Senate debates

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Defence (Road Transport Legislation Exemption) Bill 2005 [2006]

Second Reading

Debate resumed from 23 November 2005, on motion by Senator Ellison:

That this bill be now read a second time.

1:07 pm

Photo of George CampbellGeorge Campbell (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to incorporate Senator Bishop’s speech.

Leave granted.

1:08 pm

Photo of Mark BishopMark Bishop (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence Industry, Procurement and Personnel) Share this | | Hansard source

The incorporated speech read as follows—

This Bill is a straight forward non controversial piece of legislation.

It provides a new operating environment for ADF vehicles when operating on state roads.

As we know road regulation in Australia is a matter for the states.

However, by provision of subsection 123 (1) of the Defence Act, the ADF is immune from this regulation.

However, the ADF as a matter of principle has attempted for a long time to co-operate and comply with civil authorities.

This is recognition that regulations set in the public interest should be respected in spirit for their safety values.

For that reason I understand that Defence has sought to comply with public regulation, regardless of its legal immunity.

For operational reasons however, that has proved burdensome.

This is simply because non compliance with state road regulation is frequent.

That’s the nature of the Defence transport task.

It frequently involves heavy vehicles built specially for military purposes for both weight and off road capacity.

They simply cannot comply with the road rules.

Dealing with six separate state agencies is also cumbersome.

So instead of the open ended immunity, and in place of the current voluntary compliance, this bill provides for the development of a new regime specifically for the ADF.

The Bill therefore provides that while Defence in general should comply wherever possible with national road regulations, there should be an exemption framework.

This is to be a standard national exemption framework. It’s to be adopted by all states in time.

By this means the ADF will have the detail of the new exemption framework embodied in state law.

This effectively places limits on the general immunity with respect to transport.

Other matters outside the framework however, remain immune.

Hence in this bill we have provision for a regime for the ADF, agreed by the states.

In doing so however, there is recognition that the operational needs of the ADF aren’t impeded.

This Bill is therefore designed to maintain the operational capabilities of the ADF.

It details Defence requirements in relation to road transport and the unique requirements of the ADF operating environment.

It’s intended to allow the ADF to perform its critical function efficiently and effectively.

But at the same time complying with the law to the maximum extent possible.

At the same time the Bill also ensures the safety of other road users.

And it protects the national road infrastructure and facilities used by the ADF.

This isn’t a new proposal.

It was first mooted in 1998 but lapsed due to failure to adopt model road transport legislation.

State road regulations traditionally have two prime purposes.

The first is to control and manage vehicle dimensions including length, width and weight of all vehicles, but particularly heavy vehicles

The key reason for this is related to road safety which requires maximum compatibility between all vehicles on our roads.

The second reason concerns the protection of road structures from excessive weights, that is, pavements and bridges.

All state governments have strict regimes in place to prevent excess weight which would otherwise severely damage that expensive infrastructure.

As we know, Australia’s Defence Forces have a large fleet of vehicles distributed across the country.

The bulk of these are not greatly dissimilar from civilian vehicles.

Generally they comply with safety standards and with the existing state regulatory regimes.

However, that’s not a requirement.

Part of the fleet however, is specially constructed for which there are no national design rules.

By their nature these vehicles may never comply with public safety standards.

This bill provides a new special regulatory regime for these circumstances.

But it will do so in a way that where limits are exceeded due to operational necessity, there are clear processes of notification.

Thus, under this exemption framework Defence vehicles will in general abide by the same mass and dimension regulations as all civilian transport.

But where those limits are exceeded, there is a clear standard process whereby state authorities’ permission is available as a matter of form.

Specified routes for example will be clearly identified in the event that dimensions and axle weights are exceeded.

Warning signs, load projections and securing rules have also been standardised.

The second theme of road regulation concerns personal safety. We Australians are a very road safety society. Our record is among the best in the world.

Yet, there are some areas concerning the protection of civilians which are considered inappropriate for the ADF.

These concern vehicle construction, but also driver licensing and the carriage of personnel.

This does not mean that the ADF is less concerned about personnel safety standards.

Quite the contrary we hope.

But there are circumstances in the operations of the ADF where greater risks are borne than in civilian life.

The safety regime applying to ADF transport must therefore be a little more flexible.

