Rail Safety Bill
Debate resumed from 31 October.
Mr DEBNAM (Vaucluse) [11.53 a.m.]: I am delighted to finally have the opportunity to comment on this important bill. At the outset I indicate that the Opposition will not oppose the bill. In fact, we will ensure that its passage through both Houses is not delayed. However, we wish to highlight a number of concerns about rail safety generally, and specifically about the independence and powers of the safety regulators. We serve notice on the Government that if it does not amend the bill to improve the independence, powers and resources available to the safety regulators, a Coalition government will do so immediately after the coming State election.
I wish to thank a number of people for the assistance they have provided to the Coalition in assessing the bill. I thank Simon Miller, Carolyn Walsh and Garry Sergeant for their comprehensive briefings and comprehensive answers to our many questions. I also thank the Director-General of Transport for arranging a number of visits. I had the opportunity to view the virtual reality training centre at Petersham, together with Fiona Love, Tony and Chris. A visit was also arranged to the new signalling control centre at Sydenham, where Arthur Smith and Kevin Wright briefed me on the new facility and the way the system worked, which was extremely beneficial from my point of view. I thank all those involved in arranging those visits and briefings, and I also thank Rita Capuzza of head office for her efforts in arranging the visits.
The letter arranging those visits ruled out two further visits I had sought on behalf of the Opposition. Members of this House and members of the public will not be surprised to hear that the first visit that was denied to the Opposition was a visit to the manufacturer of the Millennium trains. The Government's refusal to allow the Opposition to visit that major project, which involves several hundred million dollar and has had a lot of problems over many years, indicates that the Government is not sincere about accountability.
The second visit that was denied to the Opposition was a visit to the monitoring centres for the closed-circuit television [CCTV] and help points across the rail system. As we all know, the help points were years late in delivery and the CCTV system simply does not work. There are 5,700 cameras across the State's railway stations. During his time in office the Minister for Transport has simply gone for a strategy of getting the maximum number of cameras into railway stations—and, I might add, the maximum number of press releases to highlight those cameras—but he did not go for an effective monitoring system of that security network. As a result, I understand that the cost of that project has blown out from the original $50 million to closer to $100 million, and it may well take a sum well in excess of that to make the system viable.
It is a matter of concern to me that the Government did not allow the Opposition to visit those monitoring centres to at least allow us, in good faith, to improve our understanding of the system, the problems that have emerged in recent years and the opportunities that may be available to remedy the problems. As I said, the denial of the visits to the manufacturer of the Millennium trains and the monitoring centres indicates that the Government is not sincere about being accountable for rail safety. The Minister had no option but to seek the Opposition's co-operation on this bill, and we are delighted to provide it. Rail safety in New South Wales is a critical issue, and I will highlight the reasons for that. Every single member of this House should share the objective of getting this legislation through the Parliament if we are to improve rail safety in New South Wales. As I said, the Opposition raises a number of concerns about various provisions of the bill and believes a number of aspects have not been sufficiently strengthened.
In the Minister's second reading speech he made the comment that "recent safety incidents such as Hexham and Bargo are of concern for me". Since the Minister made that comment, we could also add the accident at Galong, the accident at Cockle Creek and a vast number of other accidents, many of which I do not have details about because the Government has not released information about all rail safety incidents. I wish to contrast the Minister's statement with the statement of the Minister's spokesman earlier this year, who said, "We're of the view that the network is now as safe as it has been in 100 years." I raised objections to that statement at the time. I can understand that the Government feels that part of its job is to improve public confidence in rail safety, but it simply cannot issue a message that is clearly wrong.
We found in the ensuing months after that statement was made that there was one problem after another, one accident after another, one derailment after another. As the Rail spokesman and the Minister found, their credibility just simply evaporated in the middle of this year. They had no credibility on rail safety. Hopefully this bill will to some extent reintroduce some credibility for the rail system in New South Wales. The Minister referred in his second reading speech to the objects of the bill. He said:
We endorse those objectives; they are good. The Minister was talking there about the draft bill, but obviously those objects are the main thrust of the final bill. The Minister also referred to Justice McInerney's report. He said:
The bill achieves four major ends to implement the legislative changes agreed to by the Government in response to the McInerney Inquiry: a new risk management based accreditation model; increased penalties and powers for enforcing Rail Safety; a new multi-tiered statutory framework for rail investigations and expanded drug and alcohol testing powers.
