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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 2881


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (12:27): I rise to put on the record Labor's position in regard to the Interstate Road Transport Legislation (Repeal) Bill 2018. Labor is of the view that efficient rail, sea, air and road transport remains fundamental in the 21st century—as fundamental, indeed, as it was at Federation. The birth of our nation had its roots in our colonies coming together on the need for a standard rail gauge to facilitate the efficient movement of goods and military assets. It's as vital now as it was then that we do not increase the cost of getting goods to market. This is particularly important when it comes to road transport. Labor has always known this, and that's why the former Labor government created the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator to administer regulation of heavy vehicles over 4.5 gross tonnes. Before agreement to this landmark change by the Council of Australian Governments in 2011, and the commencement of the regulator in early 2013, there were six state and territory agencies involved in regulating heavy vehicles. That old system meant the drivers and companies needed to deal with vast amounts of paperwork. This increased their work and costs, which were ultimately passed on to the consumer.

We now have one law covering vehicle standards—mass, dimensions and loading requirements—fatigue management accreditation and on-road enforcement. The creation of this single set of regulations administered by a single regulator, along with the creation of single regulators in the maritime and rail sectors, will boost national income by $30 billion over the first two decades of operation. The harmonisation of transport regulation was the culmination of regulatory reforms commenced by the Labor government in 1991 with the establishment of the National Transport Commission. Even though Western Australia and the Northern Territory are still not participating in this national system, the established changes are making a real difference to our national economy.

The creation of the national regulator is the key reason the Interstate Road Transport Legislation (Repeal) Bill is before us today. It was the Hawke Labor government that in 1987 created the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme—known as FIRS—a voluntary alternative to the bewildering array of state and territory regulations still in existence in that time. Labor created FIRS in response to industry concerns that interstate road transport rules were restricting their businesses.

Vehicles that operate under FIRS are required to comply with Australian design rules, standard requirements regarding vehicle equipment and performance standards and a requirement of third-party insurance. State and territory governments administer FIRS on behalf of the federal government, and registration charges are redistributed amongst the states to be spent on road maintenance. FIRS was also designed to promote road safety, so participants are exempt from standard state and territory stamp duties on newly purchased vehicles to encourage them to use newer, high-productivity vehicles.

The bill before us creates a process to abolish FIRS. It would amend the Interstate Road Transport Act 1985 and the Interstate Road Transport Charge Act 1985. The bill would close FIRS to new entrants and reregistration from 1 July 2018. The bill would allow the scheme to continue for a 12-month transition period and the bill would also close FIRS to all operators as of 30 June 2019. The Labor Party supports this bill as the logical next step in regulatory harmonisation. When FIRS was introduced in 1987 it represented the first step forward on the process of change, but after more than 30 years operation and the introduction of the national regulator, the scheme is finally becoming redundant.

Australia is a vast nation with an ever-increasing freight task. It's important that we invest in freight rail as well as roads to ensure that we can meet the ever-growing need for movement of goods around our nation. But it's also important that we keep moving forward on reducing regulatory complexity. Our road transport system needs one set of laws, one set of registration and compliance papers, one logbook and as little red tape as possible. I commend the bill to the house.