NTC report card: 'Disappointing', failed to deliver


Review criticises agency’s record on transport regulations; calls for it to be given more powers to improve reforms

By Brad Gardner | December 14, 2009

The National Transport Commission (NTC) should be given more powers to improve transport reforms in the wake of "disappointing" efforts so far, according to a review of the independent body.

A team led by the former director-general of Queensland Transport, Bruce Wilson, says the NTC has struggled to deliver seamless reforms because of a failure to take into account political issues that jurisdictions must resolve during implementation.

According to the review, only five of 15 reforms were implemented nationwide, three were introduced with a high level of consistency, while only three met the original timeframe.

While saying jurisdictions must also share the blame for failed reforms, the review recommends the NTC’s role be expanded to working with jurisdictions to develop implementation plans to ensure potential barriers are addressed.

"To develop quality model legislation and other regulatory proposals, the NTC will need to be highly aware of implementation considerations," the review says.

Post-implementation reviews should also be a "core part of the NTC’s responsibilities", according to the review team.

"Post-implementation reviews would provide an opportunity for the NTC to be more proactive in putting firm recommendations to the ATC [Australian Transport Council] for addressing identified flaws or problems," the review says.

A two-stage sign-off process for regulatory reform has also been advocated by the review team, with the first part making up an in-principle agreement followed by an approved implementation plan.

"Clearly, there remains a considerable lack of uniformity in regulation across the nation and the NTC’s real impact on safety, productivity, efficiency and environmental performance has been disappointing."

GOOD BUT COULD BE BETTER
The review also found the NTC’s purpose and priorities were unclear and its desire to be seen as doing something and to tackle new issues led to a slow and incomplete reform agenda.

"The breadth of the NTC’s work program has also hampered its ability to improve the implementation speed and impact of reforms," the review says.

By focusing on output rather than outcomes of what reforms achieve, the review says the NTC is missing an opportunity to look at other options based on lessons learnt.

The review team noted a lack of rail expertise in the NTC, saying it had not yet evolved to focus on rail and intermodal activities.

However, the review says the NTC is effective in developing draft legislation based on its efforts including chain of responsibility, heavy vehicle charges, fatigue management, rail safety legislation and the Intelligent Access Program (IAP).

"For a small organisation, the NTC has been prolific in developing reform proposals for the ATC’s consideration…," the review says.

It goes on to say the NTC is considered favourably by government and industry stakeholders and plays a valuable role.

DON’T CUT OFF STATE FUNDING
The review team also rejected submissions calling for federal funding to be linked to implementation of reforms.

It says the risk of incentive payments outweigh the potential benefits because the number of stakeholders and funding mechanisms in transport means there is a chance jurisdictions will just wait for another government to step in.

"We note that this is already an issue even under current funding arrangements; we consider payment for reform would exacerbate the problem," the review says.

Despite this, the review did support targeted funding to encourage jurisdictions to remove specific reform impediments identified during the implementation planning process.

The review team was appointed by the ATC in January this year. The NTC, which reports to the ATC, was established in 2003 when the National Road Transport Commission was expanded to cover rail and intermodal transport.

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