The Minister was talking about developing a rail safety framework in New South Wales which delivers the safety outcomes expected by passengers and the community while enabling operators to effectively run the system. There is no doubt about that. That is exactly what we are all trying to move towards. The Minister's statement that this is the final step in establishing that framework is good, and it enacts the Government's response to Justice McInerney's report, but again I ask the Minister: What is the status of compatible radios today? What is the status across New South Wales of one of the fundamental recommendations of the McInerney report, which is to ensure that all trains operating in New South Wales have compatible radio systems? Referring to the Rail Safety Regulator, the Minister said in his second reading speech:
This bill is the final step in the establishment of that framework and enacts the Government's response to Justice McInerney's report.
It is clear in the industry that a lot of people are unnerved by the conflict of interest between operational management and the reporting lines for the Rail Safety Regulator. This bill will not relieve that nervousness. A lot of people simply use the words "conflict of interest" without referring to the director-general. Their concerns relate to the structure, and they are the concerns that are discussed in some depth through the Glenbrook reports and, to some extent, in the Minister's second reading speech.
The Regulator is accountable through the Director-General to the Minister for Transport. This model recognises that, ultimately, the public and you will hold me accountable for rail safety.
Even after reading all those reports, the bill and the second reading speech, a number of people still have concerns about that basic conflict of interest. I have to say that the Opposition shares those concerns. That is probably the first reason why I said we will amend this bill after the election. If the Coalition Government is elected, one of our first changes will be to this bill, to improve the independence, the powers, and the resources of the Rail Safety Regulators. The last sentence of the Minister's speech that I quoted was:
I want to show you how insincere that statement is. On 31 May 1995 the Minister for Transport—at that time he was the Minister for Small Business and Regional Development, Minister for Ports, and Assistant Minister for State Development—spoke about the Ports Corporatisation and Waterways Management Bill, and I remember his enthusiasm that day. There was much euphoria, with all these new Ministers introducing bills. I have had one section of his speech on my wall for eight years and, it will be there for another four months until this Minister and this Government goes. He said:
This model recognises that, ultimately, the public and you will hold me accountable for rail safety.
being the Carr Government—
An integral part of our reform agenda is the reintroduction of ministerial responsibility and accountability. The Government believes—
That was a wonderful speech for Minister Scully to start his ministerial career with, but over the past eight years the theatrics have been truly extraordinary and some Ministers—I must say with some style—have got away with squeaking out of their Ministerial responsibilities by whatever weasel words they chose to use at the time. Minister Scully was not one of them. Minister Scully, who was schooled by Minister Knight in how to deal with these sort of public issues of accountability to the people of New South Wales, ineptly went through press conference after press conference carpeting his senior bureaucrats.
that, so long as it is responsible for managing assets on behalf of the people, it should remain answerable, through its Ministers, for the competent management of those assets.
Eventually most of them were sacked and I understand that there has been a considerable movement of staff through the departments. But have we got better accountability today after the removal of umpteen senior bureaucrats? No, because we have got the same Minister who made that statement back on 31 May 1995 and who had no intention whatsoever of sticking with it. Whether it is rail, blow-outs in road funding, or any other issue this Minister has dealt with, he has been insincere.
That is the second reason why I have real difficulty with this legislation. At face value it has good intent, but when you go through it in detail you begin to doubt whether the Government will live up to the expectations of the people of New South Wales when it comes to rail safety. Thankfully it will only be four months until the State election. The Minister said further in his second reading speech:
That is another promise of delivering accountability through this bill, and I say again that it is simply not going to happen. There are a couple of reasons why I do not think it is going to happen, and they go back to the core issue of secrecy and cultural problems within the Carr Government and especially within Rail: this culture of cover-up, denial, and obsessive secrecy. There is no doubt in my mind that, regardless of the introduction of this bill, rail safety in New South Wales is still being undermined by obsessive secrecy. We have a number of examples of that. It was simply a matter of luck that no-one was killed or injured when a freight train derailed and hit Cockle Creek station on Saturday. It was not the first time we have been lucky in New South Wales, especially this year.