The exemptions provided in this Bill apply when ADF members and other specifically authorised persons, are using vehicles and infrastructure for ‘defence related purposes’.

The criterion of ‘defence related purpose’ is sufficiently broad to cater for the array of activities in which our defence personnel are likely to be engaged.

Such activities include

  • defence and security functions,
  • emergency and disaster management or relief,
  • humanitarian and medical assistance, and
  • the provision of support to nationally and internationally significant community activities.

The very nature of these activities requires a more flexible regulatory environment.

Yet at the same time the nature and extent of exemptions granted by the states need to be clearly understood and respected.

They need to be understood by state regulators and by all ADF personnel concerned.

The Bill details the exemptions and processes to be applied uniformly across the States and Territories.

Such exemptions will be implemented by the States and Territories in accordance with their respective policies

Defence will implement them through Defence Instructions on to road transport.

Let me deal with some of these circumstances involving exemptions in more detail.

The framework for example makes ADF driver licensing provisions compatible with the state system.

The system of accredited driver training provided to ADF members is recognised by the Exemption Framework by way of certain licence exemptions.

Where a requirement exists under State and Territory legislation for a special licence, accredited ADF training of a similar standard is recognised.

Compliance with State and Territory requirements is deemed to occur.

A further safeguard exists in that ADF drivers are required to carry and produce on demand their current Defence licence, Driver Qualification Log, and Vehicle Authorisation and Task Form.

A further safeguard exists in that the cancellation or suspension of a member’s civilian licence results in the automatic cancellation or suspension of their Defence licence.

Defence licences will also be suspended if the holder is considered unfit to drive due to their accident or traffic record, medical impairment or physical injury.

The holder is subject to retraining for any disciplinary or bad driving reason or the holder fails to maintain currency requirements.

Members of foreign armed forces visiting Australia are also covered.

The carriage of dangerous goods is also covered, as is the training of drivers.

Here I might mention that the ADF is considered to be at the forefront of heavy vehicle graduated licensing.

Hence the relevance of accrediting Defence’s licensing regime.

This means for example within a well managed accredited system drivers below the civilian minimum age of 25 may get to drive tankers for example.

This is both sensible and practical.

The Exemption Framework also exempts drivers and commanders of armoured vehicles and tanks from the requirement to remain entirely inside the vehicle due to the nature of the operation of these vehicles.

The ADF is also exempt from the prohibition against carrying passengers in the load space of vehicles without an approved means of restraint.

Due to the seating configuration, ADF vehicles are to be recognised under State and Territory provisions as being emergency vehicles.

The unique operating environment is further recognised in terms of signage of vehicle dimensions.

‘Oversize Load’ signs are not required for each vehicle in convoy provided the convoy is not greater than 5 vehicles.

Given the fear that many motorists have for overtaking trucks, especially in convoy, spacing must provide overtaking opportunities for other vehicles.

Further, radio communications must be maintained and lights must be illuminated on all convoy vehicles.

Pilot vehicles accompanying the convoy must carry ‘oversize convoy’ signs.

These are practical and necessary provisions.

The Exemption Framework also provides designated “Defence Strategic Routes” across Australia.

As we know, state authorities are conscious of the demands for higher productivity from trucks carrying freight.

But as I mentioned earlier, load limits are necessary.

So, just as we have designated routes for large trucks such as B Doubles, we also have designated routes for over dimension ADF vehicles.

The exemptions and measures established under the Exemption Framework and clarified in this Bill are sensible and practical.

They’re necessary in maintaining the operational capability of the ADF in terms of road-based logistics.

At the same time they respect the regulatory environment of the states and the need to protect all civilian road users.

The Framework recognises the unique operating environment of the ADF as a strategic imperative.

Hence Labor supports this legislation.

Mr Acting Deputy President, can I refer to some unsatisfactory matters concerning the process of this Bill.

While I’ve said it’s a relatively non controversial Bill, that’s not to say that it’s simple by any means.

But as usual, the second reading speech is very shorthand.

It gives only an in principle description of the Bill.

The Bill itself in isolation is not particularly informative.

And the explanatory memorandum is not very explanatory at all.

The key document to obtain any understanding is the Exemption Framework.

This is supposed to be on the web site of the National Transport Commission, but it’s not.

Public documentation therefore is very deficient. Mr Acting Deputy President we support the bill.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.