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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8818

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (10:38): I too speak in support of the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012. The bill supports the creation of a national rail safety regulator by empowering the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to conduct investigations in all jurisdictions, including investigations relating to metropolitan rail lines, which are currently the jurisdiction of the states. To do this, the bill amends the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 to give relevant state and territory government ministers a right to request that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau conduct an investigation in their jurisdiction and clarify the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's capacity to conduct investigations within, to or from a Commonwealth territory. The bill also makes provision for some information related to the investigation to be disclosed in accordance with regulations.

The bill flows from the creation of a national rail safety regulator as one of three national transport regulators, with the intent of having nationally consistent transport laws. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has been investigating rail incidents since 2003, when the Transport Safety Investigation Act came into effect. Those investigations have been limited to the defined interstate rail network running from Perth to Brisbane and Adelaide to Darwin. Other investigations were the responsibility of the states and territories. With this legislation that will change from 1 January 2013 and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will carry out all investigations, including those previously under state or territory jurisdictions.

The bill enables the states and territories to request the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to conduct an investigation under the agreement with the states and territories. The costs of the investigation will, however, be met by the states and territories. If the states and territories have an established investigator they can continue to use, at their cost, the services of that investigator, who will in turn report to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The establishment of the National Rail Safety Regulator means that interstate rail operators will no longer have to deal with seven separate regulatory authorities and 46 pieces of state, territory and Commonwealth legislation, including seven rail acts, nine occupational health and safety acts and seven dangerous goods acts.

Consistent with the intergovernmental agreement and the establishment of the National Rail Safety Regulator, I note that the South Australian parliament has already passed the complementary legislation required and that other states and territories are working on it. Whilst it is generally only the major rail accidents that make news headlines, the reality is that rail incidents occur from time to time and often with very serious consequences. In South Australia there have been six accidents in the last decade in which 12 lives have been lost. In addition there have been many other rail accidents and/or incidents in which fatalities fortunately did not occur. Of course, with both population and goods transport likely to increase in the future, we can expect to see an increase in rail transport. That makes it even more important to have uniformity across Australia with respect to rail transport laws and practices.

I raise three specific matters in support of this legislation. Firstly, when a rail incident occurs it is important that a thorough investigation of the incident is carried out so that the causes and contributing factors are clear and in turn necessary action can be implemented to prevent a reoccurrence. Secondly, when an investigation is required it is important that it is carried out by an independent expert who in turn has access to all relevant information. Thirdly, consideration must be given to the impacts on the lives of both the victims of train accidents and the train drivers. For both parties the accidents will leave lifelong scars and expectations that remedial measures will be taken to prevent similar events in the future.

On 27 October 2002, I was Mayor of Salisbury when the Ghan interstate train crashed into a car and a bus at the Park Terrace level rail crossing in the heart of Salisbury. Four people were killed in the accident, and many more, mainly school children in the bus at the time, were injured. I well recall the horrific scenes at the accident site, the commendable work of the emergency response crews, the reaction from the local community, in particular, from the families of those killed, my subsequent discussions with local train drivers about the accident and meeting with Vince Graham, who was brought in from New South Wales by the South Australian government to carry out the accident investigation. His investigation was thorough and the recommendations he made were important in improving future safety at the Salisbury level crossing and other level crossings in South Australia. Following Vince Graham's report the South Australian government also announced that no new level crossings would be approved in South Australia, and to my knowledge none have been opened since that time.

A separate investigation was also carried out at the time by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau because the accident did involve an interstate train, the Ghan.

Importantly, neither investigation placed any blame on the train drivers. Nevertheless, they have to live with the memory of the accident and their inability, despite their best efforts, to prevent the accident from occurring. Many train drivers are often the forgotten victims of rail accidents. Graeme Parslow, the driver of the Ghan at the time of the Salisbury tragedy, has spoken publicly about his life and understandably about the trauma he has endured in being a train driver and the effects that has had on his personal and family life. Other train drivers I have spoken to over the years have echoed Graeme's sentiments. For them, the trains and the rail tracks are their workplace and making their workplace safer is as important as making any other workplace safe.

That process begins by understanding the contributing factors to accidents when they occur and that in turn depends on thorough investigation being carried out. I read both the report of Vince Graham at the time and that of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. I concur with the comments made by the Leader of the Nationals that those reports require painstaking effort in order to get to the detail of all the factors that are relevant in their findings. I can well recall the effort that both investigators went to ensure that their report covered every aspect of the accident.

So I go back to the point I was making earlier: it is important that, whenever an accident occurs and wherever it occurs, investigation is carried out by a truly independent authority that has access to every detail of information that is required. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, in my view, is the appropriate body to ensure that the necessary investigation takes place wherever a rail accident occurs in Australia. The purpose of this bill is to do exactly that. For those reasons I commend the bill to the House.