The new public reporting requirements will ensure accountability and promote vigilance and public scrutiny of both the activities of the Regulator and the broader industry.
Cockle Creek was the latest in a series of rail accidents this year and although there was extensive damage, thankfully no-one was killed or seriously injured. Continuing derailments and rail accidents are worry enough, but, combined with the Government's culture of denial, cover-up and excessive secrecy, there is a deadly mix. Members are all aware that some years ago New South Wales introduced freedom of information legislation to assist public scrutiny of Executive government. Unfortunately, after eight years in office the Carr Government has perfected its tactics to frustrate public scrutiny. It is not just in this portfolio, it is not just in Transport, it is not just freedom of information applications, it is not just the responses that this Minister gives to questions on notice—it is across all portfolios, but it is especially bad in Transport and in Rail.
Obsessive secrecy about rail safety is just plain dangerous. Last week the Carr Government refused to release annual safety reports of the rail network. The refusal came 10 weeks after the Opposition sought copies of the safety audits under freedom of information applications. A few weeks later the Minister gave his second reading speech about increased accountability and public scrutiny. The Government agonised for a number of weeks over the release of the reports and after the Bali bombing it decided to use the threat of terrorism as an excuse for denying public scrutiny of the politically sensitive audit reports. The terrorism excuse is absurd. I was probably the first in October last year to acknowledge that terrorism is a threat in Australia. However, the rail safety reports sought by the Opposition would not assist terrorist planning, and in using that excuse the Carr Government again demonstrates an arrogant abuse of power and its contempt for the community.
The Opposition does not seek blueprints to the rail network but it does seek a copy of rail safety audits, which are the official report cards on how well the Carr Government has fulfilled its track maintenance and safety responsibilities. The Carr Government refused to release the rail safety audit reports because they document in detail the Government's failure to maintain the rail system. The audit reports will not assist terrorism but they are politically explosive. Rail safety is a major concern in New South Wales, especially since seven people died at Glenbrook in December 1999. Another 10 rail workers died in other rail accidents during a 12-month period. In May and June this year extensive cracks were discovered in the rail system, but the Carr Government did its best to downplay them; it even denied to me and the media that the cracks were as bad as they obviously were.
In downplaying those concerns the Government even suggested that the system was "as safe as it had been in 100 years". That is clearly not the case and over the past few months the Government has many times regretted making that claim. Rail safety and the Carr Government's culture of cover-up became such a concern that in late June the Opposition moved a motion of no confidence in the Minister for Transport. I remember that day, Thursday 27 June.
Mr Moss: You lot would try anything on.
Mr DEBNAM: That is an interjection, isn't it?
Mr Moss: Too right it is.
Mr DEBNAM: I moved that motion on 27 June and the Minister for Transport treated it with contempt. I do not think he was present for most of the debate but when he was present he spent all his time speaking about tollways and his actions on the M5 East, although he did not acknowledge that public transport patronage had taken a dive on the East Hills rail line following the opening of the M5 East. He took great credit for various road projects undertaken in recent years, but he did not refer to the fact that he had blown his roads budget by $956 million over five years, as highlighted by the shadow Minister for Roads in the following weeks.
The motion of no confidence I moved on Thursday 27 June signalled to the Government that the Opposition and the Parliament are concerned with rail safety and the Government's obsession with secrecy. Two weeks after that debate, rail accidents were again in the news. On 12 July a passenger train crashed into a derailed freight train at Hexham. Miraculously, passengers were not seriously injured when two carriages hit the freight train and jumped off the rails. I note that we are still awaiting the final Hexham investigation report, which I understand was completed in late September. Undoubtedly the Government has been waiting for a politically opportune moment to release it.
