Productivity Commission releases transport reform report

Much still to do, including fewer state derogations and more data collection and research

Productivity Commission releases transport reform report
The PC is offering a path towards improving transport regulatory reform


The federal Productivity Commission (PC) releases its National Transport Regulatory Reform inquiry report, with issues with the states front and centre.

Though harmonisation reforms are given a broad tick, albeit with more to be done, the PC is concerned that, after a decade, Western Australia’s and the Northern Territory’s absence makes reform less than national and that states continue to  undermined them through  unnecessary derogations from the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and Rail Safety National Law (RSNL).

That said, the report makes the point that harmonisation "is a means not an end" and should only be pursued with due regard to benefits and costs. However, any derogations from national law should either be justified by evidence or removed.

It is also critical on the lack of progress for industry from the reforms that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed.

"The COAG reforms were expected to unlock large efficiency gains for heavy vehicle operators. While gains have been made, the forecasts were optimistic and have not been achieved," the report states.

"Road access for larger, more efficient trucks has improved, but significant bottlenecks remain on some major freight corridors."

Read about NatRoad’s call for the PC to focus on skills, here

The PC gives credit for continued heavy vehicle and rail safety improvements, "largely due to new technology and infrastructure investments" but sees a need to strike "a balance between prescription and outcomes‑based approaches in safety regulation".

This would see the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) amended to allow further progress to a tiered system, "where operators can choose to follow prescriptive regulation or to develop more flexible and efficient ways to manage safety risks with the regulator’s approval" and unnecessary prescriptive detail from the HVNL removed.

"Striking the right balance between prescription and flexibility can not only help to minimise compliance costs without diminishing safety, but also potentially improve the management of safety risks overall," the report says.

"A prescriptive (‘black letter law’) approach requires regulators and lawmakers to identify risks and mandate specific solutions, with industry expected simply to comply.

"This approach tends to work better in cases where risks are static and well‑understood, with clear and practical solutions.

"It works less well where risks are complex and unpredictable; in these cases, it may be more effective to use an outcomes‑based approach that incorporates measures such as general safety duties, accreditation, and approved safety management systems."

Emphasising more risk‑based approaches to improving safety and consistency would see derogations go and Australian Design Rule processes for heavy vehicles streamlined.

On a point the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) for one will applaud after years of advocacy, the report calls for improving the evidence base for policy and regulatory decisions by establishing ‘no‑blame’ incident investigation across the transport modes.

The PC wants to see telematics data harnessed to inform infrastructure investment and access management.

And it wants regulators improve their collection, analysis, and reporting of data, particularly in relation to safety outcomes and compliance costs.

The PC gives special thanks to various transport mode regulators, along with "Kellie Boland from Boland Transport and Marla Stone from Livestock & Rural Transporters Association of Victoria, who provided valuable insight to staff about how to engage with individual truck drivers".

In a point of interest for those concerned about impediments to gaining data from government, the PC also thanks the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics (BITRE), "for its assistance in facilitating the Commission’s request to State and Territory road safety authorities to gain access to, and get clearance to publish analysis using, the National Crash Database".

The full report, which was handed to the relevant minister, treasurer Josh Frydenberg, on April 7 can be found here.


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