a short opening statement.

CHAIR: Please, fire away.

Mr Carlon : Good afternoon, Mr Chairman and members of the committee. Thank you for the invitation to appear today. I understand the committee is interested in learning more about the policy settings and operational procedures in place in New South Wales that provide for licensing of heavy vehicle drivers and drivers from overseas and the safety dimensions of the management of heavy vehicle road safety in New South Wales. Road safety is of paramount importance to the whole of the transport cluster and the safety of heavy vehicles on our roads is a priority for the New South Wales government. A key focus of the New South Wales Road Safety Strategy 2012-21 was a specific reference to safer heavy vehicle operations in New South Wales. The aim is to create a safe system focused on safer roads, safer vehicles and safer people to improve road safety in a way that achieves positive outcomes in our communities and in our economy.

We have achieved significant improvements in the past decade, with the road toll decreasing significantly over this period. Between 2005 and 2015 we saw total deaths on our roads decrease from 508 to 350 and our injuries reduce by 23 per cent. In relation to heavy vehicle involvement in fatality crashes, in 2015 there were 60 fatalities as a result of crashes involving heavy vehicles. The reality is that, in the heavy vehicle area, we have had significant reductions as well. So fatalities from heavy vehicle crashes have declined by 27 per cent, and in the past five years our casualty crashes involving heavy vehicles have also reduced significantly. The committee would be interested that in country New South Wales that has come down from 542 casualty crashes to 393.

We have led this through a range of initiatives on safer roads. We have a $70 million safer roads fund within New South Wales, within the Community Road Safety Fund. The government has also initiated a Fixing Country Roads investment that is specifically targeted at improving the routes for freight right across regional New South Wales. A significant investment is going into that area. As well, our corridor strategies, which have been developed in New South Wales, have freight movements and the safety and efficiency of the network for freight as a primary component of the development of our corridor strategies. We have also worked closely with industry in the development of safer vehicles by publishing regular safety technology for heavy vehicle guidelines. We publish a document which identifies new and emerging technologies for heavy vehicles in relation to safety. We have a city project, which is around 2,300 kilometres of regional road in the Illawarra, which has more than 60 heavy vehicles instrumented in a cooperative, intelligent transport network and which is the largest of its type for heavy vehicles in the world. It has vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, which is measuring both the safety outcomes and the environmental and productivity outcomes for those vehicles. It is connecting both the vehicles and the infrastructure on that route from the Illawarra back up to Western Sydney.

As well, we are aware that safer people is an aspect of road safety, and this includes the partnerships that we have with New South Wales police. RMS can describe some of the work there. Also, we have specific high-profile visibility policing investments being made in New South Wales directly through the Community Road Safety Fund to target heavy vehicle drivers for drugs, alcohol and fatigue. We are also continuously looking to improve the system of entry into the system for all drivers. Licensing is a core part of a safe system to authorise people to be properly qualified in order to enter the system and then safely use vehicles within the system.

New South Wales implemented heavy vehicle competency assessment training in accordance with the national competency framework for heavy vehicle drivers on 1 January 2013, and Roads and Maritime Services oversee the licensing of heavy vehicle drivers and the administration and compliance arrangements for heavy vehicle competency assessment training in New South Wales.

CHAIR: You oversee that?

Mr Carlon : RMS oversee that. So I will now pass over to Melinda Bailey from RMS, who will be able to speak to that.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Carlon. Ms Bailey.

Ms Bailey : Thank you very much for the opportunity to attend this inquiry into road safety in Australia. I am very pleased to be representing New South Wales as the Executive Director of Compliance Regulatory Services at Roads and Maritime Services, along with my colleague Bernard Carlon. By way of introduction, I joined Roads and Maritime, or RMS as we are known, in 2016, to lead a reform program to transform our regulatory approach to road transport. I came with the determination to ensure that the changes that we make to our regulatory framework and introduction of contemporary regulatory practices will lead to lasting positive reform and to increased road safety.

I would like to start by acknowledging the importance of this inquiry. As the regulator for the road network in New South Wales, RMS recognises that our core regulatory outcomes include that road vehicles, operators and drivers are compliant and that their behaviour is safe for all who use the road network. With the priority that safety is paramount, New South Wales has the most significant heavy vehicle compliance and enforcement program in Australia, evidenced by more than 250 vehicle inspectors and investigators and eight heavy vehicle safety stations across the state, incorporating screening lanes, which operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are 24 Safe-T-Cam locations, with a network of 27 cameras across New South Wales, targeting both speed and fatigue, plus 24 point-to-point or, as we now call them, 'average speed enforcement links', targeting heavy vehicles speeding.

Last year RMS inspected more than 540,000 heavy vehicles and undertook more than 250,000 licence checks as part of its enforcement programs. RMS also works closely with the New South Wales police Traffic and Highway Patrol Command on heavy vehicle compliance as part of the Joint Traffic Task Force, which was formed to tactically respond to critical incidents involving heavy vehicles, such as the fatal crashes at Menangle and on Mona Vale Road, and to conduct targeted safety audits on operators with a history of noncompliance. The number of joint RMS and New South Wales police compliance operations increased from 15 in 2012 to 109 in 2015, and a further 65 operations took place during the first half of 2016.

