House of Assembly: Thursday, March 23, 2023


Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Fees) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 8 March 2023.)

Mr TARZIA (Hartley) (17:19): I rise today to speak in support of the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Fees) Amendment Bill of 2023. I can indicate that I am the lead speaker for the opposition. The Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Fees) Amendment Bill seeks to amend a number of sections of the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) Act 2012. This is in order to complement the Rail Safety National Law (South Australia) (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2023.

There are several amendments that are featured in this bill—amendments, for example, to private sidings. These sidings define what is a low-speed section of track, which is distinct from a running line. It includes exemptions for persons—these persons who are accredited—from the annual fees prescribed by the national regulations, and there is the insertion of a section to also increase prescribed fee amounts.

What the bill seeks to do is remove the requirement for tourist and heritage rail operators to pay what is an annual accreditation or registration fee to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR). It will amend the definition of the term 'private siding'. That will allow rail managers of various freight terminals to be registered instead of accredited, which will of course result in lower annual registration fees as well.

The ONRSR prescribes fees relevant to rail infrastructure managers and operators to be paid annually to that body. A new cost-recovery model is being introduced. What that will do is amend the way in which these accredited operators will pay their relevant prescribed fees. This is following broader amendments to the national law that were made in late 2022.

As it stands at present, an accredited operator is required to pay a fixed annual fee of $15,000 as well as a variable fee annually based on track kilometres managed, travelled or possibly both. The new model will actually see an accredited operator pay a fee—this is an annual fee—that is based on a risk profile, as well the regulatory effort required from the ONRSR to oversee the operator.

The risk profile will actually be structured into various tiers, and there are six of these tiers. Tier 1 will be considered the highest risk, and it will keep going—tiers 2, 3, 4, 5, 6—and tier 6 will be the lowest risk respectively. Operators allocated tier 1 will be subject to the highest annual fee based on the risk profile, while those in tier 6 will be subject to the lowest.

There are, however, types of rail operations not included in the six-tier cost-recovery model. In terms of further discussion, railway operators not included in this six-tier cost-recovery model may be subject to other costing arrangements. This includes tourist and heritage sector railway operations, for example. Accredited tourist and heritage operators are instead subject to a reduced annual fixed fee of $2,000, including the variable annual fee. However, this bill seeks to remove the requirement for tourist and heritage operators to pay annual accreditation or registration fees.

Railway operations, defined as what you would call less complex railway operations, will also be exempt from the six-tiered risk model, as they are considered to require less oversight, as it is put. These operators will instead be subject to an annual fee of $20,000. Additionally, railway operators that manage private sidings will only be required to be registered rather than accredited, on the grounds that they also require less oversight. They will be subject to a fee of $5,500.

This bill will amend the definition of 'private siding' to allow various managers of freight terminals to fall under this definition and therefore be subject to the lower fee of $5,500 rather than the considerably higher fees incurred under the six-tiered models. The final component of this bill also inserts three new sections in the national law to enable annual increases in fees, and of course these will be indexed via movements in the consumer price index.

We know that the regulator was tasked by various infrastructure and transport ministers right around the country with developing a national cost-recovery model based on risk but also on regulatory effort as well. In doing this, the regulator has reviewed the current cost-recovery arrangements but also looked to other costing models not only nationally but also internationally, with a view to discover learnings in shaping development of the proposed new model.

I understand various stakeholder input was also sought and obtained in progressing the resultant cost-recovery model for consideration by various infrastructure and transport ministers as well. Obviously during COVID, I imagine a number of these ministerial meetings had to be had via Zoom or similar technology. Now the ministers have the luxury, responsibility and privilege of being able to meet face to face, and sometimes you can achieve much more face to face than you can over a Zoom call. I trust that the meetings of the minds of the various ministers of the various states and territories, coming together from right around Australia, will result in productive and constructive outcomes.

I know that way back from 2016 ministers have been meeting in respect to this particular topic and have agreed to various recommendations from the first stage of the cost-recovery review, and they also tasked the regulator with further developing a national model. Various sets of principles have guided the development of a cost-recovery model: for example, a model needs to be transparent—transparency is very important—fees should be based on a national model, they should be reflective and proportionate to the risk clarification, they should be aligned with the regulators regulatory effect and also cross subsidisation should be avoided.

However, if it is used, it needs be transparent but also the model—I am a big believer in this—needs to be simple to administer; it is all in the simplicity. Obviously cost recovery for tourist and heritage operations will be considered separately by governments, but this has been some time coming now and it has been thoroughly fleshed out.

I thank the ministerial staff for their efficient and thorough briefing on this topic. We on this side of the chamber will not get in the way of good regulation where it is warranted, so we will be supporting this bill. We will reserve our right to potentially ask questions at the committee stage. There may be various speakers on this side of the chamber. I know we have a number of regional MPs—and even the member for Unley, who has rail in his own electorate; I know he is a fanatic user of the rail network—and various colleagues who represent regional areas. I know that they take a particular interest in this subject matter, and so there might be an opportunity in the committee stage to actually flesh out some of those key questions.

Knowing what the minister is like, I dare say he might actually proactively answer our questions in his contribution. We look forward to hearing what the minister has to say about this, but all in all we say that this is a very solid amendment bill that continues to amend key sections of the Rail Safety National Law. Much of this has been debated and agreed for some time, and we look forward to seeing its speedy passage. I commend the bill to the house.

Debate adjourned on motion of Mr Odenwalder.