Bills Digest 83 1996-97 Road Transport Reform (Heavy Vehicles Registration) Bill 1996

Numerical Index | Alphabetical Index

This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.


Passage History

Road Transport Reform (Heavy Vehicles Registration) Bill 1996

Date Introduced: 4 December 1996
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Transport and Regional Development
Commencement: The Bill does not contain a commencement date. Under section 5(1A) of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cwlth), an Act commences 28 days after Royal Assent has been given, unless the contrary intention appears in the Act.


The purpose of the Road Transport Reform (Heavy Vehicles Registration) Bill 1996 (the Bill) is to provide for a scheme for the registration of heavy vehicles in the ACT and Jervis Bay Territory that can be adopted nationally. While the Bill contains substantive provisions, regulations made under the legislation will provide the administrative details of the scheme and enumerate the obligations of registration authorities and heavy vehicle operators.


The National Road Transport Commission (the Commission) is an independent statutory body established as a result of two Commonwealth, State and Territory agreements. The first, in 1991, was the Intergovernmental Agreement on Heavy Vehicles. The second, in 1992, was the Light Vehicles Agreement.

The Commission's genesis can be traced to the desire for economic restructuring in Australia as a way of improving long term competitiveness. The Commission's first Annual Report states:

Road transport typically accounts for 5-10 per cent of the costs of Australia's primary products and 2-7 per cent of the costs of manufactures. Future economic prosperity will depend substantially on our ability to contain and reduce the cost shares of traded commodities against our competitors.

The variety of regulatory frameworks under which Australia's road transport industry is required to operate is anathema to the very idea of competitiveness.(1)

The Commission's functions include developing national policies and laws on road transport and making recommendations to the Ministerial Council on Road Transport.(2) The 1991 Agreement on Heavy Vehicles provided that there would be an agreement between the Commonwealth and the ACT:

... under which the former, with the consent of the latter, will seek to enact or make the Commonwealth Act and the Commonwealth Road Transport Legislation for the Australian Capital Territory which law will be the model on which the pertinent law of the Parties to this Agreement, other than the Commonwealth and the Australian Capital Territory will be based.(3)

What is called the 'new national Road Transport Law' is being developed in six modules: road transport charges, vehicles and traffic, dangerous goods, registration, driver licensing, and compliance and enforcement. So far, the Commonwealth Parliament has enacted the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Act 1993(4), the Road Transport Reform (Vehicles and Traffic) Act 1993(5) and the Road Transport Reform (Dangerous Goods) Act 1995(6). Regulations have also been made under those statutes.

A legislative package for a national heavy vehicle registration scheme was finalised by the Commission in 1995-96 but was later the subject of further consultation and revision in association with the States and Territories. According to the Commission's Annual Report, the object of the legislation was to '... eliminate the differing registration requirements around Australia which are confusing and expensive to industry and to ensure that registration procedures and requirements are uniform or consistent.'(7)

Main Provisions

Part 1 - Preliminary

Clause 3 of the Bill contains statements of purpose and intention. The Bill provides for the registration of heavy vehicles and related matters in the Australian Capital Territory and the Jervis Bay Territory. It is intended that the States and the Northern Territory will then adopt the operative provisions of the legislation, regulations made under the legislation, and any amendments to the legislation - thus accomplishing uniform national laws on heavy vehicle registration. Clause 3(3) states that the Act and adopted laws '... are intended to improve road safety and transport efficiency, and reduce the costs of administering road transport.'

Clause 5 deals with the interpretation of provisions in the legislation. It provides that, with minor and administrative qualifications, the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 (Cwlth) governs the interpretation of the legislation.

Clause 6(1) of the Bill states that the legislation is taken to be a law made by the ACT Legislative Assembly under the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (Cwlth). A similar clause was inserted into the Road Transport Reform (Vehicles and Traffic) Act 1993 (Cwlth) by the Transport Legislation Amendment Act (No.2) 1995 (Cwlth). The purpose of the provision was '... to ensure that the operation of the Act within the Australian Capital Territory is regulated by the Australian Capital Territory administrative procedures.'(8) Clause 6(2) adds that clause 6(1) does not empower the ACT Legislative Assembly to amend or repeal the legislation.

Clause 7 provides that the Act will cease to be in force when the National Road Transport Commission Act 1991 ceases to be in force.

Part 2 - Registration System

Registration Authority

Division 1 of Part 2 provides for the establishment of a registration authority in the ACT and Jervis Bay Territory. The functions of the registration authority are set out in clause 9 and include administering the registration system established by the regulations, maintaining a register of heavy vehicles, and collecting registration and permit charges. Clause 10 enumerates the powers of the registration authority - including registering or refusing to register a heavy vehicle, renewing or refusing to renew registration, making registration subject to conditions, collecting permit and registration charges, cancelling or suspending registration and, in some circumstances, setting the gross combination mass(9) and the gross vehicle mass(10) of motor vehicles. Clause 11 provides that the registration authority must not register a heavy vehicle unless satisfied that the vehicle's garage address is in its jurisdiction.


