May 9, 2018

Hansard – Interstate Road Transport Legislation (Repeal) Bill 2018 – Second Reading – Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (10:07): It’s 128 years since the ‘Father of Federation’, Sir Henry Parkes, delivered his famous speech in Tenterfield, which was seen as a landmark on the road to the creation of our nation. One of Parkes’s compelling arguments for transforming a group of colonies into a single nation was the need for a standard rail gauge between states to facilitate the efficient movement of goods and military assets by rail. In the 21st century it remains important that we do all we can to facilitate efficiency in transport not only by rail but also by sea, air and road. We must not allow red tape to add complexity and expense to the process of moving freight around our nation. This is particularly important when it comes to road transport. That is why the former Labor government created the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to administer regulation of heavy vehicles over 4.5 gross tonnes.

Prior to the COAG agreeing to this landmark change in 2011 and the regulator’s commencement in early 2013 there were six state and territory agencies involved in regulating heavy vehicles. This was inefficient. It meant that trucking companies needed to maintain squads of administrative staff to handle vast amounts of paperwork. Truck drivers would travel our road system carrying huge folders full of licences, permits and other forms. This added needless complexity to the system, but it also added costs that were inevitably passed on to the consumer. Thanks to the former Labor government’s microeconomic reform, we now have one law covering vehicle standards; mass, dimension and loading requirements; fatigue management; accreditation; and on-road enforcement. The creation of this single set of regulations, administered by a single regulator, along with the creation of single regulators in the maritime and rail sectors, will boost our national income by some $30 billion over just two decades.

The harmonisation of transport regulation was the culmination of a process of regulatory reform commenced by the Labor government in 1991 with the establishment of the National Transport Commission. When I became the minister, in December 2007, one of the first briefings I had from the department outlined how this reform was stuck in bureaucratic wrangling between the Commonwealth and the states and had not been advanced during the period of the Howard government. We had four ministerial council meetings over a series of months to make sure that we got agreement across the board for the national transport regulators. The fact is that Western Australia and the Northern Territory are unfortunately not participating in this national system at this point, but the rest of the states and territories came on board because they understood that these changes would make a real difference to our national economy.

The creation of the national regulator is the key reason the Interstate Road Transport Legislation (Repeal) Bill is before us today. Back in 1987, the Hawke Labor government created the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme, or FIRS, a voluntary alternative to the bewildering array of state and territory regulations still in existence at that time. The FIRS also applied to all heavy vehicles over 4.5 gross tonnes and established uniform charges and operating conditions for interstate heavy vehicle operators. Labor created FIRS in response to industry concerns that interstate road transport rules were restricting their business. Vehicles that operate under FIRS are required to comply with Australian design rules and other standard requirements regarding vehicle equipment and performance standards. They must also have third-party insurance. The state and territory governments administer the FIRS on behalf of the federal government, and registration charges are redistributed amongst the states to be spent on road maintenance.

The FIRS was also designed to promote road safety. Participants are exempt from standard state and territory stamp duties on newly purchased vehicles to encourage them to use newer high-productivity vehicles. This is good for our economy. Importantly, though, it is good for road safety, because the newer the vehicle the better the design standards, and it’s also good for the environment because newer vehicles produce fewer emissions and less pollution.

The bill before us today creates a process to abolish FIRS. It would amend the Interstate Road Transport Act 1985 and the Interstate Road Transport Charge Act 1985. The bill closes FIRS to new entrants and re-registration from 1 July 2018. It allows the scheme to continue for a 12-month transition period—a sensible management exercise—and it would close FIRS to all operators as of 30 June 2019. The Australian Labor Party will support this legislation. We see it as the logical next step in regulatory harmonisation. When FIRS was introduced in 1987, it represented the first step forward in the process of change, but, after more than 30 years of operation and the introduction of the national regulator, the scheme is becoming redundant. Indeed, less than two per cent of the nation’s heavy vehicles—about 14,000—operate under this scheme. An independent evaluation of the scheme in 2016 found no evidence that FIRS was achieving its policy objectives, given the changes that have been made to national regulation. It concluded that the stamp duty exemption had neither reduced the age of the heavy vehicle fleet, nor improved road safety outcomes.

It’s important to recognise that the transitional arrangements for FIRS vehicles will include a one-off stamp duty exemption for vehicles exiting the scheme. Australia is a vast continent with an ever-increasing freight task. It’s important that we invest in freight rail as well as roads to ensure that we can meet the ever-growing need for the movement of goods around our nation and to our ports for export. But it is also important that we keep moving forward on reducing regulatory complexity and that we continue to examine ways in which microeconomic reform can boost the national economy by boosting productivity. That’s why this bill is important. Our road transport system needs one set of laws, one set of registration and compliance papers, one log book and as little red tape as possible. I commend the bill to the House.