By working collaboratively, all the safety aspects of operating a heavy vehicle can be addressed from driver-specific behaviour such as drug and alcohol testing through to chained responsibility obligations like compliance with load restraint, mass, dimension and speed legislation. At RMS the specialised Compliance Investigation Unit conducts investigations into breaches of heavy vehicle rules and prosecutes offenders. Investigators and inspectors are also involved in joint operations with police and other agencies both in New South Wales and in other states to target heavy vehicle speeding, road worthiness and breaches of the fatigue laws. To further reduce fatalities and serious injuries, we continue to work with industry and stakeholders to maintain current safety measures and introduce new ones such as the Chain of Responsibility Industry Education Program, which delivers vital information sessions to industry operators so they are informed of their legal obligations and compliance expectations.

CHAIR: Ms Bailey, I am sorry to interrupt, but have you got much more to go?

Ms Bailey : No.

CHAIR: Okay. I am worried about the time and there are questions we do want to get to.

Ms Bailey : RMS also implemented a number of changes to the Heavy Vehicle Driver Assessment Scheme after a public inquiry was held in 2013 into the corrupt conduct of an assessor. Changes, as you are aware, committee members, include mandatory in-cabin video and GPs technology. RMS has implemented the separation of training and assessment to ensure the assessor is independent of the person delivering the training. We recognise that while these improvements represent a significant step in the right direction there is always room for improvement. We have undertaken a further review of the competency based assessment scheme and a working group is also involved in implementing a training package for new assessors into the scheme. We are committed to working in partnership with scheme participants to mitigate the risk of misconduct by assessors to ensure that all are properly qualified to participate in the scheme.

I would like to close by assuring the committee that Roads and Maritime is fully committed to the self-scrutiny required to transform our regulatory framework and making our state roads are safer for everyone. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you. I want to put on the record that the senators at the table have in one way, shape or form extensive expertise—it is a big word—in the trucking industry, in the transport industry, from being self-employed to having a small business. We, the committee, received a letter, which we were appreciative of, on the 8th of the 7th last year from a Mr Peter Duncan, AM, Chief Executive of NSW Roads and Maritime Services. You would know why we have asked you here today. This follows on. I have made some real statements out there about possible corruption and corruptibility. This is no disparagement to RMS, but there is something rotten in Australia's heavy vehicle training and assessing industry. If anyone wants to dispute it, I am more than happy to hear them address our concerns.

You came to our attention because of the situation with the B-Double being driven by a foreign driver, who was on a student visa. We found out that he was not a 457 visa and he also left the country. The visa system was corrupt: he was not a student, but his partner was. We also found that out. You have to forgive me. I do not know your local network—the M5?

Ms Bailey : Yes.

CHAIR: Okay. What really irked me—and I really want to hear from RMS on this; and I am going to go to my colleagues so they can have some time and then come back to me—was hearing that an RMS inspector turned up at the scene of the incident on the M5 when the two drivers employed by a contractor subcontracting the Scott's Transport from Mount Gambier could not (a) back the B-Double up and (b) uncouple the B-Double. Is it true?

Ms Bailey : That is true. RMS inspectors did arrive and they did reverse the vehicle out from the entrance of the M5 tunnel.

CHAIR: May I ask what happened after they backed the vehicle out?

Ms Bailey : We undertook, as we always do, licence checks. We found, as you mentioned, Senator, that the driver was on a student visa. He did hold the class of MC licence so he was authorised to drive the vehicle but, clearly, he did not have the competence to undertake the reversing manoeuvre that would be expected of someone holding a class MC licence.

CHAIR: Ms Bailey, or Mr Carlon, when these drivers are trained and then assessed for heavy vehicle licensing, is reversing of the configuration part of the assessment?

Ms Bailey : It certainly is. It is one of the 15 criteria that are mandatory under the HVCBA framework.

CHAIR: That clears that up. And this is not a hypothetical: if someone is licensed on our roads to be in charge of a 63- to 65-tonne juggernaut going down the highway who cannot back it, wouldn't some alarm bells go off somewhere to say, 'What the hell have we got here, and why have we got these clowns on our roads?'

Ms Bailey : That is correct. It certainly sent alarm bells and our investigations that we undertook identified that the driver in question had been assessed by an assessor under the New South Wales Heavy Vehicle Competency Based Assessment Scheme. When we investigated, we identified that there was no evidence that the assessor had actually undertaken the assessment to demonstrate that that applicant had the competency required.

CHAIR: So you followed back through the system and identified the assessor?

Ms Bailey : That is correct.

CHAIR: The trainer as well? Did you go that far back to see who did the training?

Ms Bailey : I am not aware that we went that far back.

CHAIR: Was the assessor self-employed or employed through an RTO?

