D-day looms for COAG on national truck regulations

Federal, state and territory leaders will meet tomorrow to vote on whether to support creation of a national truck regulator

D-day looms for COAG on national truck regulations
D-day looms for COAG on national truck regulations
By Brad Gardner | August 18, 2011

The nation’s leaders will meet tomorrow to decide the future of national transport regulations, as two of the trucking industry’s biggest hitters put the heat on government to deliver lasting reforms.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and state and territory leaders will converge on Canberra tomorrow for a COAG meeting that will vote on intergovernmental agreements for single regulators and regulations for the heavy vehicle, rail and maritime sectors.

The agreement is vital to securing a commitment from all jurisdictions to implement a new system, which is intended to streamline inconsistent regulations that have long plagued transporters working across borders.

In an open letter to Gillard, state premiers and chief ministers, Linfox CEO Michael Byrne and Toll Managing Director Paul Little say scrapping multiple state-based regulators must be a priority for all governments.

Australian Logistics Council CEO Michael Kilgariff has also leant his name to the letter.

"A single best practice regulator to replace the complexity of regulators in each state and territory is probably the most important microeconomic reform on COAG’s current agenda," the letter reads.

"Consistent regulations doing away with state borders and different methods of enforcement will not only lead to significantly improved safety outcomes but, if done well, will bring cost savings from along the supply chain and back to consumers."

While saying governments should agree on establishing national regulations, the Australian Trucking Association adds that they should insist on changes to how they are drafted.

ATA Chairman David Simon claims the current draft of the regulations are not up to scratch.

"The current draft goes backward on productivity by allowing the states to impose additional conditions on the use of restricted access vehicles like B-doubles and road trains," he says.

"There is no allowance for any external review of access decisions by road managers, even though improved access to the road system is a fundamental part of the productivity gains identified in the regulatory impact statement."

Simon has also criticised the inclusion of a reverse onus of proof on the likes of directors and officers of a trucking company, who can be found personally guilty if the business is convicted under national regulations.

"They then have to prove their innocence, rather than the prosecution having to prove their guilt," he says.

"This provision is inconsistent with Australian ideas of fairness, and also conflicts with the model work health and safety law. Under the work health and safety law, the burden of proof rests entirely upon the prosecution, which is where it should be."

The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator will be based in Queensland with offices throughout Australia. It is intended to be fully operating by 2013.

However, there are rumblings that sections of the bureaucracy are trying to stall or block any changes to the status quo.

The letter from the ALC, Toll and Linfox claims there are suggestions senior bureaucrats are recommending their leaders to reject the reforms.

"Industry has serious concerns at attempts to water down the regulator’s powers but for leaders to vote against the concept as a whole would be a significant mistake," the letter reads.

In an interview on Sky News last week, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese pointed the figure at "entrenched bureaucracies defending their interest" as the reason for a lack of cooperation from all parties on establishing single regulators.

"I’m very hopeful that the states will see commonsense and will not walk away from what is a vital productivity reform. Businesses are demanding this reform. We’ve worked through all the details. We know that there’s massive benefit," he says.

Albanese has warned states they will not be eligible for funding under federal initiatives such as the managed motorways program unless they come to the table at the COAG meeting.

The letter from Toll, Linfox and the ALC says tomorrow’s meeting will be an important indication of how serious jurisdictions are about implementing reforms to improve productivity, efficiency and safety.

Western Australia has already stated it will not agree to a one-size-fits-all model on fatigue management and vehicle access arrangements, with the state’s government instead opting to retain its own schemes.

NSW is also trying to retain existing schemes such as the ‘three strikes’ policy, the use of spray suppression devices for B-doubles and mandatory periodic inspections.

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