Real road transport reform means real action

Can we achieve this?

The industry’s ability to remain viable and meet the ever increasing freight task is reliant on three major reforms in the Australian trucking industry:

1. The successful establishment of a single national heavy vehicle regulator;
2. The federal Government delivering real red tape reduction; and
3. Enforcement agencies at all levels adhering to the Council of Australian Governments’ long held principles of best practice regulation.

I am concerned that in all three areas, not enough is being done by government to deliver a real reform program. As a result, this is stifling industry productivity and possibly fostering industry exit.

On 2 July 2009, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to establish the NHVR, and have it operational from 1 January 2013. History shows that this deadline was not met. Industry has suffered since (including financially) as a result of having nine heavy vehicle regulators in place – the national regulations where they apply, and each state’s individual deviations from the national law.

The National Transport Commission’s (NTC) estimate of efficiency gains totalling $12.4 billion is simply not being met. I acknowledge the complexities of heavy vehicle national law reform through its reliance on all jurisdictions adopting uniform legislation and consistent law enforcement approaches. However, the reality is that this will take years, if not decades, to achieve.

This is why the Federal Government must elevate the importance of achieving real red tape reduction in the road transport sector in the short term. Without this critical reform, heavy vehicle national law reform will only add to the cost of running a road transport business and force many operators out of business.

It is my personal view that regulators in the road transport sector have fallen over twenty years behind what is considered to be best practice regulation.

There are eight COAG guiding principles that are aimed at ensuring regulatory processes in each jurisdiction contribute positively to business productivity and efficiency gains; regulators are not in place to suppress business activity, as is currently the case with some state based agencies.

Two important principles are:

• Regulators must consult effectively with affected key stakeholders at all stages of the regulatory cycle, particularly the discussions that happen after industry submissions have been considered but before resulting recommendations are presented to ministers; and
• Regulators must adopt compliance and enforcement options that generate the greatest net benefit for the community. (It’s questionable as to whether this is happening, as most jurisdictions adopt purely punitive approaches to compliance and enforcement.)

I would further encourage the Federal Government to establish a framework to measure the performance of the Heavy Vehicle National Law reform, with industry holding greater decision making powers – after all, the industry is being charged full cost recovery.

This framework, with industry at the table, may encourage regulators to minimise their impact on those they regulate while still delivering the vital role they have been asked to perform.

A major challenge for the NHVR in 2015 will be its ability to develop a best practice compliance and enforcement strategy and the need for it to impose the strategy on all of its service providers (i.e. state and territory jurisdictions). Success in this area is vital to achieving productivity gains and improving business confidence in the Australian trucking industry.

The Australian trucking industry is a resilient and very innovative sector of the Australian economy. We need government to step up to the plate and match industry performance.

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