Ms Bailey : I should point out that what we identified was that the assessor had exploited a loophole that existed in our online reporting system at the time and that prevented us from identifying whether the training competencies required had been completed.

CHAIR: Is that assessor still in the system?

Ms Bailey : No. That assessor's licence was revoked in November 2015 and their New South Wales driver's instructor licence a month later.

CHAIR: Was he working for an RTO, or a couple of RTO—he or she?

Ms Bailey : That assessor was attached to one RTO.

CHAIR: Did that raise alarm bells to investigate the RTO?

Ms Bailey : We certainly did undertake an investigation of that RTO and have done two follow-up audits since then, and they were issued with a caution in respect of their oversight of that assessor. Subsequently, we have also strengthened the accreditation agreement to make sure that these oversight expectations are much clearer going forward. It is clear the introduction of the video footage requirement would have also allowed us to identify whether the competencies had been displayed. Perhaps I can explain: the loophole that was exploited was because that assessor held a Queensland licence she was unable to record the assessment within our online reporting system at the time. We have since closed that loop so that cannot occur again. But it meant RMS had no visibility of the assessments that she was undertaking—she was required to manually make the bookings and report the results—and that had not been undertaken.

CHAIR: So this assessor snuck through via Queensland?

Ms Bailey : She had a Queensland licence, and because that Queensland licence was not compatible at the time with our online reporting system configuration constraints, yes.

Ms Bailey : So we are very clear: this is the assessor that was working for ACT, which is now called ACTN?

Ms Bailey : I am not sure.

CHAIR: This was ACT?

Ms Bailey : Yes, ACT Training.

CHAIR: How can we be assured that, for every heavy vehicle licensed driver who has been assessed in New South Wales and licensed in New South Wales—or wherever—this cannot happen again?

Ms Bailey : If they are coming into the New South Wales HVCBA scheme, it does not matter where the assessor's licence is. As long as it is an Australian licence, it can be managed and captured through the online reporting system. That will prevent this from happening again.

CHAIR: So it can't happen again. Senator O'Sullivan, I have not got a lot of questions but I would like to share some time. Do you have any questions? I could go all day.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I have just a couple and then I will appeal to your superior knowledge on the subject, Senator. My questions are quite generic. Where you identified that that assessor had not obviously complied with the arrangements and it therefore cast doubt on the integrity of their assessments, did you revisit assessments that had occurred prior to that time?

Ms Bailey : Yes, we did. We followed all of the assessments that she had undertaken. There were some 12, if I recall, in New South Wales, and the majority were in Queensland—just over 100, if I remember rightly.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do these assessors get rewarded by a payment made by the applicant? It is a commercial arrangement. It is at arm's length. I go along to be assessed. I make a payment to the assessor. So agencies are not involved. This is a—

Ms Bailey : That is correct.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do you monitor how many people are successful versus those who are not, with each of the assessors?

Ms Bailey : Yes. Through the online reporting system, we can now see the pass-fail rate, because there is visibility of all of the assessments undertaken, and whether they have completed those successfully or not is captured.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I don't want to labour the point, but do you look for signals within these averages? For example, do you rate them in ascending order—a superior assessor who gets 100 per cent and a bad assessor who gets 10 per cent type of thing?

Ms Bailey : Under the current scheme, our predominant audit function is of the RTOs but we also support the RTOs with guidance on how they undertake their review of performance of the assessors that are attached to each RTO.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: How far does sampling—

Ms Bailey : Because we have visibility of the system, we can assess them. For example, if an assessor was doing four assessments a day—which you could not possibly do, given the minimum assessment duration that is prescribed—that would be flagged.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I want to give you an example. My family and I—about seven of us—went to get our boat licence one day. This is in Queensland. There was a crowd of about 35 people there. Sadly, I was distracted on the phone outside for about a half of the four-hour session, and we all passed with flying colours—no failures in the room. That tweaked me at the time. I have never driven a boat anyway, which is, let me tell you, a good thing for all other boat users on the causeways of Queensland. The point that that pushed home to me on that day was just how simple it was. There were people in there who were clearly not competent to be boat drivers. In fact, some of my own family fitted that bill. So my question to you is: when you talk about auditing the training organisations, when you drill down into a particular assessor, are you suggesting that you audit the training organisation's performance in auditing the assessor? You do not drill down? You do not go through the RTO and go down to the—

Ms Bailey : We can and we do. When we monitor video footage, if there is evidence that the competencies were not addressed adequately then we flag that; that is flagged as well through our audit process. We have contracted the RTOs to undertake the oversight of the delivery through assessors, and we are really auditing, predominantly, that arrangement. It is their responsibility to oversee that the assessors are operating in accordance with the heavy vehicle competency assessment.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Okay. Given all of those audits that happen, I imagine there are tens of thousands of assessments annually for people to get a licence et cetera? Would that be right?

Ms Bailey : I recall the numbers are about 16,000 assessments a year across all the classes of heavy vehicles.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: How many of those failed? You may need to take that on notice.

Ms Bailey : I can confirm that for you subsequently, but I understand it is about six to eight per cent.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Does that figure surprise you; that 94 per cent of the applicants were competent?

