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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8816

Mr TRUSS (Wide BayLeader of The Nationals) (10:30): The Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012 makes amendments affecting the operations of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. The ATSB is a vital part of our transport regulation in Australia. It operates as an independent Commonwealth statutory agency, separate from transport regulators, policy makers and service providers. Its function is to improve safety in the aviation, marine and rail industries by conducting independent investigations of transport accidents, recording and analysing safety data and fostering safety awareness. Importantly, it is not the role of the ATSB to apportion blame or provide a means for determining liability. That is still the responsibility of the courts and other investigative agencies.

The bill implements two key changes to the operations of the ATSB. Firstly, the bill paves the way for the ATSB to become the national rail transport investigator. In this way the bill complements the introduction of the national transport reforms agreed by the Council of Australian Governments in 2009. These reforms are designed to adopt nationally consistent laws in maritime and rail safety, and for the heavy vehicle industry. The three national transport regulators are designed to reduce the regulatory burden on business. The reforms, once implemented, will consolidate the 23 existing regulators into three national regulators. It has been estimated that these reforms will provide productivity benefits of $30 billion over the next 20 years. This bill, together with the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Act, which was passed by the South Australian parliament in May 2012, will replace seven separate regulatory bodies and 46 pieces of legislation.

The National Rail Safety Regulator will be operational from 1 January 2013. The bill before the House implements commitments contained in the Intergovernmental Agreement on Rail Safety Regulation and Investigation Reform, signed at the COAG meeting on 19 August 2011, which agreed that the ATSB would become the National Rail Safety Regulator. To achieve this objective, the bill broadens the ATSB's powers to allow them to investigate matters referred to it by state and territory governments.

Since 2003 the ATSB has had rail safety investigation functions and powers under the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003. However, these powers have been largely limited to the interstate rail network. The bill proposes to extend the ATSB's investigatory role to allow it to investigate incidents on metropolitan passenger lines and the various state freight rail networks.

The bill gives state and territory government ministers with a responsibility for rail a right to request the ATSB to conduct an investigation in their jurisdiction and clarifies the ATSB's capacity to conduct investigations within a Commonwealth territory. In accordance with the intergovernmental agreement, states will pay the ATSB for investigatory services in their jurisdiction or, if they already have an established investigator, as is the case in New South Wales and Victoria, meet their own costs and contribute their investigation services. The Commonwealth government has already provided $11.2 million in funding to the ATSB to allow it to prepare for this national role.

The second change the bill makes to the operation of the ATSB is more technical.

The bill provides that it is a defence to any prohibition on copying or disclosing restricted information and onboard recording information if it is done by a person performing functions or exercising power under or in connection with the act or regulations. Restricted information includes information obtained or generated through an investigation, as well as information produced as a confidential report. This amendment is intended to clarify the position with respect to regulations made under the act that contain functions or powers. This amendment is a precursor to the establishment of a national confidential reporting scheme through future regulation, as allowed for under section 20A of the act.

This new scheme will replace the existing aviation scheme established under the Air Navigation (Confidential Reporting) Regulations 2006 and the existing maritime scheme established under the Navigation (Confidential Marine Reporting Scheme) Regulations 2008. Importantly, this amendment will mean that for the first time there will be a confidential reporting scheme for safety incidents in the rail industry. Confidential reporting as it operates in the aviation and maritime industries is designed to encourage cooperation from those involved in a safety investigation and allow full disclosure without fear of reprisal. Extending this to the rail industry is an important aspect of the ATSB's role as the no-blame safety investigator.

The ATSB is a vital part of our transport regulatory system. Its no-blame investigations have seen many safety improvements in the rail, maritime and aviation sectors implemented and have helped foster a culture of safety in the transport industry. The ATSB is about examining transport incidents with a view to implementing new procedures or regulations to prevent accidents occurring in the future. It is about delivering a safer future, not apportioning blame for the past. As a result, it is able to dig deep into the causes of an accident without limitations of creating liability or admitting criminality or malpractice. That is for other processes like coroners inquiries, police investigations or court processes.

I have been very impressed with the work of the ATSB. It is painstaking work, putting pieces together. I once visited their warehouse in Canberra and it was quite impressive to see how little pieces coming from an accident were being assembled in a building in the hope of finding out why an engine had failed or why some other critical piece of infrastructure or machinery was not working properly. That is complex work. It frequently involves discussions with manufacturers from overseas and international agencies that have skills that are perhaps not available in Australia. It also involves working painstakingly in the field to identify what has happened where an accident has occurred with a view to making sure as much as we possibly can that the same kind of incident is not repeated in the future. It is Sherlock Holmes stuff—very technical, very detailed, very time-consuming, sometimes involving looking for the tiniest clues which could save many lives in the future. I have no doubt that the ATSB has made our skies safer, it has made our shipping safer and it will do the same in relation to the rail industry.

The coalition has consulted extensively with the rail industry in relation to the measures contained in the bill and no-one has raised any objections. Because of this, the coalition is happy to support the bill.