Australia: COAG Backs Major Changes In Transport Safety Regulation

Last Updated: 20 July 2009
Article by Simon Bailey

The decision by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) earlier this month to establish new national regulatory arrangements for rail, road and marine safety represents a significant expansion of Commonwealth involvement in areas traditionally within the State and Territory sphere. However, until the reforms are in place, questions will continue to be asked about whether the move is necessary or able to deliver the productivity benefits that COAG is seeking to achieve.

National Regulators For Rail, Road And Marine Safety

On 2 July 2009, COAG outlined in a communiqué that it agreed to proceed with a suite of national regulatory changes for maritime safety, rail safety and heavy vehicles. The key initiatives involve the establishment of national regulatory arrangements in each of the transport modes currently regulated largely at State level.

In particular:

  • The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) will become the national safety regulator for all commercial shipping in Australian waters.
  • A single national regulator will be established to regulate heavy vehicles.
  • Further consideration will be given to the establishment of a national rail safety regulator.

COAG believes that these measures will remove inefficiencies arising from inconsistent jurisdictional requirements, streamline regulatory arrangements and reduce the compliance burden and transport costs generally. However, COAG maintains that efficiencies gained in moving to national transport safety regimes will not be made at the cost of safety.

The COAG decision follows a process of consultation with government and industry laid out in its February 2006 timetable for regulatory reform of transport safety.

Rail Safety

COAG's initiatives in the rail area seek to address what are seen as shortcomings of the present State based regulatory schemes for rail safety. At present, a rail operator must be accredited in each State and Territory in which it operates, and may be subject to differing regulatory requirements in each.

Over recent years there have been some significant moves towards a national approach to rail safety. A 1996 Intergovernmental Agreement on Rail Safety led to partial harmonisation of rail safety rules and to the establishment of a national panel of rail safety regulators to facilitate coordinated decision making across jurisdictions. Model national rail safety legislation was enacted in 2007, based substantially on the Victorian Rail Safety Act 2006 which had established a new framework for rail safety based on statutory safety duties, application of 'chain of responsibility' principles for determining accountability and a new accreditation framework directed at management of major safety risks.

Despite these reforms, sectors of the industry operating in multiple jurisdictions believe there is a need for more consistent adoption of the national rules and for a more seamless decision making framework. A recent report by the National Transport Commission (NTC) proposed further reform options, including:

  • Enhancement of the existing state-based system, under which States and Territories would all enact legislation based on the model Bill and work towards greater uniformity and coordination, particularly in relation to operator accreditation.
  • Establishment of a single regulator to administer rail safety on a national basis, combined with a single national body (ie the Australian Transport Safety Bureau) to investigate rail incidents.

The NTC report argued strongly in favour of a single national regulator as the best means of creating a unified national market in rail. However, it appears that COAG may have had some reservations about whether the creation of a single national regulator can be justified, particularly as metropolitan rail networks, which carry the majority of passenger traffic, have relatively limited interface with national operations.

In its 2 July 2009 decision, COAG agreed to develop a 'national rail safety regulatory system', but will not make a decision on the scope and form of that system until it receives further advice from the Standing Committee on Transport at the end of 2009, and the Australian Transport Council (ATC) (which is composed of State and Territory Transport Ministers) in 2010. The ATC is to present a final proposal to COAG for approval by mid-2011.

Heavy Vehicles

In road transport, COAG agreed to press forward with the establishment of a single national regulator for vehicles with a loaded mass of more than 4.5 tonnes.

This decision clearly builds on the progress made towards national uniformity in road transport regulation through successive initiatives of the NTC (and previously, the National Road Transport Commission).

Heavy vehicle operations are currently regulated by State and Territory road and traffic authorities, although the legislation and operating rules for heavy vehicle registration, driver licensing, vehicle standards and vehicle operations are substantially uniform, being based on template or model legislation developed by the NTC.

The reform process commenced with the 1991 intergovernmental Road Transport Agreement. That agreement provided for the Commonwealth to pass template laws for the ACT and then required the States and the Northern Territory to adopt and apply the template as their own law. Under the Agreement, regulations relating to registration, licensing, vehicle standards, mass and loading, oversize vehicles and dangerous goods transport were developed and largely implemented by each of the jurisdictions.

In 2003, the 'template legislation' model was replaced by a more flexible arrangement under which States and Territories agreed to adopt the substance of 'model laws' developed by the NTC. Laws relating to fatigue management, intelligent access and compliance and enforcement were developed under that model.

However, despite these significant reforms, areas of inconsistency continue to exist, partly because the template and model legislation have not been consistently implemented by all States and Territories, and partly because of variations in the way different agencies administer the laws.

The Commonwealth has taken the view that these inconsistencies continue to impose costs on, and inhibit optimal productivity in, the road transport industry. In December 2008, the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government (DITRD) published a consultation paper recommending the establishment of a single national regulator for heavy vehicles to oversee a single set of national heavy vehicle laws.

COAG adopted these recommendations in its communiqué of 2 July 2009. Implementation is likely to occur in stages over an approximately two year time frame. At the same time, COAG also commissioned the next stage of research needed to move towards more efficient heavy vehicle charging.

Marine Safety

Responsibility for regulation of marine safety is currently divided between State and Territory regulatory agencies, which regulate recreational and commercial boating as well as intra-state shipping, and the federal body, AMSA, which regulates interstate and international shipping.

Safety standards for the survey, design, construction, crewing, operation and administration of vessels are set out in a national code (the USL/NSCV code). However, those standards have to be adopted into State and Territory law before they take effect.

The Commonwealth has taken the view that inconsistent application and administration of the national standards have led to a greater than necessary regulatory burden for participants in the maritime industry, particularly those operating on a cross jurisdictional basis.

A DITRD Consultation Paper published last April 2009 suggested that maritime safety should become the exclusive responsibility of AMSA under new Commonwealth legislation or an expanded version of the Navigation Act 1912 (Cth). Under the proposal, AMSA would become solely responsible for setting standards, but would likely work with State agencies to deliver services.

COAG has now agreed that AMSA should become the national safety regulator for commercial marine operations. A regulatory scheme is to be developed to come into effect on 1 July, 2011. Transitional provisions will apply to existing ships for approximately three years after which they will be required to re-register under the new system.


COAG's decisions in the transport area show that the Commonwealth, States and Territories all agree that while much has been achieved, further work is needed to achieve a seamless national operating environment for surface transport. Moreover, the latest initiatives are a clear signal that the Commonwealth is prepared to force the pace of reform by becoming more active in areas that have traditionally been seen as areas of State responsibility. In road and marine, the decision to move towards a single national regulator appears to be locked in, although for rail, the issue is still open.

The big question is whether the move to single national regulators will, as is hoped, lead to improved safety, lower compliance costs, and fewer impediments to interstate operations or whether it will simply add a further layer of administration to what are already highly regulated sectors.

The practical impacts are likely to be significant, and transport operators will need to monitor developments closely. Changes in regulatory arrangements may involve changes in compliance and risk management, and this in turn is likely to have both operational and cost impacts.

© DLA Phillips Fox

DLA Phillips Fox is one of the largest legal firms in Australasia and a member of DLA Piper Group, an alliance of independent legal practices. It is a separate and distinct legal entity. For more information visit

This publication is intended as a first point of reference and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional advice. Specialist legal advice should always be sought in relation to any particular circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.