Ms Bailey : If you undertake the training requirements when you are sitting the competency test, you would expect to pass. Most individuals, particularly when there is a cost involved—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: But that would not be true anywhere else, would it—a 94 per cent pass rate?

Ms Bailey : Under the HVCBA, because they have had to demonstrate each of the competencies individually and that is logged in the logbook and the assessor is required to go on to the online reporting system and capture that information as they are achieving each of those competencies, by the time they have got to the final test—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Sure. But can you think of anywhere else where people are examined where the eventual result is a 94 per cent pass rate? When you said that figure, my first reaction was: 'Wow. You've got a good training regime if people are getting a 94 per cent competency.'

Ms Bailey : That 94 per cent might not be the correct number so perhaps—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Can you take that on notice. I do not know how you record the audits through the training organisations down on to the particular assessors, but would it be fair to say that if we were to take 10 assessors today and look at their work for the last 12 months, there should be a higher than 90 per cent pass rate on their assessments over a 12-month period? For example, if we found that five of them had success rates of 67 per cent, whereas the across-the-board average was 90-plus-plus, would that send up a flag for you?

Ms Bailey : It is certainly would. One of the introductions since my arrival at RMS last year is that we are now looking at using some enhanced analytics to try to get some greater intelligence about what is happening in this program and flagging exactly that—individual assessors, pass rates, the average, the outliers—and using that to then inform and target our—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I would like you to take on notice to give us the biggest sample. I do not want you to spend months on it and a hundred pages—we get that all the time here. I am looking for something condensed that would satisfy me that there are no statistical anomalies in relation to the data you have when comparing a small sample to the larger sample and so on. It is my life's experience that it is in these spaces that a form of corruption occurs that the person does not even think is corrupt. They are people who would stay at your place for the weekend and would not pinch a $10 note off the fridge or if they got the wrong change they would take it back. I have 200 staff and we went through phases where if you wanted to get a loader ticket, we could just make a phone call and get the payment over there and we would come back with the loader ticket—it was everywhere, right. They did not care; there were these relationships that occurred that had developed over time. In my life's experience, it is a very, very high-risk area. I would urge you, and I am sure it is at the heart of everything you do, to rethink the risk profile and put in place some sort of filter or formula so that any anomalies that appear will just go bang and make a loud noise when it goes into the bucket. If we could see some figures—and I am sorry to share my observations. I dispense advice whether you want it or not.

Ms Bailey : Thank you. I will take that on board and take on notice that we will give you some statistics on any anomalies. I do wish to assure the committee that even our internal audit is risk based. We recognise that heavy vehicles in and of themselves are a very different and significant risk on the road network than the light vehicles are. It is a program that we are monitoring very carefully and constantly and certainly looking at improvements.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: If I am someone who has a lot of employees who need licences and I find myself going back and back to the same assessor, just sometimes things can relax.

Ms Bailey : As you would be aware I am sure, the scheme at this stage has only been adopted in New South Wales and Victoria, but in New South Wales we have the separation of the training and assessment, which is intended to mitigate any risk and to make sure that there is independent assessment from the person who has undertaken the training.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Sure. Senator Sterle chairs another inquiry where nine cattle buyers did not turn up at the Barnawartha saleyards on the one day. We looked at that and we sent in the ACCC to look at it. These are people who were competitors. We had seen that their telephone traffic went up, in some instances 300 and 400 per cent. We have seen evidence of people talking to each other who had never spoken to each other before, yet all nine of them had a reason as to why they did not turn up. This was an ACCC thing. 'My mother-in-law wasn't well.' The next one had a flat tyre and the third one said their windscreen wipers were not working and it looked a bit cloudy. Even to someone like me who is retired from law enforcement, it took my breath away just how this collusion could happen, when it was in their common interest, so swiftly amongst strangers in such a short period of time. This happened over 48 to 72 hours. You say there is separation where the trainer does not know the assessor, but I think this is so significant, as you know. Every night we watch a family of five or four, or young people, all gone because of a heavy vehicle—I am not blaming the system. There we are and that is why I think it is such a significant inquiry.

CHAIR: I want to come back to the incident with the Scott's transport B-double. Did anyone in RMS report that through to ASQA?

Ms Bailey : No, I am not aware that we reported it to ASQA. There were six demerit points taken off the driver and, of course, we withdrew visiting privileges to the maximum that we could in respect of the driver and of the units. ASQA's role is the regulator for the training provider. At that stage last year when that incident happened in February 2016, the assessor had already been terminated from the scheme. Remember that I told you that was in December. So that assessor was already out of the scheme.

CHAIR: We uncovered it. This committee uncovered the corrupt procedures that were going on with this training company in Queensland. They were up to their neck in it and they knew darn well the exploitation of foreign workers and, yes, he is gone but they are still training up there. That is nothing to do with you; I just thought we would clear that up. I am not happy. We have not finished this inquiry yet.

Ms Bailey : I understand that ASQA request information directly from the RTOs.

