Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (09:07): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The Gillard government is driving historic reforms in infrastructure and transport in Australia.
From 2013, maritime safety, rail safety and heavy vehicles will, for the first time, have nationally consistent laws.
This will cut the number of transport regulators operating across Australia from 23 to three, producing a benefit for the economy of $30 billion over 20 years.
This reform will improve safety, simplify the compliance task for transport operators and boost national income.
The Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012 supports the creation of a National Rail Safety Regulator by empowering the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to conduct investigations in all jurisdictions; including, importantly, extending its rail investigation function to metropolitan railway lines.
This bill and the Rail Safety National Law, passed by the South Australian Parliament in May this year, replaces seven separate regulatory authorities, 46 pieces of state/territory and Commonwealth legislation, including seven rail safety acts, nine occupational health and safety acts, and seven dangerous goods acts.
In 2009 the Council of Australian Governments agreed to a national approach in regulating the safety of rail.
Three years of hard work, by all jurisdictions and industry stakeholders has delivered this historic reform.
By 1 January 2013 the National Rail Safety Regulator will be in place, established through complementary state and territory legislation, and the ATSB’s existing investigation coverage will extend to match that of the regulator.
Rail reform fixes the history of inconsistent regulatory and investigation practices between the states and territories that has constrained productivity in rail transport across jurisdictional borders.
Since 2003 the ATSB has had rail safety investigation functions and powers under the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003.
However, until now the ATSB has been confined to investigating occurrences involving interstate rail travel.
The ATSB has limited the use of its powers on an understanding reached with the states.
This bill changes that.
For the first time, the ATSB will have responsibility for investigations on the critical metropolitan passenger and freight rail networks.
There will be more investigations across a greater range of safety matters.
In carrying out its function, the ATSB’s statutory independence from the regulator and industry will be preserved.
The ATSB’s focus will continue to be on improving safety rather than on apportioning blame or providing the means to determine liability.
No amendments are required to the Transport Safety Investigation Act to broaden the ATSB’s role.
However, the bill will clarify the act’s reliance on the territories’ power in the Constitution for the purpose of the ATSB conducting investigations within the territories.
The bill also contains an amendment to enable state and territory ministers with a responsibility for rail transport to request the ATSB to conduct an investigation in their jurisdiction.
This recognises that the states and territories are significant stakeholders in rail safety.
COAG has agreed criteria for the ATSB automatically commencing an investigation, including where there has been a death or significant mainline derailment or collision.
Further, through assessing data available from all accident and incident notifications, the ATSB will determine whether other occurrences require investigation in order to address emerging hazards and risks.
With the ATSB to assume a national jurisdiction for rail safety investigations, the ATSB will be better positioned to examine other emerging safety trends of importance to the entire industry.
The final amendment in the bill clarifies that some information the ATSB obtains and generates may be disclosed in accordance with regulations made under the act.
While this amendment will have effect with respect to the ATSB’s general investigation functions and powers, it will have immediate importance for the establishment of a confidential reporting scheme.
The scheme will cover the aviation, maritime and rail industries.
For rail it will mean the industry will, for the first time, have a national confidential reporting scheme.
This will be another important component of the national rail safety system.
This bill, along with the broader reforms being undertaken by this government and the states and territories, assures the public and all parts of the Australian rail industry, that the safety of rail operations in this country is an absolute priority.
I commend the bill to the House.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.