COVID testing rules could cripple trucking industry

By Ivy Jensen

CHANGES to COVID-19 testing rules for Victorian truck drivers could cripple the transport industry, according to Echuca companies.

NSW and South Australia now require drivers to get tested every seven days if they’re crossing state borders.

However, in Echuca and around Victoria testing isn’t available for those without symptoms.

And if it was, drivers would have to isolate while waiting for results.

"It's impossible," Neil's Transport manager Damien Quirk said.

‘‘It would ground the trucking industry to a halt."

Neil’s Transport has 30 trucks and drivers, 20 of which are based in Echuca.

"We have several trucks going into NSW and Queensland daily,’’ Mr Quirk said.

He said he had about 20 B-doubles, carrying loads of beetroots from Simplot, travelling to Hillston every week and the equivalent driving from Melbourne to Albury with BlueScope steel.

‘‘We do about 50 to 60 border crossings a week, and this will go back to zero if the testing comes into effect,’’ he said.

‘‘Our business will drop by 40 per cent.

Neil's Transport manager Damien Quirk. Truck drivers are now required to have a COVID test when driving to NSW and QLD which Damien says will ground the trucking company to a halt. Photo: Cath Grey.

‘‘We can’t survive if that happens. It’s hard enough at the moment."

Mr Quirk said trucks weren’t going into South Australia anymore because it was ‘‘too hard’’.

‘‘I put in for a permit three weeks ago for a truck to deliver new gas cylinders and got a response two days ago. It was declined," he said.

‘‘I’m not sure why. I presumed it was either because the driver had been in NSW, Victoria and Queensland or our freight was deemed non-critical.’’

Mr Quirk said it was essential to keep the borders open for truck drivers.

‘‘Common sense needs to prevail. Freight services should not need a test because the cost and downtime to the business is crazy," he said.

Echuca Rural Transport owner Brendan Randall agreed and said the testing requirement would also have an impact on his business.

He has two truck drivers who deliver mainly hay to northern NSW.

‘‘We’re waiting on more hay to take up north so we’ll be firing up again next week,’’ he said.

‘‘Some of the jobs are quite consistent, so this would cause quite a bit of disruption to those and put a pause on our work."

Echuca Rural Transport Brendan Randall. Photo Luke Hemer.

Victorian Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said the potential impact of this on many local trucking operations, big and small, was obvious.

"It would be crippling," he said.

“In the avalanche of changes governments are making to try and get ahead of the virus there will be hiccups such as this, but this is one that must be urgently corrected before industry starts grinding to a halt.

“We flagged this with the first call we got today — from one of those companies that is not even a trucking business but needs them to distribute its products to farms and domestic settings in South Australia and NSW as well as its home state.

“We have been contacted by concerned drivers and companies, but with no symptoms drivers can’t get tests done — by order of the Victorian Department of Health.

“And with no tests and no permits they can’t go into South Australia or NSW — by order of the SA and NSW governments.

“Which is why local businesses fear, rightly, the impact this will have on them across the board — from customer orders to staffing. In these times the last thing any business or any community needs is red tape adding to the challenges of remaining viable.”

In a statement to Victorian Transport Association members this week, chief executive Peter Anderson said the new requirement was unworkable and a contradiction, with Victorian Department of Health and Human Services offering testing only if symptomatic and/or feeling unwell.

“The new restrictions will create enormous issues and stress for individual companies that need to service customers in other states,” Mr Anderson said.


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