Ministers’ hold last SCOTI meeting for 2012 …

Transport Ministers from around the country held their last big meeting for the year on Friday, coming together as the Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure in Perth.

The Ministers have taken a series of decisions that should be welcomed across industry. Really pleasingly for the ALRTA, they’ve ticked off on just about every proposal that we were asking them to support at this meeting …

… breathing space on rego and fuel charges

Ministers have agreed to a new implementation date for the next ‘full Determination’ of registration and fuel charges. The NTC has now been asked to have this ready for implementation on 1 July 2014.

This is good news and it’s a big change. Just six months ago, there was a call for the next Determination to occur on 1 July 2013. The heat surrounding the resolution of the A-Trailer charges at the start of 2012 had created some real pressure inside government, and that spilled over into a push for early delivery of the next Determination.

The ALRTA started advocating for a more relaxed 2014 deadline back in May this year. We’ve raised the idea with NTC Commissioners, pursued it with officials and, over the last few weeks, went direct to Ministers to deliver this message. There’s been great support from across industry and governments have responded exactly as we’d hoped.

As well as pushing back the delivery date for the next Determination, Ministers have also agreed to receive ‘policy recommendations’ from the NTC on improvements to make to the current system in May next year. That’s a very important opportunity.

ALRTA’s National Council has already decided to ask for the NTC to be given the power to start creating a national set of concessions, particularly for road trains and for small operators. We will have our work cut out, but there’s a chance of getting a result here.

Finally, the new 2014 deadline for a ‘full Determination’ of registration and fuel charges means that the NTC will need to deliver an ‘Annual Adjustment’ figure sometime early in the New Year.

It will take effect on 1 July 2013 but the figure should be out early in the New Year. The tip from inside government is that the 2013 figure is likely to be much lower than we’ve seen for many years.

Making this system work better has to be a two-way street, and National Council decided a little while ago that the ALRTA should make it clear to governments that the ALRTA is serious about industry’s commitment to ‘pay our own way’. Some time ago, National Council adopted a formal policy to support an Annual Adjustment going ahead in 2013.

… gives industry its chance on ‘HVCI’

On Friday, Ministers also gave the green-light for the next phase of the work on reform of heavy vehicle road charging and, even more importantly, reform of how roads are delivered and managed.

Now called the Heavy Vehicle Charging and Investment reform project (HVCI), this is the next phase of what used to be called the COAG Road Reform Project (CRRP).

That change of name was adopted earlier this year, and it was government’s attempt to signal to industry that they’ve been listening to the feedback they received last year.  The scope of the revised project has been opened up to include ‘improving access,’ ‘improving freight productivity’ and ‘improving the efficiency of road providers’.  This was an important win for industry (and it wasn’t given enough publicity and recognition at the time).

Now, on Friday, Ministers agreed a timeline for this renamed project. They’ve asked the HVCI Project Board to produce a draft Regulatory Impact Statement, consult with industry and bring back a report for Transport Ministers, which will then go to the Prime Minister and the Premiers.

Ministers want this all done by the end of 2013. If the Prime Minister and Premiers were to agree to the report they’ll get at Christmas time 2013, you could be looking at governments making real changes by as early as 2016. It’s an ambitious timeline for an important piece of work.

But on Friday, Ministers went further. They have also agreed to our request to bring industry onto the HVCI Project Board.

That’s an exceptional decision and an outstanding win for industry. HVCI is all about money¸ and how the State Road Agencies and local governments do their job – providing roads and granting access to the road system.

What Ministers have done is to agree to give a customer representative a seat at the big table. It’s a concrete step towards putting customers right at the centre of their thinking. Even in the private sector, you’ll still find a lot of big businesses that struggle to give their customers a voice on the ‘Board of Directors’. For Ministers to take this step is a real piece of leadership.

On the grapevine, we hear that some of the key advisers to certain governments weren’t so keen on having industry this closely involved. They didn’t want industry ‘looking over their shoulder’. But of course, that resistance pretty much proved our point.

Industry has lots of questions about whether bureaucrats really have thought hard enough about the changes inside government, and in the relationship between governments, which will be needed be signed off if HVCI is to deliver on better access, higher productivity and more efficient road provision.

A seat on the Board is going to give industry an excellent chance to ask those questions and to really scrutinise the answers.

Ministers have asked the ATA, the Australian Logistics Council and the ALRTA to come back with a single name. Choosing a credible, effective representative to take up industry’s seat is something that’s going to require careful thought. So too, we’ll need a strong back-up team to assist and support our joint representative.

ALRTA’s National Executive will be discussing these issues this week and, as luck would have it, both the ATA and the ALC are scheduled to have meetings of their Policy Councils in the next fortnight.

No-one in industry should under-estimate how serious is the resolve inside governments to make progress on this reform. It was initiated by Prime Minister Howard, kept going by Prime Minister Rudd, and has now been expanded under Prime Minister Gillard. It has been signed off by multiple State Governments, including most of the new Coalition-aligned State Governments, at the level of Transport Ministers, State Treasurers and the Premiers.

Ministers have given industry a rare opportunity to make a real difference. We’ll need to act wisely.

… pressure on to deliver NHVR

On Friday, Ministers have agreed to push on with the urgent implementation of the legislation that sets up the National Regulator.

The Queensland Parliament is expected to narrowly miss out on passing the final legislation before the end of 2012 but Minister Emerson has personally assured industry that he’s working to get it enacted as soon as possible. We’re tipping that Minister Emerson will get his legislation through Parliament by no later than February 2013.

In other States, a few officials have recently been speculating that Queensland’s timing could mean that the National Regulator would end up being delayed until 2014! Over the past few weeks, industry has been united in rejecting that idea wherever it has popped up.

The Australian Logistics Council has publicly signalled how strongly industry wants to see the NHVR up and running, giving a lengthy interview to the Australian Financial Review, and also writing a guest column in the opinion pages of that paper.

Ministers have responded to industry’s concern by delivering strong assurances that, as the legislation is already available in its complete final draft form, no State Government is seeking an excuse for not hitting the 1 July 2013 target.

To help keep the work moving along, it has been decided that the ‘NHVR Project Implementation Board’ will continue to operate, and may continue well into 2013. Industry has three seats on that Board, and will be strongly focused on getting the Regulator up and running, and seeing the first on-the-ground changes starting to flow through.

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