CHAIR: Well, we had them here.

Ms Bailey : They do not share that with us, with RMS, so I am not aware.

CHAIR: I will tell you what I am trying to get to, which is giving me real heartburn. You guys at RMS are very good at pulling truckies over, fining them and doing whatever you need to do. In fact, when I was a truck driver, New South Wales was the state most people never wanted to go to—not that they were doing anything wrong, but there was always a fine for something, even if it was breathing. Those are not my words; that is what was passed to me. So we are not going to deny that. What gives me grief is this unforgivable incident on the M5, where someone could go out there and back the truck up, because the driver could not, and then let them go, and then say, 'But we fixed it; we fined the company $2,826 and, by crikey, we gave that exploited foreign worker who exploited the visa system six demerit points.' What if he had run over someone on the way from the M5 to wherever he went? You cannot justify this at RMS. I would be interested to hear. You cannot say, 'We gave them a fine.' This is incredible.

Ms Bailey : As I mentioned, the driver was a Queensland licence holder.

CHAIR: He is on your roads. You are the ones enforcing. What did you do with the $2,826? Did you give it to Queensland? No, you did not. So you cannot sit here in front of the Senate committee and say, 'We're tough, and we've done 540,000, and we love road safety, and we're going to make sure every road user is safe.' I cannot for the life of me let you out of here thinking you have done a good job in front of Senator O'Sullivan and me by saying: 'Beauty! We fined them.' You are culpable if something had happened. I would love to hear the explanation if they had run over someone.

Ms Bailey : We are looking at the incident here. No-one was hurt. I agree with you that, had there been an incident that involved an injury, it would have been a different matter.

CHAIR: What would happen then?

Ms Bailey : The police would have been involved.

CHAIR: No, you cannot escape this.

Ms Bailey : No doubt criminal charges would apply outside the licensing regime.

CHAIR: Someone could have been killed. Thank goodness they were not, but you are not instilling any confidence in me that RMS is right across this.

Ms Bailey : Perhaps what I can share with you is what I mentioned earlier about our screening lanes, our safety cam and the way it works in New South Wales, which is second to none in Australia.

CHAIR: Second to none for what?

Ms Bailey : In terms of identifying the vehicles that are of interest and that may have a history of not being roadworthy and so on. Four to five thousand vehicles a day each way, just at our safety station at Mount White, pass through that. That is almost 10,000 vehicles a day, and each of those is going through the screening lane, and we intercept those.

CHAIR: Ms Bailey, I can get into the bureaucratic argument with you, which I do not want to. It is very easy. We have a bit of experience at this. Tell me how a safe-T-cam can tell you, RMS, that that driver in charge of that heavy vehicle has been trained to the best capability and assessed, and everything is Mickey Mouse.

Ms Bailey : No, it does not have a—

CHAIR: I am going to pull you back to: how can you instil some confidence in me that to RMS this was a red flag? My goodness me! These two drivers, who could not reverse this vehicle, had been trained and assessed. They could not uncouple this vehicle, so your inspectors have said: 'There you go, cobber; we've done it for you. Good luck. Off you go.' What if something had happened?

Ms Bailey : Perhaps I am not understanding correctly.

CHAIR: I will come in clearer.

Ms Bailey : As I said, these drivers clearly were not competent. They had not passed the Heavy Vehicle Competency Based Assessment program. Whilst they had a licence—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: But this is the burden of the senator's question, if I understand it. At the scene it becomes clear to somebody in authority that we have a driver who is not competent.

CHAIR: Two.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Or two drivers. So that is not in question. It is my understanding that they were allowed to go on their way.

CHAIR: Yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: That is the burden of this reflection, as I understand it. I do not speak for Senator Sterle.

CHAIR: That is exactly right.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: And if it is not his it is mine. How does that work? You know they are not competent—they cannot reverse it—yet we let them turn the key and head off down the highway again, amongst our families and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of cars between them and their destination. That is the question. I would like to hear—and I am sure Senator Sterle would too—an awareness that perhaps there is a soft spot there that needs to be addressed so that, if those circumstances were to present again, somebody with authority would say: 'No way, Charlie. No way. You're not driving away from here. You're not competent. You shouldn't be in that truck.'

Ms Bailey : They were certainly able to drive forward; they certainly could not reverse backwards.

CHAIR: But you told me, Ms Bailey, you told this committee, part of their training and assessment is reversing.

Ms Bailey : That is right, but they had not completed it. As I said, the investigation found that the assessor who had assessed them as having fulfilled the required competencies for the MC class vehicle had erroneously and falsely provided that certificate.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: I think you have just made our argument for us. Prima facie—there at the scene—you have got a circumstance where you can challenge the competency of the driver, be it in reverse as opposed to forward. Was there anybody connected to you guys or anyone else in authority who was at that scene who would have had the authority to stop them moving forward?

Ms Bailey : I cannot answer that but I will take that on notice.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Were people from your organisation involved at the scene, or have just you looked at it?

