The Australian economy is highly reliant on road freight compared with our international counterparts. This highlights the critical reliance our communities and industries have on a safe and efficient road transport sector.
The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL), the framework to regulate road transport, was created almost a decade ago and was a landmark moment for Australia’s transport industry.
It was the crucial first step in moving from a state-based approach towards a national system of regulation, and it has delivered important gains in safety, innovation and productivity.
But it was only the first step, and most parties today agree that the law relies too heavily on prescription and outdated controls and systems, rather than pursuing a modern and agile approach to delivering better safety and productivity outcomes.
The current review of the law, being led by the National Transport Commission, is a rare and potentially once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue an improved, strategic and responsive structure that will deliver benefits for the Australian community and the national economy.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator’s response to the HVNL Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) was released at the start of the year and lays out our vision for the future of national regulation.
As a modern and intelligence-led regulator, our key priority for the new legislative structure is ensuring effective partnership between industry, supply chain and governments to pursue improved and innovative outcomes.
This is focused on the law encouraging and empowering industry to improve safety within their business (shared responsibility model with government) and ensuring the heavy vehicle task is viewed as a professional and credible employment option.
Improved consistent outcomes must be a shared priority
Importantly, a greater focus on how all levels of government work together in a modern, disciplined and consistent manner is critical to delivering better national outcomes.
This includes improved recognition of the heavy vehicle industry’s importance to business and communities, with heavy vehicle reform having significant flow-on effects on for national and local economies.
Throughout the review process, there has been a strong focus on the negative impact of state-based derogations and the creation of confusing approval processes which restrict the economic benefits of national regulation.
Collective agreement and a clearer delineation of the responsibilities of ministers and the regulator in delivering an effective and adaptable regulatory environment should be an essential part of the review process and, ultimately, the new law.
Modern regulation requires a principle-based approach
We believe a principle-based legislative approach will deliver the most successful and responsive regulatory regime.
That regime must be simplified, forward-looking and future-proofed – with simple primary law that outlines desired outcomes (requiring minimal change) and provides the controls and procedures to achieve it in regulations and a one-stop shop set of standards.
The NHVR supports a model that separates regulations into two distinct categories:
– National regulations: covering those areas where responsible ministers want greater oversight, and
– Heavy vehicle regulations: that cover matters the regulator is best placed to manage in order to provide certainty in relation to operational policy and service delivery matters (processes that lend themselves to changes in the environment). Note: this would still have appropriate oversight by responsible ministers.
This approach is an effective means of providing for a simple, modern and agile scheme that also has the appropriate checks and balances in place.
Empower industry to invest in safety
The NHVR strongly supports supplementing the principle-based legislative approach with a risk-based assurance framework.
This multi-tiered model would provide increased flexibility for operators who demonstrate investment and innovation in improved safety outcomes (through performance and assurance tiers), as well as certainty for operators seeking it (through the prescriptive tier).
While some operators will choose to operate in a prescriptive regime, the model should encourage both small and large operators to progress to the performance and assurance tiers.
Real benefits need to consider reform of all heavy vehicle related processes.
Guaranteeing the future effectiveness of road transport requires consideration of all related heavy vehicle systems and processes to ensure they are fit for purpose.
Improving the current systems will provide better safety outcomes while minimising duplication and additional administrative costs.
Safety will be improved by strengthening the current licensing system to better focus on practical safety skills, including fitness for duty and fatigue management.
Ensuring registration systems recognise heavy vehicle businesses as professional entities will provide greater oversight of operations and relationships among drivers, companies and vehicles.
Fatigue and access must be priority
Prioritising fatigue and access reform will allow significant improvements in safety and productivity.
The review should focus on ensuring these critical areas are robustly addressed, which will require a commitment to deliver improved outcomes outside the HVNL.
The RIS’s approach to improving fatigue management and ensuring it is focused on providing flexibility to better manage safety risks, rather than merely counting hours, is strongly supported by the NHVR.
Fundamental improvements to reduce reliance on access permits and to open networks to safer and more productive vehicles must also be fully considered.
A ‘more of the same’ approach would be a missed opportunity to deliver a safer and more productive road freight task.
The 2020 Productivity Commission Report into National Transport Regulatory Reform has already identified key areas of reform and provided a roadmap for improved productivity outcomes through (among others) expanding as of right access networks for Performance-
Based Standards (PBS) vehicles, increasing data sharing and adopting a risk-based assessment of access permits.
Collectively ensure the concepts work on the road
Although the RIS highlights broad concepts for improving the HVNL, success will ultimately be determined by how they are applied practically on the road.
Once clearer options are agreed in principle, the industry, the regulator and the police can provide practical insight into how the concepts will translate into effective outcomes.
I can assure you that the NHVR will continue to play a leading role in this process and in the implementation of the new law as it develops.
The NHVR, the states and industry can be proud of what we’ve achieved since 2012 and I know that together we can create an even stronger, safer and more productive heavy vehicle industry for the years ahead.