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Friday, 26 May 1989
Page: 2797

Senator ROBERT RAY (Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs)(9.09) —I move:

That this Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

Honourable Senators, I rise to commend to you a Bill for motor vehicle standards.

Each year in Australia some 2,800 people are killed on our roads and 30,000 seriously injured. In addition to the trauma and suffering which results from these crashes, the aftermath of this carnage costs the Australian community some $5,700 million annually. This is equivalent to approximately $350 per head of population.

Fortunately, concerted road safety activities have been able to reduce this pointless waste. It can be shown, for example, that road fatalities are decreasing when compared with the number of vehicles on the road and the distances being travelled.

A vital component of the Federal Government's road safety strategy is to make the motor vehicle as safe as possible.

Our aim is to prevent the crash in the first place and, in the event that a crash occurs, to protect the occupants.

To this end, over the past 20 years, a certification system for motor vehicles has been developed between Federal and State Governments and the vehicle industry. This is managed by the Federal Office of Road Safety, and the cornerstone is the Australian Design Rule System.

Australian Design rules were introduced in the early 1970s to provide minimum standards for motor vehicles and trailers. Each design rule sets down performance and design standards for particular features or characteristics.

There is now a range of design rules covering a wide variety of safety requirements. These include seat belts, brakes, tyres and other features to improve occupant protection. There are requirements for areas such as lighting which are intended to help prevent crashes. There are also standards for vehicle exhaust emissions, noise and anti-theft requirements.

This system has undergone a major review in recent years which has resulted in significant cost savings for the industry by way of reduced paper work and administrative workload. The System today includes a comprehensive program of audit and surveillance of manufacturers' performance against the Design Rules. This helps ensure that production vehicles continue to meet the standards.

There have been significant successes and progress since the introduction of the Design Rules in the early 1970s.

There have also been some continuing problems. These have largely resulted from inconsistencies in the way the Design Rules have been implemented by individual States or Territories.

The vehicle certification system has in the past rested largely on co-operation and consultation. The Commonwealth has traditionally prepared the standards, but has had no legal basis for enforcing them. The States and Territories have used their vehicle registration laws, to call up the Design rules.

Despite considerable efforts to standardise the implementation of the Rules, uniformity has proved an elusive goal.

Local interests have unfortunately meant continuing instances where the Design Rules have not been implemented uniformly by the States and Territories.

Vehicle manufacturers have therefore been faced with the need to negotiate with up to eight separate administrations in order to get clearance to market their vehicles across Australia. In some cases, it has meant that special model variants have had to be produced to satisfy registration requirements of one State or Territory.

Needless to say, honourable senators, in a market the size of Australia's, the costs involved in this approach can be significant and are invariably passed on to the consumer. In today's climate, I am sure honourable senators will agree that Australian industry can no longer afford to carry unnecessary costs. The Federal Government must make every effort to ensure that we provide the right environment to develop an efficient and competitive vehicle industry. This Bill represents another step on that path.

Moreover, now that Australian vehicle manufacturers are looking to rationalise operations with their international parents and increasingly to export their vehicles, the question of international harmonisation also arises.

The Design Rules have been drafted, for some time, on the basis of harmonising with international standards wherever possible. Over the past five years we have moved from a situation where about 30% of Australian standards were harmonised to some 60% harmonisation today. Obviously more can and must be done.

Greater harmonisation means that Australian vehicles can compete more efficiently in the international market. I don't have to remind senators that Australia needs to develop more manufactured exports to survive in today's competitive world.

Alignment with international standards also means that the Australian community gets the benefit of the latest international safety standards.

In 1988 the Inter-State Commission prepared a major report into the need for harmonisation of road transport regulations in Australia. The first recommendation of the report was that a single set of Federal legislation be introduced to ensure uniform vehicle design and construction standards on a national basis. This Bill is intended to put that recommendation into effect.

The principal objective of this Bill then, is to enable the Federal Government to establish and apply nationally uniform standards for motor vehicle safety, gaseous and noise emissions and anti-theft devices.

All new vehicles manufactured in Australia will conform with the declared standards. These same standards will apply to imported vehicles, whether new or secondhand, thus ensuring that all vehicles coming onto the market in this country provide the high level of safety and environmental quality expected by the community.

This legislation is consistent with the Government's micro-economic reforms, in that regulatory costs to industry are reduced. Eight sets of regulations will be replaced by one.

Transport is a key issue in the Government's reform agenda. This legislation will help motor vehicle industry efficiency with benefits for both domestic and international trade.

The Bill will underpin national uniformity. It includes provisions aimed at avoiding additional local requirements, by applying the same standards to all vehicles at the time of their first sale in Australia, regardless of source.

The Bill will ensure the maintenance of the levels of safety and environmental quality that the community rightfully expects. This represents a major improvement over the current situation, particularly concerning secondhand imported vehicles.

As it happens, this is a timely Bill. As honourable senators may be aware, there has been a rash of imports of substandard, secondhand motor vehicles. These do not have a number of major safety features and the fact that they are permitted registration in some States but not others is a vivid demonstration of the problems of non uniformity. A truly national approach will avoid these situations.