Ms Bailey : No, I understand that our officers did attend and—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do your officers have the authority in certain circumstances to say, 'I am revoking your licence.'

Ms Bailey : I do not believe so.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: The police authorities would.

Ms Bailey : Yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Your people, the experts in the field, could say to a police officer: 'These characters are not competent. I recommend you exercise your powers not to allow them to leave the scene.'

Ms Bailey : Had the driver not had a current licence or an appropriate licence then the vehicle would not have moved forward.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Ms Bailey, I cannot understand this. Truly, I was not going to get re-engaged here but I would love to see a signal from you that you share our concern about what happened here.

Ms Bailey : I certainly share your concern. I am sorry; I do not have any further information that I can provide you other than they had a current licence that was valid.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: You can put me back to sleep with a couple of sentences saying, 'As a consequence of this conversation, I think we need to go and have a Little Bo Peep into similar circumstances, if they present in the future, with a view to developing a policy that our officers may go to the police officers and say, "Listen, take the keys. We've got the power."' If you do not have the power, we can help you. Come back and we will do what we can to get the state government to give you the power to do those things.

Ms Bailey : Okay, I acknowledge that. I will take that onboard. Thank you.

CHAIR: Are Senator O'Sullivan and I the first ones to raise this concern?

Ms Bailey : Certainly since my time at RMS it has not been raised with me.

CHAIR: Okay. That is disappointing. I will not dwell on that. I am tabling some photographs here for you. Senator O'Sullivan, with your support, I do not wish to make them public because I do not know the people in the photos. I would like you to have a look at them. My Facebook has melted with the accusations of possible corruption, incompetence and all of this through the training system in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland—it is all over the place. Your inspectors go out to examine trucks for whatever reason. You have done 540,000 of them of all sizes. Do you have a system that is called 'red flagging' for certain companies or certain vehicles? Does that ring a bell?

Ms Bailey : The term 'red flagging' does not ring a bell for me.

CHAIR: Meaning: 'This company is of interest to us. Before our inspectors inspect, something else must be done.'

Ms Bailey : Oh, certainly. In our heavy vehicle operations area, if there are tip-offs and we are hearing from the street that something is going on, that prompts a lot of our investigation and follow-up work.

CHAIR: I would like to raise with you an issue that has been reported to me verbally. It was reported to me in writing. I have no proof but I am going to come straight to the point, and I would love for you to tell me it is completely false or tell me otherwise. Does RMS have a red flag warning on a certain transport company such that before their trucks are inspected they must be steam cleaned? Are you aware of anything like that?

Ms Bailey : I am not aware of anything like that.

CHAIR: I will go one step further and give you something to chase up for me, please. Senator O'Sullivan, you are probably not going to believe this. It has been brought to my attention on a number of occasions that holes are cut in the floors of a certain transport company's vehicles—I will give you the name, not on the public record—so the drivers do not have to pull up and go to the toilet in two-up operations.

Ms Bailey : That is horrifying.

CHAIR: You do not know anything about that?

Ms Bailey : No, I am not aware of any of that.

CHAIR: So you can follow that up. We will not dwell on that and we will wait for your responses.

Ms Bailey : We will be very glad to.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: The surveillance, for years that was quite a common practice.

CHAIR: Yes, but you were not a truck driver in a two-up B-double operation between Brisbane and Sydney.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: That is true.

Ms Bailey : I assure you that is shocking to me and I would definitely be happy to follow that up.

CHAIR: It was raised on my Facebook. So we will follow that up before we carry on any further.

I have passed the photos. I will try to get this right and someone will pull me up if I am wrong. Is it true that in the training and accreditation system within New South Wales—and if it is outside of Australia I am interested too—that a trainer/assessor can get a category of licence, let's say a heavy combination; they can hold that licence for about 12 months or two years, whatever the period is; and then they can train in that with absolutely no on-road experience themselves, no industry experience themselves: the only experience they got is when they did their licence test, their load restraint and all that. Is that the case?

Ms Bailey : Under the HVCBA, no. Our assessors are all qualified assessors and must meet the driver instructor assessment requirements.

CHAIR: You said 'qualified'. What constitutes 'qualified'?

Ms Bailey : Bear with me while I go to the minimum requirements.

CHAIR: While you are doing that I will just seek Senator O'Sullivan's support here. If there are questions taken on notice we have set, Senator O'Sullivan, 2 March.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: That is fine.

CHAIR: Will that give you time to come back to us? Is that okay, Mr Carlon and Ms Bailey?

Ms Bailey : Yes, that is fine. Thank you.

CHAIR: Ms Bailey, because of the time—

Ms Bailey : Sorry. There are a number of requirements to become an HVCBA assessor.

CHAIR: Yes, great. I want to know what they are because I am led to believe you do not have to have—

Senator O'SULLIVAN: But were you about to finish that and say that they have to have driver experience in the industry? Was that what you were about to say?

Ms Bailey : No. I know that was a question that you raised in the previous committee hearing. They need to meet the driver instructor requirements, which include a Cert IV in Transport and Logistics, hold a current Australian drivers licence and hold a qualification at the class of licence that they are assessing in, plus meet some other requirements, including criminal history and fit and proper requirements et cetera.

