Federal Transport Minister Michael McCormack has assured livestock and rural transport drivers they'll now be able to get better access to dedicated truck stop facilities and driver lounges.
Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association executive director Mathew Munro said drivers had raised concerns they were being denied access to showers, toilets and facilities.
"The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator is talking to the big oil companies, to try and retain access to dining facilities," Mr Munro said.
"Quite understandably, they are concerned about the spread of the virus, and they need to put some improved hygiene practices in place."
Mr McCormack said COVID-19 restrictions had seen roadside eateries, truck driver lounges and rest stops closed, leaving operators with nowhere to go.
"We have heard their concerns, loud and clear and this is a common-sense solution, which ensures heavy vehicle drivers have access to essential amenities, can take regular breaks and eat properly, while delivering their vital cargo," Mr McCormack said.
National cabinet had agreed to mandate truckstops and roadhouses as essential, to ensure they remained open.
Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria president John Beer said it was good news, although it could take about a week for facilities to open up again.
"A lot of the centres are locked up, all the chairs are gone, and only takeaway food is available," Mr Beer said.
"Do we go back to standing under a garden hose, or do we stay in a motel?"
Mr Munro said major fuel supplier BP had agreed to keep its main sites open.
"Often the small sites are owned by private parties, who make up their own minds," he said.
"It's a very good move, it's a common sense decision," Mr Munro said.
While the decision to deny access to truck stops wasn't a good move he said ALRTA understood it came about in response to an emergency.
"Sometimes we need to look again at some situations and make sure they make sense."
He thanked the federal health authorities and government for what he said was "a good result."
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson also welcomed the move.
"We welcome the common sense decision by the National Cabinet in the interests of the safety of our drivers to mandate that roadhouses, dedicated truck stop facilities and truck driver lounges can remain open," Ms Simson said.
"The decision also speaks to agriculture and the food supply chain's status of being an essential service in the nation's response to COVID-19 crisis
The exemption would ensure truck drivers could continue to rest, eat, shower, use restrooms and refuel before getting back on the road.
The NFF recognised the need to only apply the exemption where appropriate social distancing and hygiene measures could be maintained and the use of roadhouses will be strictly limited to heavy vehicle drivers.
"Truckies are the glue that sticks the whole supply chain together," Ms Simson said.
Mr Munro said it appeared truck drivers were not experiencing significant issues, due to states closing their borders.
"We were particularly concerned that the federal government was going to differentiate between what is essential and non-essential, but they have deemed all freight to be essential.
"Freight is flowing quite freely, under the circumstances," he said.
But he said it appeared truck drivers were not experiencing significant issues, crossing state lines.
New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria are the only states and territories to remain open for inter-state travel, but Mr Munro said there had only been minor hiccups.
"We are hearing those arrangements are going quite smoothly at the moment," he said.
Truck drivers must not be denied access to toilet and shower facilities, Australian Trucking Association chair, Geoff Crouch said.
"In a time where truck drivers are working harder than ever to deliver essential goods to communities across the country, we're being told that they cannot access the proper facilities needed to support them in their role," Mr Crouch said.
"I have been given firsthand reports from operators where their drivers have arrived at roadhouses only to find the facilities were shut, while some customers' receiving points have distributed notifications saying that toilets are not available for non-staff.
"Not only is this unfair and unreasonable, but it is also a humanitarian issue. "
Mr Crouch said that while Australia faced a great deal of change and anxiety around the coronavirus pandemic, all parties in the supply chain and the wider community must give truck drivers the support they need.
"I commend the proactive approach BP has taken to make sure drivers had full access to the proper facilities," Mr Crouch said.
ATA chief executive Ben Maguire has called for the community and industry customers to have empathy for truck drivers
"During this challenging time, we need to consider those who are out on the roads on the frontline," Mr Maguire said.
"Their access to services are severely diminished while their pressure to perform is increasing."
"Men and women of the trucking industry share the same fears we all hold about coronavirus, but at this time, they are not being provided with the essentials," he said.
And the Tractor & Machinery Association of Australia has called on the government to ensure the distribution, supply, service and provision of equipment and parts for agricultural parts was regarded as an essential service.
"While there is no argument that agriculture is an essential service, I write to ensure that this exemption also covers the industries and suppliers on which agriculture relies to operate," TMA executive director Gary Northover said.
Australian farmers are reliant on timely and efficient support from a network of agricultural machinery dealerships across the nation.
As an example, our machinery importers, local manufacturers, dealerships and their farming customers wish to avoid any disruption which may impact the seeding program over the next three to four months.
"This program is vital to ensuring adequate stocks of grain will be available to the nation later in the year," Mr Northover said.
"As part of providing this service, it is also essential to protect the interstate, intrastate and international freight network required for efficient delivery of parts and equipment into and from all states and territories.
"Many agricultural businesses across the country have already taken proactive and prudent steps to protect their staff and customers from the transmission of COVID19 while conducting their day to day business."
- courtesy Queensland Country Life.