Amid criticism of WA, Victoria agrees to national regulations


WA premier likened to Joh Bjelke-Petersen as bill to establish national heavy vehicle regulations passes Victoria's Parliament

Amid criticism of WA, Victoria agrees to national regulations
Amid criticism of WA, Victoria agrees to national regulations
By Brad Gardner | May 29, 2013

Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett has been likened to the late Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen for his refusal to adopt national heavy vehicle regulations.

As Victoria’s Parliament passed legislation yesterday to adopt the new regulatory regime, a Labor MP suggested a similarity between Barnett (pictured) and the former premier of Queensland, who remains one the country’s most controversial political figures.

Khalil Eideh, who represents the western metropolitan region in the Legislative Council, backed the Heavy Vehicle National Law Application Bill as a measure to reduce red tape and improve the trucking industry's efficiency and then expressed "my concern and my bewilderment" over Western Australia’s decision to retain its own regulations.

"When I was growing up we all used to believe very strongly that the most unsound and uncooperative political leader in Australia was then Premier of Queensland Joh Bjelke-Petersen," Eideh told Parliament.

"Now we have the premier of Western Australia who seems to believe that his state can do as it wishes and the rest of the nation be damned."

Western Australia insists on retaining its own fatigue management regime, productivity variations and its heavy vehicle accreditation scheme, arguing they best suit the State’s needs.

But Eideh believes the Sandgropers will come under pressure to relent when all other jurisdictions enact the regulatory changes.

While Eideh also urged Victorian Government MPs to lobby their colleagues in the west to rethink their "irrational opposition", Liberal MP Andrew Elsbury ruled it out.

"Government members value democracy and we think the people of Western Australia, and certainly the government of Western Australia, should be able to make the decision they want," he says.

"If they do not want to come in on the national law, that is their problem. They will not get the benefits of this law and they will not see the benefits flowing through to their logistics companies, but the rest of the country will."

However, Elsbury, too, appeared to take a dig at Barnett.

"I am more than happy for Western Australia to cut its own throat on this one and not take it on, because it benefits the east coast and central Australian states," he says.

"The development of uniform laws will assist Victorian logistics companies because they will know that their vehicles will be compliant in all states – with the exception, of course, of Western Australia – if they adhere to the laws that apply in Victoria."

The Bill will apply to vehicles over 4.5 tonnes and empower the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) to look after areas such as chain of responsibility, fatigue management and permit applications.

While the Victorian Greens supported the Bill, MP Colleen Hartland wanted its passage delayed until the party had time to examine the regulations covering mass, dimension and loading.

Hartland says she is concerned the regulations will be more lenient than existing standards and that she has not had time to review the Bill.

Furthermore, she raised concerns that making it easier for trucking firms to operate across borders could have a detrimental effect on rail.

"The national law will make it easier for freight trucks to travel interstate due to a reduction in administrative requirements and the creation of consistency in regulations. While this is beneficial for the road freight industry, my concern is that this may result in an increase in the number of long-distance heavy vehicle freight trips at the cost of rail transport," she says.

Hartland says governments need to, where possible, move freight by rail to prevent road crashes and traffic congestion and lower emission levels and air pollution.

The NHVR is currently operating in Queensland with responsibility for Performance Based Standards and the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme.

The Bill passed Victoria’s Legislative Assembly earlier this month, with minor amendments. South Australia and New South Wales are also in the process of implementing similar legislation.

The country’s transport ministers recently agreed to push back the intended national start date for the NHVR to give the states and territories more time to pass necessary legislation.

The NHVR was originally due to start on January 1 this year, but the date was delayed to July 1. The latest announcement changed it to September 1.

Eideh’s criticism echoes the sentiments of Queensland MP Alex Douglas, who last year accused Western Australia of being "irrational" and "out of step" on heavy vehicle regulations.

The Western Australian Road Transport Association (WARTA), which supports Barnett’s position, says the State's existing regulations are effective and that there is currently no need for the NHVR.

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