A National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is set to be established by 2012, aimed at improving productivity and safety in Australia’s transport sector. The national regulator is a product of a push towards safer conditions for vehicle operators and recognition of the benefits of a comprehensive and more easily navigated regulatory system.

Key points for consideration

it is proposed that the NHVR administer the national consolidated heavy vehicle law covering the operation of all vehicles over 4.5 tonne GVM/GCM

it would also into service level agreements with jurisdictions for the provision of services such as registration, compliance and enforcement.1

Outcome

The NHVR is intended to raise standards for competency assessments and recognition of training, delivering more consistent safety outcomes, improved security and better workforce mobility.2 These developments are likely to improve the economic outcomes of this prosperous sector.

Background

The need for a cooperative legislative scheme was recognised in 1991 in an Inter-Governmental Heavy Vehicles Agreement. The agreement aimed to establish template legislation (National Road Transport Commission Act 1991) enacted by the Commonwealth to operate in the ACT, with the hope it would then be adopted by other jurisdictions.2 However the failure to consider whether it could co-exist with existing laws made it difficult for other jurisdictions to adopt the ‘template’.4

The agreement was subsequently varied to allow jurisdictions to apply the substance of the legislation in a dynamic way, more suited to each state.5 As a result, jurisdictions enacted “legislation based on the content of the ACT law with varying degrees of uniformity and consistency.”6

A 2001 review reported to Council of Australian Governments (COAG) the difficulties in applying the template,7 leading to a new inter-governmental agreement signed in 2003.8

In 2008, the Australian Transport Council endorsed the National Transport Policy Framework developed by the National Transport Commission, aimed at embracing needed reforms. A consultation Regulatory Impact Statement was prepared by the Commonwealth Government to develop a framework for a single national heavy vehicle registration, licensing and regulation system, and gauge feedback.

In response, COAG agreed in July 2009 to establish a NHVR, in host state Queensland, by the end of 2013.9 Implementation of this is underway, with government agencies negotiating funding arrangements, and legal and policy directions.

Key responsibilities will include:

administering the national consolidated heavy vehicle law covering the operation of all vehicles over 4.5 tonne GVM/GCM

entering into service level agreements with jurisdictions for the provision of services such as registration, compliance and enforcement.10

Difficulties

The “development of one piece of legislation was made difficult by the size and diversity of national road transport law, the complexity of the technical and legal subject matter and the complex regional, operational, institutional and legal differences across jurisdictions in their approach to road transport legislation.”11 These difficulties have been a stumbling block to consolidating legislation and have also affected interstate vehicle operators’ attempts to navigate differing regulations and to bring vehicles up to code.

Approval for the NHVR is in line with other reforms to the transport sector. It follows the December 2009 decision of COAG to, “make the Australian Maritime Safety Authority- based in Canberra - the national regulator of all commercial vessels operating in Australian waters and appoint South Australia the host jurisdiction for the national rail safety regulator.”12

It is expected that the establishment of this ‘best practice’ system will lead to more consistent administration and improved information exchange.13 Currently, state regulations govern issues such as:

  • Heavy vehicle driver competencies and training/testing, registration and licensing
  • Mass and loading
  • Fatigue, and
  • Speed.

Economic effects

Streamlining will also have a positive economic impact. There will be a reduction in the “administrative and cost burden of transferring registration plates and managing different processes when heavy vehicle truck and trailer assets are re-deployed in a different state/territory.” 14 These benefits will filter down to the consumer, as the NHVR “will lift national productivity and allow transport operators to get products onto supermarkets shelves and our exports to market at the lowest cost.”15

Until now, compliance with differing state regulations has been especially difficult for interstate transport operators.16 There are costs involved in bringing vehicles up to standard and meeting licensing requirements, with costly fines when operators fail to do so. Nationals Senator John Williams commented saying “livestock operators face a huge problem” in northern NSW because they get to the Queensland border and need to unload up to 15 percent of their stock to comply.”17

Opposition to the NHVR

Secretary of the Federal Infrastructure and Transport Department, Mike Mrdak commented that “[t]here is certainly a view within a number of jurisdictions that would argue for retaining variations. We have constantly got to keep pushing forward to get a single national approach, which lifts productivity and does not just lower it.”18

State transport associations will continue to liaise with the NHVR to ensure that the multitude of views within the transport community are heard and members remain informed about legislative changes.19 According to the Tasmanian Transport Association “Australian Governments are keen to begin consultations with industry as this will ensure the introduction of the regulator better meets the goals of improving national industry and government safety and productivity.”20

Conclusion

Despite set-backs on the path towards regulatory reform, the NHVR is intended to raise standards for competency assessments and recognition of training, delivering more consistent safety outcomes, improved security and better workforce mobility.21 These developments are likely to improve the economic outcomes of this prosperous sector.