Cam Dumesney and Louise Bilato
Cam Dumesney and Louise Bilato Kirstin Payne

Louise's love for the northern front

FOR NT Road Transport Association executive officer Louise Bilato, the Northern Territory and transport industry has always been home.

The daughter of an Italian migrant whose first job in the north was in transport, Louise's passion for the Territory's development began from an early age.

"I was born into a trucking family, one of six children,” Louise said.

"When we were growing up Dad was building beef roads through the remote parts of the Territory so we learnt to walk on the Plenty Highway.

"Recently I did a road trip around the beef roads, and I am sure that some of the bitumen that is on the Tablelands Highway is probably still the stuff he put down.”

During the school holidays Louise and her siblings frequented the remote camps and became accustomed to life on the highway.

"One of the truck parking bays before Mataranka has his name on it, we were proud of that,” she said.

It was because of this background that Louise said she gained the drive and opportunities to follow her passions, having gone on to pursue psychology.

For the past 25 years, Louise has had an injury management and psychology practice in Darwin, with a special focus on her passions, chronic pain and suicide prevention.

At the same time the road safety advocate also helped her brothers in the development of a safety management system and their company, G&S Transport.

"Because they asked me to do that I had other trucking companies ask me to do the same,” Louise said.

"From that I became more involved in the safety aspect of the industry.

"But the cross-overs for me from my bread and butter job is around fatigue management.

"A lot of my research efforts over many years have been about getting to the heart of sleep issues.”

It is because of these studies the Northern Territory local has become such a force against the rigid fatigue management regimes of the eastern states.

"The Northern Territory is unique and people probably get a bit sick of hearing me at times say we support national approaches, but it is very hard to place a one size fits all model over the top of an environment like the Northern Territory,” she said.

"Road safety is really important from my perspective and that is why I speak out so strongly against prescriptive driving hours to manage fatigue.

"I am really strongly against that, and it is not for no good reason.

"I don't believe that a 25-year-old male and a 70-year-old who has had heart conditions or diabetes should be treated the same.

"But that is what you get in a prescriptive system.

"Fatigue risk needs to be determined every single day, and employers need to take responsibility every single day, but you can't do that with hard and fast rules that are the same for everyone.”

Despite the ongoing push for the NT and WA to join the national system by industry heavyweights such as Toll Group Managing Director Michael Byrne, Louise believes they are holding firm.

"We have been chipping away for a long time emphasising we aren't blind to pressures that will impose unrealistic deadlines on our people,” she said.

"But we are also saying it is these unrealistic deadlines are what needs to be addressed.

"Not everyone can drive for five hours and have a 15- minute break and then drive another five. That, in my view, is just ludicrous.”

Despite the NT's position as a maverick outside of the eastern state's NHVR umbrella, Louise said she doesn't believe the Territory is that far removed.

"We aren't outside,” Louise said.

"We manage fatigue risk through the work health and safety legislation and we believe it isn't just drivers but all employees that need their work health and safety risk monitored.

"Which makes sense to me.

"Because I have had a history in other areas of work I have seen doctors who have done 36 hours straight and are dead on their feet.

"I have seen hospitality workers, aged care nurses, police officers who have been in pursuit vehicles who have had to do a double shift and then go home.

"All of those people are a risk on the road and employers need to take responsibility because each of those people are a potential hazard for a truck driver on the road.

"I don't feel defeated at all, I feel we are slowly turning the tide.”

Louise considers rhetoric from the national regulator about flexibility to be a sign of good things to come

.

"I have such respect for the industry because I see people all the time who are willing to apply strategies for the better,” she said.

"That isn't something I could say for too many other industries.”