Passengers were lucky again in August when a passenger train crashed into a derailed maintenance train at Bargo. A week later another train derailed nearby. Three weeks ago a derailed freight train demolished a station at Galong in southern New South Wales, and thankfully no-one was on the station. On Saturday a derailed freight train hit the Cockle Creek station but missed passengers on the platform. There have been a number of accidents and derailments across the State, many of which have not received any publicity. Passengers have been lucky this year, but luck is not sufficient to ensure a safe rail network. Given the Carr Government's cutbacks on maintenance spending during the 1990s, the rail maintenance backlog highlighted by the Auditor-General in volume 3 of the Auditor-General's Report 2002, and the aging fleet of carriages, we still have a major challenge in New South Wales simply to make the rail system safe.
Apart from ensuring safety as a clear and major funding priority, the Government must adopt an honest and open approach to rail safety so that we can use public scrutiny to lift safety performance. I note that that is an unfamiliar concept to the Carr Government and I acknowledge that it is an unfamiliar concept to Rail. However, there are many very talented and committed people within Rail in New South Wales who encourage public scrutiny in the hope of lifting safety performance. I thank all the people who, at various times, assist us in highlighting Rail issues.
The Government must adopt this policy. It cannot merely introduce a bill that talks about public scrutiny and accountability while still retaining the option of doing nothing about it. The Government has to openly demonstrate that it has moved beyond that culture of cover-up and denial, and embrace honesty, transparency, and an open approach to rail safety. This month the Government introduced this long overdue, updated rail safety legislation. However, as I said at the outset, it does not provide real independence for the Rail Safety Regulator or for the rail accident investigation panel. A Coalition Government will amend the legislation immediately after the State election. The second reading speech stated:
Despite that promise, a few days later the Carr Government denied the Opposition access to the most basic report card on rail safety—the annual audit. In the interests of public safety the Opposition will not accept that rejection and will not let the matter rest there. The Opposition has sought an internal review and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the reports are released as a matter of urgency. The public has the right to know about rail safety and it is critical that they know now, not when the Minister and the Premier think it may be safe to tell them. There will be no guarantee of rail safety in New South Wales until the Government adopts an honest and transparent approach to reporting rail safety issues.
The new public reporting requirements will ensure accountability and promote vigilance and public scrutiny of both the activities of the Regulator and the broader community.
The Minister referred in his second reading speech to the tabling of safety reports in Parliament. That is appropriate. In discussion on the bill I expressed major concern about when the reports will be available, how long they will sit on the Minister's desk, whether they will be tabled if Parliament is not sitting, whether they will be made available if Parliament is not sitting, and whether they will be put on the web site. I understand from the second reading speech that the reports will be put on the web site. My concern is with timing, and I have continually raised this concern since I became responsible for this portfolio. Rail safety must be beyond politics. It must be open, transparent and timely. Reports must be tabled urgently. We all want that basic information to be available.
We understand that investigators have a job to do and we understand that it may well take time. However, the public has the right to have information about rail safety, especially in a system that is under such stress. The system is under real stress today, just as it was when the Glenbrook and other accidents occurred. I am concerned about the timing. A Coalition Government will ensure that safety incidents are reported quickly—and by that I mean within hours and days, not weeks and months.
Clearly, investigation reports take some time. However, as soon as the so-called independent person has finished a report, the Coalition will move heaven and earth to get that report released publicly. The Government must take its medicine; it simply cannot delay release of the report until a politically opportune time, when there may be a very heavy news day. In relation to the final report on Hexham and the report on Galong, the Government issued a press release to cover up the import of those investigation reports. Timeliness is the critical issue. Reports should be subject to public scrutiny, and as quickly as possible.
I should like to refer to a number of points about a rail safety inspectorate that Justice McInerney made in his first, second and final reports. On pages 50 to 53 of the second report Justice McInerney made several comments about a rail safety inspectorate, which I will read into Hansard because, although it would be good if honourable members read the reports, I acknowledge that they probably will not do so because of time pressures. On page 50 of the second report Justice McInerney said:
In relation to a rail accident investigation board, on page 52 Justice McInerney said:
The rail safety regulatory function should be performed by a Rail Safety Inspectorate. The Inspectorate should report directly to Parliament and not to a Minister. This is because the Rail Safety Inspectorate has a single focus being the safety of rail operations. There may be competing demands between, for example punctuality of trains and the safety of their operations. By reporting directly to Parliament, the independence of the Rail Safety Inspectorate would be ensured.
