The Australian Productivity Commission has published its National Transport Regulatory Reform report, finding that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) is on its way to establishing national transport laws and regulations.

The Australian Government asked the Productivity Commission to assess the economic impact of reforms to transport regulation agreed to by the COAG in 2008-09. Those reforms relate to heavy vehicle safety and productivity, rail safety and maritime safety.

The Government also asked the Commission to recommend further reforms towards a more integrated national market for transport services.

The report found that the COAG’s harmonisation reforms established national laws and national regulators for heavy vehicles, rail, and domestic commercial vessels.

After almost a decade, the transition is nearly complete, according to the report, albeit with some unfinished business:

  • Western Australia and the Northern Territory do not participate in the national heavy vehicle regime 
  • Unnecessary derogations from the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) and Rail Safety National Law (RSNL) continue 
  • Some grandfathering provisions applying to domestic commercial vessels pose safety risks 
  • Approval processes for heavy vehicle access to local roads still lag in some areas

The report also found that, by most measures, heavy vehicle and rail safety continue to improve, largely due to new technology and infrastructure investments.

Safety regulation across the three modes is a mix of prescriptive and outcomes based regulation. Amending safety regulation to create a more flexible, outcomes-based approach should improve safety and lift productivity.

The COAG reforms were expected to unlock large efficiency gains for heavy vehicle operators. While gains have been made, the forecasts were optimistic and have not been achieved.

Road access for larger, more efficient trucks has improved, but significant bottlenecks remain on some major freight corridors.

There are significant opportunities for COAG, regulators and industry to further promote safety and productivity.

Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack, welcomed the report.

“These reforms established Australia’s national safety regulators for heavy vehicles, rail and domestic commercial vessels,” Mr Cormack said.

“The transport reforms were agreed by all levels of government over a decade ago to make transport safer while making it easier for industry to do business – and it’s great to know they’re working.

“We are absolutely committed to supporting a thriving national transport industry now and into the future, which is why we asked the Productivity Commission to undertake a comprehensive review, including to see what we can do better.

“I am pleased to hear they found the reforms have delivered broad safety and productivity gains for our national transport industry.

“This is particularly reassuring in these difficult times, as the ongoing COVID-19 crisis highlights how vital a safe and efficient transport network is to our way of life.

“I acknowledge this report has been eagerly awaited by industry. We will carefully consider all of the recommendations within the report and undertake vital consultation with regulators, jurisdictions and industry stakeholders to prepare a response.”

Mr McCormack said the review complements other Australian Government priorities and investments such as the development of the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, Heavy Vehicle National Law review and the Australian Government’s record $100 billion nationwide infrastructure spend.

“By continuing to support our transport industry, we are creating jobs and opportunities for Australians at a time when it’s needed most, while keeping our quality goods connected to local and international markets,” Mr McCormack said.

“The Productivity Commission’s recommendations will help us shape a sensible approach to future regulation to support our hard-working truckies, train drivers, transport companies and our diverse maritime industries to do what they do best while keeping safety as the top priority.

“I thank the Productivity Commission for its valuable work completing this comprehensive review and our Government looks forward to driving an even brighter future for our national transport industry – together.” 

To download the full report, click here.

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