Operators face crippling losses after ‘paralysing’ fires
IF YOU ask Sharon Middleton how to describe the effects of the bushfires in one word, it would be "paralysing".
But while South and Western Australia transport companies were brought to a complete stop for more than a week after the major highway connecting the two was closed, Sharon said the best part of the industry shone through with the "men and women out here pulling all the stops to get the country moving again".
She was about to get back on the road to make a delivery from Adelaide to Perth in a B-triple for her company, Whiteline Transport when she spoke to Big Rigs.
She said it was difficult as a business owner and operator as "we feel so much for NSW and Victoria, where there is loss of life and homes and community infrastructure - people have lost everything that defines who they are" as they had to focus on the also-devastated economy.
"I think everyone in all parts of the chain, we're all going to need to rally behind each other. Different people have seen different things and people can and can't cope with different things," she said.
"We have to watch out for our mates and I think if there was a time to ask if you are OK it's now. There will be people who will lose businesses, they won't be able to sustain that economic loss, no two ways about it."
Pam Simpson, managing director of Tri-State Transport in WA, said her business was luckier than most.
She had two drivers stuck at Ceduna unsure if they'd make it home for Christmas and trailers loaded in WA and eastern depots delayed from December 27 to January 10.
"During all of this our customers have been very understanding regarding the delays as they knew our hands were tied and it was so devastating to many. But this in turn affected their project work and their sales too," she said.
"We have also had the expense of paying drivers who were ready to leave on rostered trips.
"Both state and federal governments need to support the transport industry in Australia, as we have proved in the past we are more than willing to help in times of crisis."
Western Roads Federation was quick to call on the Federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud to remember that transport companies were among the businesses impacted by devastating bushfires.
The bushfires had forced an unprecedented ongoing two-week closure of the Eyre Highway and the WRF said some transport operators lost millions as they paid wages and ran expensive refrigeration equipment in order to protect customers' produce.
For many smaller operators stuck at the roadblocks or unable to maintain transport operations, this road closure could mean crippling financial losses, said the WRF.
"Our transport companies are businesses too and must be included in any business assistance package," WRF chairman Craig Smith-Gander said.