Abolish state regulation, Feds argue on reform

Implementing consistent, borderless trucking regulation has failed, governments admit, as they prepare to slash red tape

Abolish state regulation, Feds argue on reform
Abolish state regulation, Feds argue on reform
By Jason Whittaker

Implementing consistent, borderless trucking regulation has failed, governments admit, as they prepare to radically realign laws to slash red tape and improve industry efficiency.

But the release of a consultation paper calling for the abolition of state-based regulation in favour of a single national body, hailed as a critical step in the process, still means any real reform is at least two years away.

The paper, released by the Federal Government just prior to Christmas, proposes a new single regulatory body to harmonise laws in key areas including mass and loading, over-size and over-mass regulations, restricted access vehicles and higher mass limits, fatigue management and other enforcement activities.

Ministers have also agreed to work towards the establishment of a national heavy vehicle registration scheme and a single physical driver licence, along with consistent standards for driver competency testing and training school recognition.

The consultation paper acknowledges the failure of so-called model laws brought in to regulate fatigue management and chain of responsibility, which were developed by the National Transport Commission (NTC) but implemented differently in each state.

"Differences in the adoption, application, interpretation and enforcement of these model laws and the use of jurisdiction-specific exemptions, permits, notices, business practices and guidelines has lessened their ‘national’ value and efficacy," the paper says.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) says ministers are finally recognising the regulatory burden on truck operators.

"The trucking industry carries 75 percent of Australia’s freight but we are currently subject to eight different sets of laws and nine different registration systems," ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says.

"It’s a full-time job for transport operators to keep up with the paperwork."

Martyn says the consultation paper is a "critical step" towards the long-held goal of industry for a truly national system.

"It sets out some of the many inconsistencies in the existing state laws, which range from differences in their black letter law to differences in the way transport inspectors interpret the same laws by the side of the road," he says.

The paper highlights a number of inconsistencies in regulation all-too-familiar to trucking operators, which are blamed for stalling productivity in a growing freight task.

It gives an example of an operator moving heavy equipment under permit between three states that has to fit an extra axle in the second state and then remove it again when the truck enters the third state to comply with permit conditions.

It also tells the story of how transport inspectors in one state refused to accept that a vehicle was roadworthy, even though it had been inspected and approved in another state under the same roadworthiness guidelines.

"An interstate heavy vehicle operator will have to comply with the full range of regulation across as many jurisdictions as the business extends," the paper reports.

"A truck operator moving to another jurisdiction will need to re-register and establish compliance with a different set of regulations before being able to operate the same vehicle in the same business."

Four options have been put forward for consideration:
  • Option 1 would retain the status quo (to be used as a base for a cost-benefit analysis of any reform.
  • Option 2 would see a non-statutory body established, or a "practice improvement agency", to "foster consistency" in the administration of the current state-based laws.
  • Option 3 involves enacting uniform national laws in a host jurisdiction (not the Commonwealth) and its adoption as ‘template’ legislation in other jurisdictions. While agencies of each jurisdiction would continue to be responsible for its administration, the uniform law would operate to deliver more consistent outcomes across jurisdictions.
  • Option 4 implements uniform legislation administered by a single, national, statutory regulator. Agencies of each jurisdiction would continue to be responsible for the administration of the uniform legislation as delegates of the national regulator. The paper says this could be achieved by means of template legislation enacted in a host jurisdiction, by the Commonwealth enacting legislation based on a reference of power from the states, by the Commonwealth enacting legislation applying to matters within Commonwealth legislative power which is then adopted by jurisdictions, or a combination of these.

Option 4 is preferred, the paper argues, because it provides "clear benefits" to industry when implemented.

It says the reform promises certainty and savings in compliance activities, a greater chance of ‘same outcome in same circumstances’, consistency from linking accreditation and performance-based systems, and greater clarity and transparency in decision making.

"Jurisdictions maintain their role in managing their assets under uniform law, continuing their input to national policy and regulatory development; possible savings from one-stop-shop operations and standardised administration systems," the paper argues.

"Both industry and jurisdictions would face establishment/transition costs but these could be expected to be offset by efficiencies as the national system is fully implemented."

Martyn calls it a welcome conclusion.

"The industry needs to be able to operate on a national basis, with regulations that will allow us to use the latest and safest equipment. It is the best way that we can carry the growing amount of freight that Australians want us to deliver," he says.

"It [the consultation paper] confirms, however, that the national laws should include discretionary arrangements to recognise that different parts of Australia, such as regional Western Australia, have different operating conditions to other parts of the country."

Bureaucrats are now seeking industry feedback for a final regulatory impact statement, with workshops planned in major centres throughout January and February.

Ministers will consider a final position later this year, with implementation not expected until the end of 2010.

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