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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18643

Mr GEORGIOU (11:05 AM) —For more than a decade the National Road Transport Commission has been at the centre of progressive regulatory reform in this country's national road transport. Legislation requires the Australian Transport Council to consider and report to government on whether the National Road Transport Commission Act 1991 should cease to be in force after its prescribed term or whether it should be re-enacted.

In accordance with that requirement, in 2002 the Australian Transport Council—the ministerial forum for consultation between Commonwealth, state and territory governments and for providing advice on the coordination and integration of all national transport and road policy issues—commissioned a review of the National Road Transport Commission Act 1991. The review found that there is a need for new structures to be established for regulatory reform of road, rail and intermodal transport operations. The review recommended that the National Road Transport Commission be replaced by a new statutory body called the National Transport Commission.

On 6 February 2003 the Australian Transport Council announced that Commonwealth, state and territory heads of government had agreed to the establishment of the National Transport Commission. The bills now under consideration, the National Transport Commission Bill 2003 and the National Transport Commission (Consequential Amendments and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2003, give effect to that decision.

The National Transport Commission will take over the role played by the National Road Transport Commission in reforming road transport regulation and operations and, in addition, it will undertake an expanded role in a similar reform approach to rail and intermodal transport.

The National Road Transport Commission has been in existence since 1991. It was reviewed in 1996 and again, as mentioned earlier, in 2002. The latest review was unstinting in its approval of the impact that the NRTC has had on the road transport industry, particularly since 1996, concluding that:

The NRTC has been an outstanding and rare example of joint action by the Commonwealth, States and Territories to fix common problems of inconsistency, inefficiency and safety management.

and that:

Confidence in the NRTC has grown since 1996. As it completes a decade of reform it is now regarded by most in the industry and outside it as a notable success story.

The review found that the regulatory reform of road transport developed by the NRTC would by the end of 2003 deliver economic, environmental and safety related benefits estimated at being worth approximately $400 million. For example, Australia now ranks in the top 10 OECD countries in its road safety performance following the reduction in the fatal accident rate involving heavy vehicles since the NRTC was established. The review, however, quite correctly noted that there is no room for complacency.

Community concern about the growing number of large combination vehicles on shared roads is likely to continue. The task ahead is to consolidate the benefits achieved since 1991 and it is important that the momentum of regulatory change developed over that period be maintained. Sustaining road transport industry reform and focussing on improvements to the efficiency and safety of the transport system for the benefits of customers and the community as a whole must be a priority.

But it is also important that the regulatory reform processes so effectively promoted by the National Road Transport Commission are now extended to rail and intermodal transport. The transport industry is continually and rapidly changing. We face growing competition in the global economy and the community demands continuous improvements in safety and environmental affordability.

Transport operators are constantly working to improve intermodal integration, bringing together the best elements of road transport, rail transport and their connections to all parts of the transport system and seeking improvements in efficiency, service quality and risk management. Modernisation of the vehicle fleet, the growth of freight being managed by logistics service providers, advances in information technology and continuing industry concentration across all modes are further evidence of change in the industry.

The Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics estimates that in 1999-2000 freight logistics activities were approximately nine per cent of Australia's GDP—around $57 billion. The bureau suggests that total freight will continue to grow faster than the economy, and both road and rail freight will grow substantially in the next decade. Even small changes in productivity can have significant economic benefits. Transport firms are integrating their operations and providing services in road, rail, maritime and air transport. As a result, significant shifts are occurring in freight movement.

The review found that, as the relative cost and quality of rail transport improve, the demand for movement of freight by rail will grow more quickly than in the past, putting pressure on capacity. This will emphasise the need for a more consistent operating environment and the need to improve track capacity and control systems. There will be pressure on governments for more efficient operating environments and complementary investment to fill gaps in the transport network. There is ample evidence for this in the reforms in rail transport that have occurred in recent years. For example, the bulk of major rail transport operators are now in the private sector and significant parts of rail infrastructure have been transferred to private hands.

The review found that reform in safety regulation and the harmonisation of standards and practices have begun, but there is a need to provide additional impetus for the reform process to become self-sustaining. Trends towards integration across transport modes will highlight inconsistent standards and practices, gaps in transport infrastructure and systems, and inefficient intermodal interfaces. The review found that there was a strong need for reform to improve efficiency and reliability along integrated supply chains. This is a need that will continue to grow as the industry further develops. Increasing overseas trade will highlight similar inconsistencies internationally.

Customer demands and technological advances in freight management and handling are growing in response to pressures from global competition, along with e-commerce applications and new communications and control systems. In this changing environment, the review saw that Australia's integrated logistics firms will need an operating environment and infrastructure which enables them to respond quickly. Growth in urban freight movements, including increasing movement of imports and exports to and from capital cities, will also be a significant issue as communities become further concerned about urban congestion, noise and exhaust emissions. This will require improved system performance if the sustained, efficient operation of large and medium-size road vehicles on city streets is to be maintained.

The review recognised that the Australian transport sector accounts for over 16 per cent of total greenhouse emissions. About 90 per cent of these come from road users, including cars, trucks and buses. Greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector are the fastest growing emissions from any sector, rising by 20 per cent in the last decade according to the Australian Greenhouse Office. In this context, the transport industry will come under increasing pressure to curtail greenhouse gas emissions and to adopt more environmentally friendly operational practices, technologies and fuels. This will favour solutions which encourage choices between modes based on the efficient use of resources.

The role of governments in transport reform has been to provide processes to identify needs and to develop and consider recommendations for change to legislation and industry practice. Governments have a fundamental role in providing strategic direction and regulatory reforms in response to changing economic and community needs. The National Road Transport Commission has been an outstanding example of the manner in which reforms can be achieved through cooperation, not only between Commonwealth, state and territory governments, but within the transport industry itself.

The review of the National Road Transport Commission Act has examined the transport industry in comprehensive detail and, in consideration of the factors I have mentioned here and having regard to a number of other factors covered in the review which I could not speak to you about, has recommended the establishment of the National Transport Commission. This new commission, which will be established under these bills, will continue the work of the National Road Transport Commission in the reform of road transport regulation and operation and, in addition, will have an ongoing responsibility to develop, monitor and maintain uniform or nationally consistent regulatory and operational reforms relating not only to road transport but also to rail transport and intermodal transport.

It is important to note that the opposition endorsed these bills in a speech that, despite being rather like the curate's egg, was interesting in some of its historical analysis and important for the tribute it paid to Charlie Jones. I commend the bills to the House.