Doorstop Interview with Derek Schoen and Peter Yates, Yerong Creek, NSW

Michael McCormack: It's fantastic to be here at Peter Yates' property ‘Windana’ at Yerong Creek this morning with Peter Yates, with Tom Yates, with Jemma Yates, and with Martha Yates: a family farming tradition that's been going on here at The Rock and Yerong Creek for many, many years.

It's also good to be here with the National Farmers' Federation board member Derek Schoen from Corowa. He knows, as does the Yates family, just how important it is to have safety on our roads when you're transporting large agricultural implements, whether they're chaser bins, whether they're headers, harvesters, tractors, whatever the case might be, particularly during harvest time.

Sadly, we're not going to have the harvest that we've had in past years because of the drought. The prolonged drought right throughout New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria has taken a real heavy toll on our yields. The fact is there are farmers who have been able to get a crop in, who have been able to start stripping; a bit of rain over the last day or so has put a bit of a stop to that but certainly when they get back in their paddocks, they're going to get a reasonable harvest around these parts if not other parts.

But the fact is there will also be a lot of heavy tractors, a lot of harvesters, on the road. What we ask, what we urge, what we encourage and what we insist upon: road users, when they see some of these heavy vehicles using our country roads, to slow down, to take care, to think that these harvesters need a lot of room and to pull over where possible, if necessary, to give them the room that they need.

And so we're doing a campaign. The Federal Government is doing a campaign to urge and encourage drivers to do just that: Take care and slow down and give these harvesters, give these farmers, every opportunity to use the road safely to get their harvesters from paddock to paddock, farm to farm, and to be able to do so in the safest possible manner.

That's why the Federal Government is investing a considerable amount of money, a quarter of a million dollars, into this campaign.

It's going to go across social media and other media outlets right across the nation to make sure that people are aware that these farmers need their implements to have the safest possible road use. That's what we're doing. That's what we're encouraging.

We're doing it with the National Farmers' Federation. It's a wonderful organisation and of course it wants its farmers to have the safest possible use of roads as well.

So I might ask Derek to make few comments, then I'll ask Peter Yates for a few comments. Happy to take any questions about this or any other topic. Derek?

Derek Schoen: Thank you Acting Prime Minister.

NFF is very proud to be part of this program. It's a constant threat when you are harvesting or sowing with large equipment. The equipment is getting larger and larger all the time.

Road users have to be educated as to how to engage with this equipment when they see it on the road and that saving a few minutes by passing inappropriately can actually cost a life. We don't want to be part of that process. We want to ensure that everyone gets to their destination in a fit and healthy state.

So it's important that these programs are rolled out and that people take note that we have to share the road. Sometimes it can be inconvenient but a little bit of inconvenience can save a life. We appreciate the money that the Government has put into this program and hopefully it will contribute to a safer road use in the future.

Question: Derek, while obviously with the drought we're not going to be having this harvesting, is it still important to get this message out that people don't get naïve and think that there's not going to be any heavy vehicles on the road?

Derek Schoen: Definitely. There will be traffic on the road, heavy equipment, although not as much as previously. There was a heavy rain overnight here. We have to remember that some of this equipment is very heavy and for it to go onto the shoulder of the road can be quite dangerous for that equipment—it can sink. Cars have to be prepared to pull over and allow this equipment to pass. So there will be equipment on the road, not as heavily as in previous big seasons, but it's a good time to launch this campaign and make people aware of it.

Question: Do farmers report they do have trouble with road users dangerously overtaking and that kind of thing?

Derek Schoen: Yes. From our local branch of the New South Wales Farmers' Association in Walbundrie, there was a motion that went to annual conference this year that they wanted a bigger publicity campaign and more signage on the road to share the road, because it is a problem. It could actually be put into the licensing testing that the young drivers are made fully aware of their responsibilities, that they are not the only people on the road. They have to share the road whether it's with trucks or with wide implements.

Question: People on country roads, I guess, they tend to know how to behave around these heavy vehicles, but what about people from the city travelling out here? Are you going to try and reach them with this campaign?

Derek Schoen: Definitely. I think that's one of the biggest areas that, especially on weekends when they're trying to get to a destination in a hurry for whatever reason, that they have to be aware that they could come across traffic that is slow moving or traffic that is oversize, and that there are problems with passing that in a safe manner and you have to give the distance required to achieve that appropriately.

Michael McCormack: Peter, would you like to make a few comments as one of the area's leading farmers?

Peter Yates: I don't know about leading farmer!

Michael McCormack: Yes, you are!

Peter Yates: Look we're very conscious on this farm of our wide gear that we transport from property to property and that's where the problem lies. So our properties are sparse and spread from a long distance away. We're using the roads all the time. We're very conscious of the general public approaching us, from the front and from behind. We take precautionary measures by having UHF radios available in all equipment so that we can contact each other and let us know that these vehicles are coming. We remind the general public that this gear is big. It is a lot slower than they drive and we want them just to have the patience and be prepared because we will move over so that you can pass and so everything's safe.

Question: Do most motorists behave around heavy vehicles?

Peter Yates: They do. Because a lot of people that approach us are living in the area, they're conscious of big wide gear that we've got. They are cautious and they know that there are dangerous situations approaching. I dare say there's city folks who don't realise how big and how slow that we're going and that they need to take care. But we're watching out for them as well. We're very conscious of how they drive as well.

Michael McCormack: Good, excellent. Thanks everyone.