CHAIR: I would not cast any aspersions on any of the assessors around this nation, but they do not have to have any practical industry experience. They have only had to pass the drivers licence and the cert IV, Senator O'Sullivan.

Ms Bailey : That is correct.

CHAIR: I will let you take that on notice. Could we quickly, because of the clock, go to these photos I have in front of me. You will see that they are of people—I do not know who they are, so we are not going to condemn them. The first photo is of two gentlemen sitting there. One has a training manual in front of him, and they both have paperwork in front of them. It is always dangerous to assume, but would you think that that looks like the gentleman is doing some training and/or assessing of the two gentlemen? I could be wrong, but that is how it appears.

Ms Bailey : He could certainly be discussing something in regards to the manual.

CHAIR: The background is what I am really interested in here. It is a McDonald's or McDonald's cafe. There is the children's playground and there is the entrance to McDonald's on the right. So one could assume you are discussing training at McDonald's. But if we flick the page we see that people are holding their transport, roads and maritime services proficiency certificate. There are four smiling faces. I do not want to put these people out in the public. They are all holding their proficiency certificate. What is a proficiency certificate?

Ms Bailey : As far I am aware it is not a certificate of competency. That is my understanding of the result of their having completed their requirements under the HVCBA program.

CHAIR: But they have obviously done some training and they have passed. Is that correct?

Ms Bailey : Yes.

CHAIR: The reason I hold that up is that if you look in the background you will see that once again they all happen to be at a McDonald's restaurant. If it were the case, would it be strange for a trainer or an assessor or a trainer and an assessor to be handing out these certificates at a McDonald's and doing training at a McDonald's? You do not have to answer. You can take that on notice. You can see where I am heading. I do not know who these people are, but if you flick through a little bit further you can see a bit of load restraint going on. If you look at this photo, it looks like twine. I do not know how you would tie down something that can weigh up to a tonne with some twine, but they are all having some fun!

If you flick over to the next page there is a gentleman in a fluoro jacket with his company name on it. This is what really gets me. Obviously this is a gentleman learning load restraint. You can see he is tying a knot. Would that be the ASQA standard of load restraint training, to the best of your knowledge? If you have no knowledge, Ms Bailey, I am not going to condemn you. You can take it on notice. You can see the picture I am painting there. I have absolutely no confidence in whoever is doing this training. This is a Mickey Mouse outfit. In fact, to me, it is sending some real bad vibes. I am not setting you up. I just want you to be aware of what I have.

You will also see the same character is delivering training now. I am led to believe this training is being delivered in Queensland. There is a group of people there. In New South Wales are you allowed to do heavy vehicle training in groups, to the best of your knowledge?

Ms Bailey : To the best of my knowledge, it is an individual program.

CHAIR: Yes. That is what I am led to believe, too. This is where I start to be concerned. I am not having a crack at you people, because you are at least doing that. This is over the border, I am led to believe, in Queensland. We do not even have harmony with Australian standards, for crying out loud! There seems to be a certain trend, doesn't there?

Ms Bailey : Yes. That is an interesting point you raise. The intention of the national framework, the HVCBA, was that all states would be involved. Obviously to date there are only two states—New South Wales and Victoria—under mutual recognition. If a license holder on an MC class who was trained in Queensland under a different scheme came to New South Wales then we would recognise that licence.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Why don't we have standards?

Ms Bailey : The standards were developed by the national heavy vehicle competency assessment working group that was formed by all of the jurisdictions. The best at the time around the nation got together to define those 15 criteria, but I cannot speak on behalf of other states as to why they have not adopted the national framework.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: But there must be a theory. It is your game. What is the theory? I will not hold you to this, but there must be rumours as to why they did not want to do it.

Ms Bailey : Perhaps their operating models for changeover are complex and costly. I can only speculate.

CHAIR: My reasons for supplying these to you is very simple. There is all the hoo-ha about national harmonisation and road laws and 'we do not have the same fatigue management' and 'that is another argument' and all that sort of stuff. I understand that states like to puff their chests out, because they are all more intelligent than the others. And they think, at the end of the day, these people are being trained under different standards, but that does not stop them from coming into New South Wales.

Ms Bailey : That is correct.

CHAIR: That is the reason I raised that with you, and that is certainly not flagging anything in the report. This should be a COAG thing. This is just ridiculous. I will give those questions to you and let you come back to me on notice in a couple of weeks.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: It should be more than COAG. We should withdraw all federal funding to roads in the country until the relevant states sign up to a national set of standards for these things. It truly makes my head hurt when I hear this sort of stuff.

CHAIR: I have a lot more questions I would like to put to you on notice. I have many issues that give me great alarm, but I am not going to rush off until you come back to me. Then we will see how that goes. There will be ongoing stuff we will need to clarify with you.