Division 2 of Part 2 enables the making of regulations. The overall purposes of the regulations are set out in clause 17(1). These are to provide a system for registering heavy vehicles that use roads or road related areas(11), authorising that use, and enabling heavy vehicles and the persons responsible for them to be identified.

Among other things, the regulations may set registration periods, provide for the calculation of registration charges, provide for the issue of infringement notices for offences committed against the regulations, and provide for the recognition by a registration authority of things done under the corresponding law of another jurisdiction (clause 17(2)).

Clause 18 provides that specific heavy vehicles or heavy vehicles of a specified class may be exempted from the regulations.

There is also provision for a system of review of the decisions of registration authorities under the regulations (clause 19).

Part 3 - Offences, penalties and evidence

Part 3 of the Bill deals with offences, penalties and evidence. Offences created by the Bill include using an unregistered heavy vehicle on a road or road related area (clause 20), attempting to register or registering a heavy vehicle by false statements (clause 21), and using a heavy vehicle contrary to conditions or prohibitions in a defect notice (clause 22). Some of these offences - for example, offences set out in clauses 20 and 22 - do not appear to be offences requiring intention or recklessness. Whether they are offences of strict(12) or absolute liability will depend on judicial determination - although the level of penalties suggests that strict rather than absolute liability is involved.

Clause 23 sets out the obligations of the registered operator of a heavy vehicle. The registered operator is defined in clause 2 of the Bill as 'the person recorded on the register as the person responsible for the vehicle.' The obligations of the registered operator include complying with applicable third party insurance and stamp duty legislation, and complying with the requirements of regulations made under the Act.

Clause 24 sets penalties for offences against the Act. These vary according to whether the offender is an individual or a corporation and whether the offence is a first or subsequent offence. In the case of a first offence for an individual the maximum penalty is $2,500 and, in the case of a first offence for a corporation the maximum penalty is $12,500.

Clause 24(2) and (3) enable offences and penalties for breaches of the regulations to be created by regulations made under the legislation. Clause 24(3) provides that the maximum penalty for an offence against the regulations is $2,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a corporation.

Part 4 - General

Clauses 26 and 27 enable the responsible Minister to suspend or vary regulations and to include or exclude specified areas and roads from the application of the Act or regulations. Where the Minister orders the suspension or variation of regulations, the order must be consistent with provisions relating to such orders contained in the intergovernmental agreements scheduled to the National Road Transport Commission Act 1991 (Cwlth).

Clause 28 enables the police or the registration authority to inspect heavy vehicles in certain circumstances, and to issue defect notices, impose conditions on the use of the vehicle or prohibit the use of the vehicle. Clause 28(4) enables the police or a member of the registration authority to seize documents, plates and devices in or on the vehicle if they suspect on reasonable grounds that the documents, plates or devices are being used in committing an offence against the Act or regulations.


  1. National Road Transport Commission (NRTC), Annual Report 1992, p.2.
  2. National Road Transport Commission, Annual Report 1996. The Ministerial Council for Road Transport consists of Commonwealth, State and Territory Transport and Road Ministers.
  3. National Road Transport Commission Act 1991 (Cwlth), Schedule, Recital G(a).
  4. The purpose of the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Act 1993 was to provide for annual registration charges for vehicles over 4.5 tonnes and permit charges for vehicles over 125 tonnes.
  5. The purpose of the Road Transport Reform (Vehicles and Traffic) Act 1993 was to enable regulations to be made dealing with vehicle standards, driving hours, road rules, mass and loading, and oversize and overmass vehicles and combinations.
  6. The purpose of the Road Transport Reform (Dangerous Goods) 1995 was to regulate the transportation of dangerous goods by road.
  7. NRTC, Annual Report 1996, p.9.
  8. Transport Legislation Amendment Bill (No.2) 1995, Explanatory Memorandum, p.42.
  9. Gross combination mass (GCM) is defined in clause 2 of the Bill and is the 'greatest possible sum of the maximum loaded mass of the motor vehicle and of any vehicles that may lawfully be towed by it at one time.'
  10. Gross vehicle mass (GVM) is defined in clause 2 of the Bill and is 'the maximum loaded mass of the vehicle.'
  11. The expression 'road related area' is defined in clause 2 of the Bill. The definition includes areas such as an area dividing a road, footpaths or nature strips adjacent to a road, public areas used by cyclists, animals, drivers, riders or for parking motor vehicles.
  12. An offence of strict liability allows for a defence of honest and reasonable mistake. An offence of absolute liability does not.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Jennifer Norberry
31 January 1997
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine whether the Bill has been enacted and, if so, whether the subsequent Act reflects further amendments.

IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1323-9031
Commonwealth of Australia 1996

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997.

This page was prepared by the Parliamentary Library, Commonwealth of Australia
Last updated: 21 March 1997

Back to top