Transport (Safety Schemes Compliance and Enforcement) Bill 2014

I rise to speak on the Transport (Safety Schemes Compliance and Enforcement) Bill 2014. As stated by the lead speaker, the opposition does not oppose the bill. The purpose of the bill is to ensure that Victoria’s local rail, maritime – including local waterways – and bus sectors enjoy the same levels of compliance and enforcement in relation to safety, following the recent implementation of national reforms in the same areas. This follows the work of the Council of Australian Governments and the implementation by this Parliament of reforms in the maritime sector around this time last year.

The bill seeks to avoid anomalies between the state and national regulatory environments, which is important in many circumstances when incidents affecting safety occur. The implementation of these reforms goes to a level of prevention. The bill seeks to continue to implement nationally agreed directors liability principles, as outlined by a previous speaker. It also seeks to continue to implement nationally agreed standards.

Labor supports efficient and consistent safety regulation across transport systems. We recognise that it is not in the public’s interest for there to be inconsistency across the states. Having borders and designated waterways across Australia does not mean people travelling across borders should be limited when it comes to safety, so it is extremely important that we have a national system in place. In the application of safety schemes across different transport modes in Victoria there is a need for coordination across the transport system, and a range of different regulations and powers apply to Transport Safety Victoria, our transport safety organisation, in carrying out its important work.

In the briefing the opposition received, the department assured us that Transport Safety Victoria is supportive of the legislation and that the new schemes that have been established will continue to roll out.

Having said that, the opposition is mindful that Transport Safety Victoria has a number of serious concerns about the development of the service level agreement that gives effect to the national reforms. Similar issues were raised last year when the heavy vehicle regulator was put in place, and also when the maritime safety laws were implemented nationally. We are guided by the advice provided to us by the department that Transport Safety Victoria is supportive of the new regime. We are aware that the service level agreement was signed on Friday, 21 March, enabling the Rail Safety National Law to come into operation in Victoria, and we note that in some cases the new national schemes have improved regulation around safety compliance and the enforcement of Victorian standards.

However, in addressing these issues I put on the record that in the state of Victoria there are still some big concerns when it comes to transport safety on our road and rail systems.

In going through 150 of the press releases the Minister for Roads and Minister for Public Transport put out in the last 12 months, I failed to find any reference not only to rail freight safety but to rail freight itself. There seems to be a big hole in policy and implementation around rail freight and rail freight safety across the state, which needs the attention of the minister and the state government not only to progress our export market within Australia but also in terms of the interaction of rail freight and roads, particularly in rural and regional Victoria, where we have had significant disasters.

In 2007 there was a horrible incident in Kerang, which unfortunately came to court only through a recent coroner’s report. Eleven people were killed and 23 people were injured when a truck slammed into a Melbourne-bound train. However, we have not put in place all the safety tools needed to prevent a similar accident from happening again, and in this debate I draw the minister’s attention to the need for a continued program around freight trains and rail safety, particularly the interaction of those trains with the community. By no means am I saying that we should not have more freight trains — do not get me wrong, I am very much an advocate of having more freight on rail — but I put on the record that the safety issues of trains interacting with the community should not be left behind and that there should be some focus on them. I cannot touch on this subject without pointing to the fact that the Labor Party has a policy of fixing 50 dangerous level crossings.

On the issue of road safety, I will touch on a significant issue that has been raised both in this Parliament and in the media, and that is the defective notices that have been issued to Cootes Transport and its very concerning maintenance issues, including a range of safety breaches on its vehicles that operate on Victorian roads, carrying both fuel and oil. In the first instance Cootes Transport had its trucks taken off Victorian roads, and in the second instance after investigation in early February it voluntarily took its trucks off the road. However, these dangerous vehicles — dangerous when they are not maintained to standard — may be back on our roads and may still be carrying loads that make them liable to rollovers. The trucks may be liable to accidents due to brake failures or issues with axles that occur when they are not properly maintained.

I acknowledge that there are highly skilled drivers behind the wheels of these sorts of vehicles and that they are on our suburban, regional and rural roads every day, but without proper maintenance of these sorts of vehicles and a real commitment to safety we are looking at a dangerous situation every day on our roads. I call on the government to make sure it is funding VicRoads adequately to make sure that these vehicles are safe and properly maintained.

The bill extends to maritime areas and waterways. When looking at the record I was surprised by how many people in the last three or four years were killed in accidents, particularly in Port Phillip Bay, involving boats, jet skis or kayaks. I draw the attention of the house to the boating safety and facilities program, which is a state government-funded program that plays an extremely important role in boating safety and making waterways more accessible and safe for all Victorians.

The boating safety and facilities program allocates funds to individual grants-based projects initiated by community, agency and stakeholder groups and to programs initiated by Transport Safety Victoria, the marine regulator. However, these programs have not been fully implemented as a result of the government’s budgeting, and I call on the minister to bring holistic safety programs back to Port Phillip Bay rather than pork-barrelling individual projects.