HVNL Review must deliver a more modern industry

As readers of Prime Mover will be aware, the National Transport Commission (NTC) is undertaking a thorough review of the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) during 2019. As part of this process, a series of discussion papers are being issued to stimulate industry comment.

The review is a requirement of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Heavy Vehicle Regulatory Reform, which came into operation five years ago.

However, in ALC’s view, the review process should be embraced by the industry as an opportunity to improve the efficacy and the consistency of the legislation that underpins safety in our sector – and is vitally important in protecting all road users.

ALC recently made a submission to the NTC on its first discussion paper, which primarily examined the legislative structure of the HVNL. Yet even within this narrow framework, there are opportunities to significantly enhance the HVNL in a manner that could deliver real productivity benefits to industry, and real road safety benefits for the wider community.

The consistent ALC position is that there should be a single law, administered by a single regulator operating across one national economy.

There has been some significant progress toward this outcome since the present regulatory arrangements came into operation half a decade ago. The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has generally operated satisfactorily – and there are certainly no calls for the return of the previous state-based approach to regulation or legislation in this area.

That said, the current situation is still not ideal.

For one thing, the continued reluctance of Western Australia and the Northern Territory to agree to the HVNL limits its effectiveness. Furthermore, some jurisdictions which have agreed to the HVNL have nonetheless established derogations from it to suit their own circumstances.

Again, this inconsistent approach to regulation is creating needless confusion and administrative burdens for operators, and undermines the central goal, being one rule book for one national road freight network. ALC has accordingly recommended that the next Transport and Infrastructure Council (TIC) meeting requests each jurisdiction to review each identified derogation from the Law to determine whether they remain a cost effective way to deliver intended productivity or safety outcomes.

ALC has further suggested that the preliminary findings from this review process should then be provided to industry to allow comment, with any derogation that is found to be of no material benefit removed – in the interests of national consistency.

In that same vein, ALC has recommended that an updated HVNL should also have improved productivity as an objective (in addition to safety), in line with the rationale provided for the introduction of the law in the first place.
Having productivity as an object will also assist in the interpretation of legislation, should interpretation of the law prove necessary when considering the appropriateness of discretionary decisions made in relation to issues such as PBS design or vehicle applications, or road access consents.

The NTC’s discussion paper suggests that the HVNL must be able to respond rapidly to changes in operations, technology and risk-management options. This is a view with which ALC and many other industry participants readily concur.

In particular, industry must consider whether a continued reliance on paper-based systems is appropriate to an increasingly digitised world. ALC believes that heavy vehicles should carry telematics equipment capable of discharging identified statutory requirements. Such obligations could include – in the safety context – measuring speed and vehicle movements or work diary information. Similarly, it is high time that those operating heavy vehicles in Australia be required to meet an agreed set of national operating standards, along the lines of those already operating in the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and New Zealand. Within these standards, we must ensure that those operating heavy vehicles have sufficient capital to maintain their vehicles to proper standards and meet other safety obligations.

The HVNL review is an opportunity to deliver a safer, more productive and more modern road freight sector. It is not an opportunity our industry should be afraid to grasp.

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