'Farcical' process, but industry wants action

Government officials to consult the industry on moving towards uniform transport laws in a move one operator calls "farcical"

By Brad Gardner

Government officials will this month consult the trucking industry on moving towards uniform transport laws in a move one operator has labelled "farcical".

Following the release of a consultation paper on overhauling cross-border inconsistencies, the Federal Government has set aside 16 days from January 27 to listen to industry concerns at a number of locations across Australia.

The meetings will centre on a report proposing a national regulatory framework for administering heavy vehicle registration, access, mass and fatigue management issues.

But while supporting any move towards streamlined regulations, Simon National Carriers’ Managing Director David Simon says some operators will struggle to respond to the paper.

He says the Government has given the industry too short a timeframe to raise its concerns over the future of transport regulation.

"The consultation process is farcical," Simon says.

However, Simon, who is also the vice chair of the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), says it is still an opportunity for the industry and government to work together to achieve uniformity.

He has backed the final of the four recommendations raised in the paper, which advocates a single national regulator to administer uniform laws.

"It would be fantastic to see if it was implemented. It would be by far the best outcome," Simon says.

He has rejected other options, which include maintaining the status quo or establishing a non-statutory body to foster consistency in administering state-based laws.

Labelling the latter option "a bandaid solution without real power", Simon also says another option suggested in the report to enact one law in a state and then use it as a template in other jurisdictions will fail.

Simon cites fatigue laws as an example, arguing it is hard to see how technical legislative issues can be overcome by states adopting model legislation.

"We have had problems with the new fatigue laws and how each state handles the Reasonable Steps defence issue through non-transport legislation or their criminal codes, which has left us with state to state differences," he says.

It is cross-border inconsistencies, the ATA argues, which exacerbate operator costs and cripple productivity.

But while the peak industry body wants uniformity, ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says governments must harmonise "the best features of the existing state and territory laws rather than the most burdensome ones".

"We also have to be sure that the gains from moving to a national system will outweigh the costs," Martyn says.

If the report’s recommendation is accepted, local governments will still have the power to impose their own operating conditions.

Furthermore, state and territory agencies will continue to handle registration paperwork.

At best, a single regulator will begin in 2011, with the first stage of the new laws taking effect by the end of next year.

The meetings will begin in Brisbane on January 27, moving to other states and territories before finishing in Sydney on February 12.

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