In this series of reports, Cranes and Lifting speaks to each of the CICA state chairmen to discuss the challenges they face over the next 12 months. Bart Sutherland, CICA chairman NT, speaks about some of the challenges facing CICA Members in the Northern Territory.
Sutherland runs Complete Crane Hire, a company he started 20 years ago. Most of the time you will find him either out driving the crane or dogging the crane, he’s hands on with his business. His association with cranes began with powerline companies putting up power poles in Queensland, he then went to Darwin for a weeks’ holiday and he’s still there 30 years later.
Sutherland explains the background to his involvement with CICA.
“For some time, we had been talking about getting a NT crane association up and running. It’s always hard trying to get something new started and just as we started to get some momentum CICA came along with the plan to form one association and bring all the state association into line with one national body.
“I thought this was a good idea and I ended up on a committee to figure out how we could make it all happen. Essentially, this committee came up with some great ideas on how we thought it could all work and how it could be structured. Cheryl Woodhardt was on the committee and she took the recommendations back to the board. The One Association Project was a reason I nominated for the board and was elected; that was six years ago,” he said. “Like so many things in life, it’s no good complaining about things on the sideline. Sometimes, personal involvement is required.
“Today, we have 10 or 12 CICA members in the association and these include major players like Tutts Heavy Lifting and Freo Cranes both of which have branches in Darwin. We have members in Alice Springs but being 1500 kms away we don’t see a lot of them,” said Sutherland.
Sutherland explains the challenges facing NT economy.
“We had one major project, a gas plant which was supposed to be a $34billion project. They tell me the final figure was $64 billion, but everyone was very excited about how much the project was going to bring to Darwin. It brought in a lot of people ‘looking for gold’ but it really didn’t do anything for the local economy.
“The government spent a lot of money on infrastructure thinking they were going to get it back because of the volume of people the project would attract, but it just didn’t happen. Lots of companies went to work on the project but didn’t do well. They hadn’t factored in the costs of Greenfields Agreements and they didn’t forecast or budget for the delays in work due to paperwork. We’ve had half a dozen large companies go broke over the gas plant and since then the government has had very little money to spend on infrastructure. Tourism has tapered right off because the price for accommodation went through the roof whilst the gas plant was being built, that filters through the system and people just don’t come,” said Sutherland.
According to Sutherland mining and oil explorations have been mainstay industries for the Darwin economy but sectors have seen downturns also.
“The mining industry has been tapering off for the last couple of years, but nobody really noticed due to the work on the gas plant. Oil exploration was a big thing, but that’s tapered off too and there’s very little of that happening out of Darwin at the moment. A number of industries and activities that people have relied on have died during the gas plant’s construction and now it’s finished there’s not much left,” said Sutherland.
“Five years ago, my business was operating four Frannas , three 55s, a 100t machine and a couple of low loaders. Today, we’re down to one semi-trailer, one 55t crane and three Frannas. This downsize reflects the market, we had to do it because we were bleeding money. There is a bit of defence work in town which is keeping a few people afloat. We’ve got a situation where small government contracts and tenders are being released and painters are tendering on lawnmowing contracts and vice versa because they have no other work to do. There was a rumour that the US were going to build a big port but there’s been nothing go through the Senate for Appropriations. The ABC thought they had a big scoop on the project , but both the federal and NT governments have said they don’t know anything about it,” said Sutherland.
Sutherland also provides an update on the NHVR project.
“As far as I’m concerned, part of the issue is a crane company can’t be held responsible for people overloading their trucks. If we put something on someone’s truck and they tell us ‘it’s fine’ we’re not really in a position to argue with them.
“We’re not the ‘loaders’ of trucks, the operator or the driver of the truck stipulates where the load goes. It’s not just about something being too heavy, the load could be in the wrong location on the trailer which makes one axle group too heavy. It’s very difficult for us as crane operators to know if the loads are compliant, the operator should be taking the truck to a weigh bridge to ensure it’s loaded correctly before they travel,” he said.
The NHVR are in the process of reviewing the code of practice and Sutherland will provide advice on how it will work.
“I’m basically going to be a subject matter expert on this topic mainly because I’ve operated heavy haulage, as well as understanding a bit more about the road issues as well as the crane lifting issues. We’re different to other states, we don’t have the same roadability issues and we don’t have the NHVR in the NT. We deal directly with the NT Government’s inspectors and they give us three-year blanket permits for our cranes for 12t an axle.
“We’ve got a few places where there are bridge slow-downs and at the end of the wet season, there are over mass restrictions on certain roads. They communicate this to us fairly well, anyone with a permit gets a notice and we don’t have much problem with them at all. It’s an easy process and inspectors are very accessible to us; you can even ring the head of the heavy vehicle registry and talk to him about a permit. You can’t do that in New South Wales,” he said.
The CrewSafe program will be a focus over the coming 12 months says Sutherland.
“We’re trying to arrange a half day presentation on the CrewSafe program which we’re hoping to roll out a bit more in the Northern Territory over the next 12 months. A number of the major construction companies think it’s a good idea so we’re working to get the crane operators on board. The idea will be to have some presentations and demonstrations which will make it more hands on,” he said.