Ministers agree on pathway to heavy vehicle reform

Four-year plan to settle road charging and expenditure plus new HVNL in 2023

Ministers agree on pathway to heavy vehicle reform
Regulation may have a new look mid-year

The nation’s transport ministers agree to a pathway to reforms on how heavy vehicle charges are set and invested and the law that governs its operations.

The latest Infrastructure and Transport Ministers’ Meeting (ITMM) sees the release of a plan – Pathway ahead: Heavy Vehicle Road Reform – that sees steps to a new reality for the industry by 2024.

The ITMM also flags the final Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) to be before ministers by mid-2023.

"The National Transport Commission (NTC) will deliver more detailed advice to Ministers over the next 12 months on key areas of reform such as fatigue management, heavy vehicle access, increased use of higher productivity vehicles, assurance schemes, duties, and driver health," its communique states.

"Ministers discussed the significant reform opportunity presented by the review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law.

"Ministers agreed that options developed should be ambitious to realise the potential productivity and safety benefits for industry and the economy more broadly."

Read the ATA’s call on desirable reforms to the HVNL, here

The ‘pathway’ document does come with a caveat.

"As governments proceed along the pathway, they may decide at any time whether to continue on the pathway, and whether to ultimately participate in the reformed system," it states.

Beyond that, it envisions four common tasks – Identify, Prepare, Setup and Apply for each in each year from 2021 to 2024.

They sit on four ‘pillars’:

  • National Service Level Standards for roads
  • Independent determination of what expenditure is recoverable through heavy vehicle charge
  • Independent setting of heavy vehicle charges
  • Hypothecation.

Public consultation on the first are on framework, this year, and "Negotiate then set level of ambition for standards; establish ongoing governance arrangements for reviewing and updating standards; (continue to collect data on service levels)" in 2023.

On the second, in 2023, it will be on "draft legislation; agree national expenditure review guidelines; begin staffing investment review body/ies, who begin engaging with road agencies".

The third covers "key settings for a forward-looking cost base (FLCB); agree a transitional path for charges/revenue", next year, and "independent price regulator begins charge-setting process in line with agreed transition arrangements" in 2024.

The fourth will relate to hypothecation arrangement details next year.

Meanwhile, after decades of concern about growth impinging on transport paths, the ministers endorse a National Urban Freight Planning Principles document.

"The Principles will be utilised by all jurisdictions, with progress reported on annually through the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy," the communique says.

The strategy has four main planks:

  • smarter and targeted infrastructure
  • enable improved supply chain efficiency
  • better planning, coordination and regulation
  • better freight location and performance data.

"The Principles will guide land use decision-making across all levels of government to improve planning for freight in Australia’s metropolitan areas," according to the ‘strategy’ website.

"With urban freight volumes predicted to increase 60 per cent by 2040, pressures on freight networks will grow.

"Congestion, freight curfews and limits on heavy vehicle access are expected to worsen as Australia’s increasing population drives competition for land and space on transport networks.

"The Commonwealth, together with states and territories and industry, has developed the Principles in response to industry calls for improved consideration of freight in transport and land use planning."

The Australian Logistics Association (ALC) notes with concern that the ITMM fails to endorse the National Operating Standard (NOS), which is has agitated over the past eight months to be included in a reformed HVNL.

"However, ALC welcomes the intention for the National Transport Commission to develop further advice on the development of assurance schemes for the purposes of the Heavy Vehicle National Law," it states. 

"ALC sees this as being integral to improving productivity and safety outcomes."

It gives the thumbs up on the ‘principles’ but wants more detailed oversight.

"ALC would like commitment that these Planning Principles are kept under constant review so they capture the changes needed as industry and community needs change," it says.

"For example, the next iteration of the Principles should include planning instruments to facilitate the operation and refuelling requirements of electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

"ALC will continue to monitor how well the jurisdictions adopt these Principles into their planning documentation, so the continuous efficient and safe movement of freight from despatch point to delivery location can be achieved."

The full communique and links to the ‘pathway’ and ‘principles’ can be found here.

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