Senator O'Sullivan and I come from the same angle as you. We want our roads safe. We want to know that every truck driver coming at us has been trained—and God bless our truckies; there are not enough of them. And that is coming from an ex-truckie. My son is a truckie and my old man was a truckie. We are three generations of truckies. So you can see the concerns we have.

From that old Hebrew proverb, 'You can catch a lot more flies with honey than you can with dog poo.' Actually, I made that bit up, but I would rather keep the lines of communication open. Whether it is RMS or VicRoads or whoever it may be, I do not say for one minute that they are knowingly doing the wrong thing, but wool is being pulled over eyes. That is why we have concerns about how someone can be fined and the driver can lose points but can still carry on up the road. Any minister worth half their weight in salt should have been onto this.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: One final thing. We are talking about 16,000 of these per year. Has anyone ever been prosecuted for behaviour in this space? I will loosely call it corrupt behaviour, just to give it handle.

Ms Bailey : Are you talking about assessors?

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Yeah, anybody—assessors or trainers or RTOs or employers or whoever?

Ms Bailey : Certainly there was the ICAC inquiry, and certainly Mr Binos—there were certainly findings through that process. There was the action taken in regard to this assessor we found. I am not aware that there are any other assessors that have basically falsified documentation to provide applicants with a heavy vehicle licence.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: As an enforcement agency, which is part of your responsibility, do you—we used to have an old term in the police, 'agent provocateur'—go out and test the waters?

Ms Bailey : Yes.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Do you send someone out undercover to go and get themselves a licence or a trainer or an assessor, so that you can send the fear of God through this industry? If they do not know whether the turban in front of them with a pair of thongs on is one of your people or not, it could lift the standards.

Ms Bailey : I am not aware of any covert operations.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Take it on board, and give it some thought. Get yourself half-a-dozen, and I promise you you will get a bang for your buck if they start to wonder whether every single individual in front of them is one of yours, coming to test their behaviour and taping them and videoing them.

Ms Bailey : We do unannounced field visits, where we literally arrive to an assessor unannounced and view the assessment process. We have had some findings from that that have allowed us to follow-up in regards to those assessments.

CHAIR: But there is a downside there too, because you have cameras in the vehicles, and I think it is only those out in the bush that get—only five per cent I think get done in the cities. Is that correct? But of the bush mob doing training, everyone gets a camera?

Ms Bailey : Yes. If they have what we call a high-risk variation, where they are performing both training and assessment, all the videos are required to be reviewed in the—

CHAIR: Sorry, Ms Bailey—and here's part of the downfall. There is a camera in the cabs. Correct?

Ms Bailey : That is right.

CHAIR: And it faces backward and forward?

Ms Bailey : Yes. Exactly.

CHAIR: So there is no camera on the back that shows these drivers uncoupling, doing the tug test—

Ms Bailey : No. And that is one of the things that we—

CHAIR: winding up the legs, making sure the turntable is locked in—nothing.

Ms Bailey : I agree. That is an area that we are currently looking at that might be an opportunity for expansion and to demonstrate visually, with footage, that the load restraint has been—

CHAIR: We doubt it. I have no doubt that there is still the possibility for certain assessors to do the wrong thing. There is that possibility. That is a fact.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: You need to give my suggestion heavy thought and trial it. You can convert these people pretty readily. You will average up to two or three breaches in the beginning, but I promise you—I will bet you London to a brick—that eventually it will have an impact. I just know that integrity testing like that in other agencies, particularly law enforcement, has an enormous impact. People do not know who it is sitting opposite them. It makes them very cautious, and some of them culturally change.

Ms Bailey : We do do some covert operations, but I am not aware of any specifically in regard to this scheme. But I will take that on board.

CHAIR: I have one last one. Just so I am very clear: of the I think 114 show-causes in Queensland that were trained by this corrupt assessor, trainer, or whatever—through this one RTO, which was called ACT and which I now think has changed their name to ACTM—Roads and Maritimes Services are very confident that that RTO is doing everything right; they are above notch in their mickey mouse; you would recommend them. Is that the case?

Ms Bailey : I can assure you that through the three audits that we have had we are seeing significant improvements. There are administrative breaches now, but our oversight has resulted in them certainly improving the quality of oversight—

CHAIR: Do they have any contracts with the New South Wales government?

Ms Bailey : I will have to take that on notice.

CHAIR: If you could, please; I would be very interested to know. That is not only with RMS; they may have contracts outside. Are you able to find out if they have contracts with say—I do not know; it could be Sydney tugs, for all I know. Are you able to look across agencies to see if they are doing any other training? I still think there is a little stench there. I cannot believe 114 can go through, and 80-odd of them can back their losses.

Ms Bailey : I will follow that up and see what we can do.

CHAIR: If you could, please. Thank you very much. On that, I will let you escape. I hopefully have not stopped you from catching a plane back to Sydney tonight. Mr Carlon, to the NSW departments: thank you kindly. We will be in touch, and I will put some questions on notice for you. Thank you kindly.

Ms Bailey : Thank you.

Mr Carlon : Thank you.

Senator O'SULLIVAN: Thank you both.