National laws no certainty as Buswell issues ultimatum

Western Australia leaves the door open to walking away from national trucking regulations to protect existing standards

National laws no certainty as Buswell issues ultimatum
National laws no certainty as Buswell issues ultimatum
By Brad Gardner | March 15, 2011

Western Australia has hinted at a willingness to walk away from national trucking regulations to protect existing standards in the state.

Transport Minister Troy Buswell today issued an ultimatum on national regulations, saying he will only support them if they are in the best interests of Western Australia.

National regulations due to be introduced in 2013 are designed to end cross-border inconsistencies plaguing interstate trucking operators.

"Changes to the current system will only be considered if they are to benefit to Western Australia, and industry feedback will be vital in assisting the state government in our negotiations with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)," Buswell says.

He specifically cites fatigue management, productivity variations and heavy vehicle accreditation as key schemes that need to be protected.

Draft national heavy vehicle laws were released last month by the National Transport Commission outlining proposed changes to create national uniformity.

"The WA environment poses unique demands for heavy haulage operators and there are a number of issues arising in the draft legislation that need to be carefully considered by the industry and across government in WA," Buswell says.

Unlike Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia, Western Australia runs a different fatigue management system under occupational health and safety law.

An expert panel tasked with resolving state and territory regulatory differences recommends retaining the fatigue management schemes used in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

The Heavy Vehicle National Law Draft Regulatory Impact Statement, released last month, notes important differences between Western Australia’s model and the one used in the other jurisdictions.

"Under AFM [advanced fatigue management], drivers can work a maximum of 154 hours in 14 days; under the Western Australian system a driver can work 168 hours in 14 days," the RIS says.

"Western Australia argues that the longer hours reflect their geographic reality, with long distances between rest stops and remote area livestock operations it is not always possible to work within AFM limits."

According to the panel, enshrining fatigue management in transport rather than occupational health and safety law is more effective because there are more compliance and enforcement resources.

However, the panel says it is still working with the state.

"The expert panel is continuing its discussions with WA to better understand their system. Tasmania and the Northern Territory have not yet implemented the fatigue laws," the RIS says.

Buswell is adamant the existing scheme in Western Australia is the best option for the state’s trucking operators.

"It is important to note WA does not currently participate in the national heavy vehicle accreditation scheme but maintains our own system of accreditation developed to suit our needs," he says.

Transport Forum WA CEO Ian King last year called for Western Australia to retain its existing laws.

King says the existing regime on driving hours accounts for the sparsely populated regions drivers must travel through, adding that towns can be as much as 600km apart unlike those in eastern states.

"We are going to be insistent that WA doesn’t lose anything," King said at the time.

Livestock and Rural Transport Association of Western Australia (LRTA) President Grant Robins says the state’s scheme is based on "sound science and is widely known to be successful".

"It would be a courageous move to ignore our experience in preference to an untried system that may put lives at risk," Robins warned last year during LRTA’s annual conference.

The expert panel also recommends scrapping Queensland’s decision to exempt truck drivers from carrying a work diary if they operate within 200km of their company’s base.

It wants a 100km radius introduced, which would also alter existing standards in NSW and Tasmania. Both states require all drivers to carry a work diary regardless of the distance they work from the company’s base.

"In the interest of national consistency the expert panel recommends retaining the 100km radius rule in the national law," the RIS says.

Buswell has called on trucking operators to have a say on the proposed national laws.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2009 agreed to introduce national trucking regulations. A regulator will be established in Queensland with offices throughout Australia to govern heavy vehicles.

National Transport Commission CEO Nick Dimopoulos says regulatory harmonisation will save the country about $12.4 billion over 20 years.

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