'Historic' agreement to end state-based truck regs

COAG decision to abandon state-based truck regulation hailed as “historic” by the transport industry

'Historic' agreement to end state-based truck regs
National transport laws on the way
The decision to abandon state-based trucking regulation has been hailed as "historic" by the transport industry.

The Council of Australian Governments has agreed to streamline the regulation of trucking and shipping, designed to slash red tape and boost transport productivity.

But the new national body won’t be full established until 2012, with the industry warning it must be consulted so operators don’t lose existing access arrangements and other benefits.

Transition arrangements will be put in place by 2011, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and state and territory premiers agreed at the COAG meeting yesterday.

The single body will be responsible for inspection standards, safe driving hours, mass limits and registration.

"The governments of Australia are working together to put in place a seamless national economy – an outcome that will lift national productivity and allow transport operators to get products onto supermarkets shelves and our exports to market at the lowest cost," a joint statement from Rudd and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says.

"For example, at the moment an interstate truck driver must comply with all the regulations that apply in each of the jurisdictions they drive through. Even small differences can create extra costs, red tape and confusion for the trucking industry, particularly for the many 'mum and dad' operators."

Australian Trucking Association Chairman Trevor Martyn says the decision ends a 20-year battle for harmonised laws to improve productivity and safety.

Martyn says nationalising the regulatory framework will improve the understanding of rules by trucking operators and lead to greater compliance and more targeted enforcement, with seamless chain of responsibility and fatigue laws across state borders.

Safety will be improved with an increase in the adoption of new safety ads and measures to encourage audited accreditation schemes, while improving road access for non-prescriptive vehicles.

"Governments will now need to consult closely with the industry to make sure compliant operators, drivers and clients can move forward without losing existing productivity, access arrangements or other benefits," Martyn says.

"The new laws must not be a lowest common denominator and must provide benefits for intrastate operators and the local operations of national companies, as well as companies who operate across state borders."

COAG also agreed in principal to a national safety regulatory system and to have the Australian Transport Safety Bureau act as the preferred investigator of rail accidents.

"Currently Australia has seven rail safety regulators, three rail safety investigators and different rules in every state," the joint statement says.

But the Australian Railways Association (ARA) says COAG has missed the opportunity to commit to national regulations.

"How come regulatory reform is achieved for heavy vehicles with the creation of a single heavy vehicle regulator, yet rail is compelled to bear the continuing inefficiencies of seven different rail safety regulators? Any extension of the role of a Rail Safety Regulators Panel is tantamount to regulatory failure," he says.

"Single state and territory rail safety regulators and investigators are a relic of a bygone era which should not be continued. The break of gauge is still alive and well."

Nye says the decision leaves a continuing disincentive to use rail.

"The Commonwealth, states and territories have demonstrated a lack of vision, failing to push forward with this needed reform. This could have overturned 110 years of federalism that has impeded efficiency and safety across our nation," he says.

"What we have seen are bureaucratic delaying tactics which are ultimately designed to defer this vital reform as long as possible."

Meanwhile, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) will be made the national regulator of all commercial vessels operating in Australian waters, as opposed to currently regulating interstate operations, under a COAG agreement.

Hal Morris, the CEO of the Australian Logistics Council, says two out of three isn’t bad.

"The decision by the Prime Minister and Premiers in Darwin yesterday to create single national regulators for heavy vehicles and for maritime transport is nothing short of historic," he says.

"Previous efforts to do this have failed but now it really looks like it is going to happen. The ALC is committed to working with the state and federal governments to make this happen as soon as possible.

"It is important to achieve the same kind of success for rail regulation. We believe that it is in the interest of transport and logistics providers and their customers that a single rail regulator is established as soon as possible."

A delegation of ALC members including Chairman Ivan Backman, company bosses Paul Little (Toll Holdings) and Michael Byrne (Linfox) and Transport Workers Union Federal Secretary Tony Sheldon will meet with Albanese on Monday to progress talks.

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