National regs pushed back six months

Key aspects of national regulations delayed for six months after jurisdictions push back the promised January 1 start date

National regs pushed back six months
National regs pushed back six months
By Brad Gardner | July 3, 2012

The trucking industry will have to wait until at least July next year for key aspects of national regulations to begin following confirmation the reforms will be delayed for six months.

National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) Project Director Richard Hancock (pictured) says all jurisdictions, except Queensland, have pushed back the promised January 1 start date.

The delay means consistent road laws, national penalties and a one-stop-shop for registration renewals and permit applications will not be in place when the NHVR begins operating at the start of 2013.

Queensland is responsible for passing national regulations before other states and territories implement similar laws to create uniformity. But Hancock says the process to reform cross-border inconsistencies stalled earlier this year when Queenslanders went to the polls.

He says the other states and territories are now waiting to see what is contained in Queensland’s legislation before they act, adding that New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria have indicated a revised start date of July 2013.

He expects legislation to weave its way through Queensland Parliament towards the end of the year and has told the state’s government to limit the powers of the NHVR.

"We wouldn’t want to have Queensland under theHeavy Vehicle National Law and nobody else. There’s still discussion going on but I think that’s the easiest way to deal with it," Hancock says.

"Based on what I know at the moment, July is probably the most likely date for when all the states and territories will have applied the heavy vehicle national law."

Hancock expects the NHVR, which will enforce national regulations and be based in Brisbane, will look after performance based standards (PBS) applications and the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme (NHVAS) from the start of next year.

It is also planning on running a national chain of responsibility education campaign and conducting a pilot of the revamped advanced fatigue management (AFM) scheme.

Hancock says he is concerned giving the regulator responsibility for permits, access applications and registration renewals will cause confusion and create another layer of regulation if the other states and territories are not on board.

"My advice to Queensland would be that registration in Queensland at January 1 would remain as it is today until all states and territories have passed the Heavy Vehicle National Law," he says.

"To avoid any confusion, we would wait until everybody is up to the same point and then have the national regulator start to administer things like issuing permits nationally.

"It makes more sense to do that when everybody is ready for that rather than just one state on its own."

Although the big three states are expected to come to the party in July, Hancock has suggested Tasmania and the territories will transition to the new scheme.

"There’s still going to be a period of time for them to get the resources, to get the systems and the processes that they would need to have the whole of the Heavy Vehicle National Law in place," he says.

Hancock says he will be working with the smaller jurisdictions to develop timeframes and resource needs and will ask the larger states to help their smaller neighbours if required. Western Australia has not signed up to national regulations.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has put the onus on governments to make sure legislation is right before being enacted.

"We think that it is better the legislation take its time, with all due speed, but we think it is better to get the details right than to rush through something that is not acceptable," National Manager of Government Relations and Communications Bill McKinley says.

Hancock says a lot of work is still going on behind the scenes, including establishing a national set of penalties. He says industry has raised concerns about penalties for the likes of work diary infringements, such as spelling mistakes and forgetting to date an entry.

"It’s been a pretty significant project but I think we are well advanced," he says.

"Some of the offences and some of the penalties that industry is concerned about will be something that will be dealt with in a further review of national penalties which [transport] ministers have asked to be done by 2014."

The ATA has raised concerns about infringement notices being applied to substantial breaches of heavy vehicle law under the proposed reforms.

Although people can contest an infringement notice, McKinley says many feel compelled to simply pay it to avoid going to court. He says the ATA is concerned the regulator and police will be tempted to use infringement notices to save them having to spend time in court.

"As a regulator or as the police you would much rather people just pay the fine than have to actually go to court. From the point of staff time alone, you want your staff out on the road doing other things, not standing up in court justifying what they have done," McKinley says.

"The temptation will be to use the infringement notice system as the main enforcement tool. And of course when a defendant gets an infringement notice the strong suggestion is that you pay the infringement notice."

The ATA is also concerned about the inclusion of a clause in the national law holding company executives, partners and managers automatically guilty of an offence if their business breaches chain of responsibility obligations.

"Our view is that it is reprehensible that people are presumed guilty in Australia. If Australia stands for anything, it stands for the fact that you are innocent until proven guilty," McKinley says.

He says the ATA has relied on established legal opinion in pushing the case for operators to be treated as innocent until proven guilty and that it is up to governments to justify their stance.

"They have failed utterly to do this," he says.

Although the full implementation of national regulations will be delayed, Hancock says the development of a training plan is underway to ensure state and territory road departments and police officers are prepared for when the changes take effect.

He says the training plan will be implemented before July 2013.

"The officers, whether they be police or in road or transport agencies, they have to be trained in time for when the law actually commences in their state or territory. We can’t wait until that time [July 2013] and then train them," Hancock says.

The NHVR, which will be housed in Brisbane with offices throughout the country, will also be running a call centre from January 1 for those seeking information about national regulations.

Once fully operational, the regulator will be the sole contact point for operators wanting to register their vehicles, apply for route access and obtain permits.

Its website will have a national map service, ending the need for truckers to approach individual jurisdictions. The NHVR will be responsible for ensuring road enforcement officers apply transport laws consistently throughout the country.

Queensland started the legislative process earlier this year, but because the law did not pass before the election it meant the process had to begin again once a new government was formed.

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