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Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Page: 8825

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (11:08): I rise to speak on the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012. The amendments that are proposed to the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 give relevant state and territory government ministers the capacity to request that the Australian Transport Safety Bureau conduct an investigation in their jurisdiction. The amendments also propose to clarify the ATSB's capacity to conduct investigations within, to or from a Commonwealth territory, and to facilitate access to on-board reporting and restricted information in accordance with these regulations.

The first two proposed amendments relate to the implementation of commitments contained in the Intergovernmental Agreement on Rail Safety Regulation and Investigation Reform, or the IGA. The IGA was signed by COAG back in August 2011. In addition to the separate establishment of a national rail safety regulator, the IGA commits to the ATSB becoming the National Rail Safety Investigator, which is, as my colleague has said, something that we are looking forward to.

The ATSB has been investigating rail occurrences under the TSI Act since July 2003.

The ATSB, as an independent Commonwealth statutory agency, is separate from the transport regulators, policy makers and service providers. We think that independence is a good thing. The ATSB's brief is to improve safety in the aviation, marine and rail industries through its independent investigations of transport accidents, the recording and analysis of safety data and by fostering safety awareness. It is important to note it is not a function of the ATSB to apportion blame or to provide a means for determining liability.

Under the provisions of the Transport Safety Investigations Bill, it supplements the introduction of the national transport reforms agreed by COAG back in 2009. These national transport reforms will see a national regulator for heavy vehicles, rail safety and maritime safety, therefore reducing the regulatory burden on businesses and consolidating the 23 existing regulators into three national regulators. These national transport reforms are anticipated to provide productivity gains over the next 20 years of around $30 billion. The bill implements commitments contained in the Intergovernmental Agreement on Rail Safety Regulation and Investigation Reform which was signed, as I said, by COAG on 19 August last year. As part of the intergovernmental agreement, the ATSB will become the national rail safety investigator.

This bill, together with the rail safety national law which was passed by the South Australian parliament in May 2012, will replace seven regulatory bodies and 46 pieces of legislation. The national rail safety regulator will be operational from 1 January 2013. To fulfil its role as the national rail safety investigator, this bill gives the ATSB the power to investigate matters referred to it by the state and territory governments. This means for the first time the ATSB will have an investigatory role over incidents on metropolitan passenger lines and various state and territory freight rail networks. However, this will only be available for incidents referred to it for investigation by the relevant state or territory government.

The Northern Territory spans across 20 per cent of Australia's landmass, a vast and remote space with hundreds of kilometres of land separating townships. While the Northern Territory's strong and reliable transport systems are required primarily for economic development, most of the Territory's population resides in Darwin but many choose to live in rural and remote communities across the region. Therefore Territorians rely on the major transport services, such as the AustralAsia railway which links Darwin to Adelaide, for fast and efficient transport of passengers and freight. Thousands of people travel to the Northern Territory each year on board the Ghan which boosts tourism and provides critical links to the continued development of the Northern Territory, given its remoteness to the rest of Australia. The transcontinental railway, which was completed in January 2004, established this vital link between Adelaide and Darwin. In 2010, Genesee and Wyoming started operating their Tarcoola to Darwin line, which allows for regular train services each week.

For the decade ended December 2011, the Northern Territory had 24 train derailments. This total is quite minor compared with New South Wales, which encountered the most in the country with 497, followed by Queensland with 370 and Western Australia with 213. However, for the Northern Territory with only one rail line, any derailment has a significant impact on the Territory. For the same period, the Northern Territory had 1.95 derailments per million kilometres travelled, significantly fewer than Tasmania which had 10.93 derailments per million kilometres travelled—an interesting fact. These derailments in the Northern Territory occurred during the construction period of the Alice Springs to Darwin railway, at a time when it was not part of the defined interstate rail network, which was prior to January 2004.

There were five rail safety investigations carried out in the Northern Territory during 1 January 2002 to 31 December 2011.

As I said, given the remote location of the Northern Territory, train derailments have a major impact on food and produce supply. They also threaten the environment, particularly if a train derails carrying toxic substances, such as in December 2011 when a freight train derailed in flood waters just near Katherine, at Edith River. Extreme weather weakened a bridge and caused the freight train to derail. This disaster saw about 12,000 tonnes of toxic copper concentrate, which was being carried in tarpaulin covered carriages, spill into the Edith River. The derailment was the second to happen in just over a year on the same line and the clean-up was time-consuming. At the time the track operator Genesee and Wyoming were not able to access the site safely and, as a result, water testing was carried out for some time. A similar derailment occurred near Tennant Creek on the Darwin to Adelaide railway in June this year. The derailment occurred when one set of wheels came off the loaded minerals wagon. It was the third derailment in 19 months and the incident left around 240 passengers on the Ghan, headed for Darwin, in limbo.

Concerns have since been raised about the safety of transporting radioactive material and toxic chemicals. It can only be a matter of time before an environmental disaster occurs. Territorians rely heavily on the transport of goods from south to north in the Northern Territory. When a derailment occurs, signs go up in local supermarkets warning shoppers of delays in getting fresh food and produce. Investigations and work-safe guidelines into derailments are therefore crucial in preventing and safeguarding against similar disasters occurring in the future.

I welcome that the bill gives state and territory government ministers responsibility for rail and the right to request that the ATSB conduct an investigation in their jurisdiction, and it 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, they will meet their own costs and contribute their investigation services.

The amendment clears the way for a national confidential reporting scheme to the established through future regulation under section 20A of the Transport Safety Investigation 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, it will mean that, for the first time, there will be a confidential reporting scheme for safety incidents in the rail industry. As my colleagues have said, we welcome this legislation. Reliable and appropriate transport is critical to the development of the Northern Territory now and into the future. Given our proximity from major markets in Australia, our industries like mining and tourism rely heavily on the transport of passengers and freight to continue to contribute to the growth of our region.