Mrdak braces for tough road ahead on national regulations

Top transport bureaucrat cites strong support for national regulations, but tells politicians not to underestimate how difficult reform will be

By Brad Gardner | October 20, 2011

The Federal Government’s top transport bureaucrat is bracing for a difficult road ahead on national trucking regulations, telling politicians not to underestimate how hard it will be to achieve reform.

Appearing before Senate estimates hearings this week, Department of Infrastructure and Transport Secretary Mike Mrdak warned of "a big challenge" over the next year in getting the eight states and territories to agree to uniform regulations.

Queensland will be responsible for passing legislation establishing the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and a single set of regulations, which are due to be fully operational from January 1, 2013. Other jurisdictions will then need to pass similar laws to create cross-border consistency.

"But I will not underestimate how difficult the next 12 months are going to be to get that through," Mrdak says.

"This is a big challenge for next year. We have to get all of the parliaments to pass them."

National regulations will be created under a two-stage process, with the first piece of legislation expected to go through Queensland Parliament this year to create the regulator and regulations. The second phase will be an amendment bill to address any outstanding concerns.

"Our intention is to have the heavy vehicle laws introduced into the Queensland Parliament, if at all possible, before the end of this year," Mrdak says.

Except for Western Australia, the states and territories earlier this year reached an agreement supporting the establishment of single regulators for the road, rail and maritime sectors. The NHVR will be based in Queensland and will have offices throughout Australia.

Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese claimed there was resistance to change from some state-based bureaucrats.
Mrdak told estimates there is strong support within industry ranks for national regulations.

"Obviously there are some areas, particularly access in certain jurisdictions to certain roads, which they would like to see progressed further. But I think they understand just how important it is to get the national laws in place and then use that as the basis, with the regulator, to press for greater access," he says.

Nationals Senator John Williams sought assurances on livestock loading regulations, which currently force a Queensland operator to unload cattle when reaching the NSW border to comply with the latter’s vehicle weight restrictions.

"If you have to run another truck up the border because a B-double road train has come down and has to unload 10 percent of its load, it is costly and there is a loss of production," Williams says.

He also criticised the cross-border differences on loading regulations for hay and wool bales, which NSW this year amended to make it easier for industry to comply with.

"Hay bales and wool bales between NSW and Victoria have been highly contentious and a real problem. We think we have a package now which will move to the Victorian system," Mrdak responded.

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