Senate debates

Thursday, 10 May 2018


Interstate Road Transport Legislation (Repeal) Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:27 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

12:32 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I was discussing the impact and the importance of cleaning up our vehicle fleet, because we have got a huge issue in terms of truck pollution in our cities and across our country. It is so important because diesel is the fastest-growing fuel in the transport sector, which in itself is the fastest-growing sector of our economy in terms of its carbon pollution. Reducing the pollution from our truck fleet is incredibly important. If the government is serious about its commitments under the Paris Agreement, it needs to get serious about decarbonising our road transport industry, taking action so that we have more efficient diesel vehicles, switching more freight onto rail and, in time, moving our trucking fleet off fossil fuels entirely.

Global warming is the overwhelming issue facing the world. If we don't reduce our carbon pollution, we are literally cooked. And Australia is lagging so much when we have so much potential to take serious action that would mean not just that our carbon pollution would plummet but that it would leave us with a legacy of clean air and healthier communities.

In addition, this isn't just about carbon pollution and climate change. Minister Frydenberg intervened in our national energy debate earlier this week, drawing attention to our record-low liquid fuel stock holdings and calling for an urgent review into Australia's fuel security. The Greens take Australia's fuel security really seriously. I was an active participant in the Senate inquiry into fuel security three years ago that made some very important recommendations. We supported the government's liquid fuel emergency bill that was introduced last year to empower the government to enter into ticketing arrangements with liquid fuel producers and bring us back into compliance with our 90-day stockholding requirement under the International Energy Agency. We also supported the government's bill to improve the collection of statistics on petroleum and other fuels, which allowed the collection from industry of statistics on their existing oil holdings and operations and which will improve the transparency of Australia's total current holdings across the sector. We welcome the government's proposed fuel security review, but it needs to look at all the options that are needed to keep our country moving. The current shortage of real liquid fuel stock holdings should not be seen as an excuse for the oil and gas supermajors to open up new oilfields across our land and oceans or for the government to subsidise the construction of new refineries or other fossil fuel infrastructure.

We need to remember that, to achieve 90 days of stock holdings, it's just as valid to reduce overall oil demand in our transport sector to the point where our existing stock holdings reach 90 days. It's as effective to do that as it is to build up our stock holdings without reducing demand. Both would achieve the same effect but each would entail very different consequences. The latter path, the path big oil and gas want us to go along, would lead to an increased risk of catastrophic oil spills, more greenhouse gas pollution, boom-bust communities left footing the bill for stranded assets and unrehabilitated wells, and corporate super profits being whisked off overseas. We've seen this over and over again. Instead, we can reduce demand, which will reduce our independence on oil, lead to cleaner air, healthier communities, lower carbon pollution and cheaper fuel bills for freight operators, while allowing our trucking industry to keep pace with the ongoing revolution in vehicle technology.

We, the Greens, released our electric vehicle policy in March this year. We've set out a path for 100 per cent of new light vehicle sales to be battery electric, plug-in hybrids, or fuel cell vehicles by 2030. We've been campaigning for decades for a dramatic increase in funding for public transport and cycling infrastructure, and an end to ideological commitment to funding toll roads, which has no effect on relieving congestion or improving our cities. We're calling for more freight on rail, for high-speed rail to reduce the need for intercity aviation and for the speedy implementation of tight, light vehicle fuel efficiency standards. Yet, as we saw in the budget this week, these are exactly the sorts of measures that the government has squibbed on. Not only have we essentially seen no action on reducing pollution from heavy vehicles; this week's budget has continued to lead us down the path of funding more and more polluting toll roads, which is only going to lead to a tangled web of tollways across our cities—more polluted air and more deaths from vehicle pollution.

Today we're taking action, as per our second reading amendment, to reduce pollution. We are expanding on the suite of real solutions that the Greens are putting forward to reduce Australia's oil dependence and transform our cities into healthy, livable places in which to live and thrive. We are calling for a determined government action to reduce carbon pollution and fuel consumption across our heavy vehicle fleet. There are plenty of countries that have been doing this. Japan has seen its CO2 and fuel consumption decline by approximately 1.2 per cent a year. China, the US and India have followed in its wake, and the European Union is deliberating on its preferred model as we speak. We've got to catch up with the rest of the world. It's not good enough for the government to sit on its hands and let the oil and gas companies and the big manufacturers set the agenda and standards for our transport sector.

The stamp duty exemptions which were contained in the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme were set up to drive improvement in the safety, environmental quality and efficiency of our heavy vehicle fleet. It's now clear that that program came up short in making those changes happen, but the core idea that the federal government should take the lead on building a cleaner and safer future for our children, our cities and our communities should not be lost with the repeal of this bill. I commend this bill to the Senate and I call on the chamber to support our second reading amendment, which would mean we would be moving ahead on getting cleaner cities that will benefit us all.

12:39 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank senators for their contributions. I indicate the government does not support the second reading amendment, but I commend the bill to the Senate.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Rice be agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.