I am advised that some examples of the way in which these vehicles do not meet the Design Rules include lack of protection against side impacts, inferior seat belts and lack of child restraint fittings. Other examples include inferior tyre and braking standards. This is because they are built for low speed driving in densely populated Japanese cities-Japanese cars just don't travel as far or as fast as cars used in Australia.

These standards will be declared by Ministerial Order and I intend to call up the existing Australian Design Rules as soon as this legislation comes into effect.

Honourable Senators will be interested to know that the Australian Design Rules have been developed as a result of an extensive process of consultation with State and Territory Governments, industry, unions and users. The Rules have been endorsed by Federal, State and Territory Ministers at the Australian Transport Advisory Council and the Australian Environment Council as appropriate.

The Design Rules thus reflect the views of the Australian community regarding the level of safety and environmental quality they want.

At the time of declaration, the standards will automatically apply to all vehicles coming onto the market in Australia for the first time.

Advance notice has been given to vehicle importers by my press statement this week. They can now make the necessary arrangements to ensure that cars that they import comply with the Design Rules, or can be modified to comply.

This Bill derives its powers from the Constitution, section 51 (XX) in relation to corporations, and section 51 (1), the trade and commerce power, in relation to individuals and unincorporated bodies.

The declared standards will apply to vehicles offered for sale in Australia prior to first registration. After first registration State/Territory laws will apply. Recalls of defective vehicles will be handled under industry codes and the provisions of the Trade Practices Act, as they are today.

Under the arrangements proposed in this Bill it is intended that States and Territories will retain their responsibility to register motor vehicles for use on Australian roads. In the same way, the States and Territories will retain responsibility for ensuring that vehicles remain roadworthy throughout their useful life.

However it is intended that the Australian Design Rules be the sole criteria for the supply of vehicles to the Australian market. The Bill contains appropriate provisions to achieve this.

I believe that comprehensive consultation arrangements are essential to ensure that the best possible advice is received during the development of new or revised standards. This should include advice from all interested parties including State and Territory regulatory authorities, industry and road users. I propose to retain the existing Advisory Committee structure agreed to under the auspices of the Australian Transport Advisory Council and the Australian Environment Council unless experience with the new arrangements shows that better alternatives can be found.

The Bill provides power to declare national vehicle design and safety standards by Ministerial Order. Orders will be tabled in both Houses of the Parliament and will be subject to disallowance in the normal way. As I have said earlier, it is my intention to call up the existing Australian Design Rules as the national standards.

The Bill also provides for identification of vehicles that comply with the Design Rules. It covers monitoring the manufacturing and testing processes of manufacturers to ensure that production vehicles continue to meet the standards.

There will be provision for the appointment of inspectors to carry out the auditing and surveillance functions. These inspectors will comprise a central group of Commonwealth officers assisted where appropriate by State and Territory officers. Officials of other countries' regulatory authorities working under contract or other cooperative agreements will help to audit overseas manufacturers. There will also be provisions to allow the appointment of agents from the private sector.

I should point out to Honourable Senators that the Federal Government already provides the resources to operate the existing system. The Federal Office of Road Safety manages the development of standards and the certification procedures but until the present has had no legislation to administer them.

The new arrangements proposed in this Bill will be administered within the Department of Transport and Communications, with only a modest supplement to existing resources in the area. There should be savings available to the States as they will be able to redeploy scarce resources to other priority areas.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the costs of the existing certification system are fully recovered from the vehicle industry. The Bill provides for cost recovery under the new arrangements. This is yet another illustration of this Government's commitment to the `user pays' philosophy, which is the only way to achieve proper resource allocation and efficiency. It is unlikely that charges will need to be increased at the present time.

The Bill provides for the appointment of an Administrator who will be responsible for the day to day operation of the system. The Administrator will not have the power to declare new standards or withdraw approvals but will have the delegated powers necessary for the efficient and effective operation of the new arrangements.

There will be provision for the cancellation or suspension, under prescribed circumstances, of the approvals held by manufacturers or importers.

The Bill provides for appropriate sanctions for prescribed offences such as falsely identifying a vehicle as complying with the standards or for supplying a vehicle which does not meet the national standards.

While it will not be possible for other Governments to impose unique local standards, there will be no restrictions on manufacturers offering additional features on their vehicles as part of their marketing strategy.

The Bill provides control over the import of vehicles, both new and secondhand. There will be procedures to allow non-standard vehicles into Australia provided that the Minister is satisfied that proper arrangements exist to modify the vehicles to ensure that they meet the standards.

Provision will also be made in the regulations for the importation of vehicles which are bona fide personal possessions. This will apply to migrants or Australian citizens returning from long periods overseas.

There will also be provision to allow for test or evaluation vehicles and for the exemption of certain classes of vehicles such as tractors and road-making machinery, from the requirements of the Act.

Consistent with this Government's policies on open government the Bill provides avenues for access to the normal administrative law arrangements. Anyone who is aggrieved by a decision made under the provision of the Bill will be able to seek redress in the normal way.

In summary, Honourable Senators, this Bill will provide for the first time in Australia a single set of standards for the design and construction of motor vehicles and trailers.

As a direct result of this national uniformity, every Australian will benefit. The vehicle industry will not be faced with additional costs which have to be passed on to the buyer. The safety and environmental standards which we have all come to expect will be enforced and those few unscrupulous operators who are looking to make a quick profit at the expense of our community safety will have to meet the same standards.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.