COAG agrees on a national regulator, but not until 2013

By: Jason Whittaker

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has agreed to streamline transport regulations, which will slash red tape and force widespread

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) has agreed to streamline transport regulations, which will slash red tape and force widespread changes in the transport industry.

Meeting in Darwin yesterday (Thursday, July 2), Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and state and territory leaders agreed to forge ahead with a single national heavy vehicle regulator by 2013, with transitional arrangements to be introduced in 2011.

The single body will be responsible for inspection standards, safe driving hours, mass limits and registration.

It means interstate operators will no longer be forced to grapple with inconsistent state and territory laws.

"The governments of Australia are working together to put in place a seamless national economy – an outcome that will lift national productivity and allow transport operators to get products onto supermarkets shelves and our exports to market at the lowest cost," a joint statement from Rudd and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says.

"For example, at the moment an interstate truck driver must comply with all the regulations that apply in each of the jurisdictions they drive through. Even small differences can create extra costs, red tape and confusion for the trucking industry, particularly for the many 'mum and dad' operators."

COAG also agreed to create a national safety regulatory system and to have the Australian Transport Safety Bureau act as the preferred investigator of rail accidents.

"Currently Australia has seven rail safety regulators, three rail safety investigators and different rules in every state," the joint statement says.

But the Australian Railways Association (ARA) says the agreement doesn't go far enough. ARA CEO Bryan Nye says an earlier agreement to establish a national rail safety regulator and investigator has been watered down.

"How come regulatory reform is achieved for heavy vehicles with the creation of a single heavy vehicle regulator, yet rail is compelled to bear the continuing inefficiencies of seven different rail safety regulators? Any extension of the role of a Rail Safety Regulators Panel is tantamount to regulatory failure," he says.

"Single state and territory rail safety regulators and investigators are a relic of a bygone era which should not be continued. The break of gauge is still alive and well."

Nye says the decision leaves a continuing disincentive to use rail.

"The Commonwealth, states and territories have demonstrated a lack of vision, failing to push forward with this needed reform. This could have overturned 110 years of federalism that has impeded efficiency and safety across our nation," he says.

"What we have seen are bureaucratic delaying tactics which are ultimately designed to defer this vital reform as long as possible."

Meanwhile, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) will be made the national regulator of all commercial vessels operating in Australian waters, as opposed to currently regulating interstate operations, under a COAG agreement.

The agreement followed the release of regulatory impact statements and agreement by the Australian Transport Council (ATC), the body which brings together the nation's transport ministers.

The Bus Industry Confederation was unavailable for comment at publication.

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