On page 53 Justice McInerney said:
As I previously indicated, in my opinion, there should be a Rail Accident Investigation Board, this Board should also report directly to Parliament and not to the Minister. Its report should be made public.
I emphasise that final sentence: "The purpose of anonymous and confidential reporting is to enable the Board to become aware of trends or near misses and other matters which may give rise to a risk to safety." Having read the second reading speech countless times, and having read the bill and Justice McInerney's reports, I firmly believe that the bill will not address that sentence. If the Minister believes otherwise, I would love to hear his explanation. If he wants to make amendments to correct the Opposition's concerns, we would welcome such amendments and quickly support them. If the Minister does not do that, we will, and we will do it straight after the State election. On page 53 Justice McInerney continued:
In my opinion, the Rail Accident Investigation Board should also have a system for confidential, anonymous reporting to it of any matter which may give rise to a risk to safety. The purpose of anonymous and confidential reporting is to enable the Board to become aware of trends or near misses and other matters which may give rise to a risk to safety.
I shall dwell on that for a moment. The way the bill is currently written, a rail accident investigation panel would address major accidents, or as directed by the Minister. I do not believe that it would address "trends and near misses or other matters which may give rise to a risk to safety". I acknowledge that the definition of "major accident" in this bill has been picked up from the Commonwealth legislation, but I do not think it is good enough. Given the state of Rail in New South Wales, given the problems we are experiencing every day, and given the stress the system is under, I honestly do not think that a rail accident investigation panel would have sufficient resources to pick up on those trends and have the option of investigating them at any time. The only way to clean up the system is to have external scrutiny not only of the rail system but also of the rail safety inspectorate as such. Justice McInerney continued:
The reasons why it is the Board which should have the power to receive anonymous and confidential reports are that it is the investigatory body and the anonymous and confidential reporting will provide a mechanism by which the competency of the Rail Safety Inspectorate can be monitored. Finally, the Rail Accident Investigation Board, in my opinion, should itself determine which accidents, incidents or other matters, it is to investigate.
I have just made that point—
Common sense suggests that any accident which involved substantial public disquiet or concern would be investigated but there may also be a series of minor accidents which demonstrate a trend which has the potential to lead to a catastrophic accident—
The bill provides for that. Pages 50 to 57 of the report contain a number of recommendations for structural change. Recommendation 9 is to establish a rail safety inspectorate. Recommendation 11 is to establish a rail accident investigation board, the structure of which is referred to in further detailed recommendations.
The Board should investigate those as well. The Board should report to Parliament on an annual basis. The existence of the Board should not prevent the Government from deciding to appoint some other form of inquiry into a rail accident or incident including, if necessary, a Special Commission of Inquiry.
I turn now to the final McInerney report of April 2001—a year and a half ago. When that report was delivered, a year and a half after the Glenbrook accident, I suppose we all hoped that sufficient cultural change would be achieved and that rail safety would improve. However, incidents over the past year and a half show that rail safety has not improved, and many of the concerns expressed at that time remain. On pages 160 to 178 of the final report Justice McInerney made a number of points that I think add to the argument that we should all be concerned to ensure that we have a structure that is truly independent and is seen to be independent. On page 160 Justice McInerney quoted the testimony of Mr Christie, the Co-ordinator General of Rail:
Justice McInerney then said:
I believe that there is a nexus between the two and that a well run rail system, a well disciplined rail system, which is achieving good results in other areas, will also tend to be a safety conscious system and the question of safety is pre-eminent as far as I am concerned, but I am suggesting that the setting of standards for safety and the setting of standards for other aspects of the system should be compatible.
I have not quoted that to highlight Ron Christie. Ron Christie has served this State very well and continues to do so. He did a fantastic job in getting the people of New South Wales and the Carr Government through the Sydney Olympics, when he managed the rail system. He left a legacy for many people in the rail system, including guidelines for the future, some of which unfortunately have been dismissed by the Minister as fanciful and a wish list.
As the second interim report stated, I do not agree that the Office of the Rail Regulator should be both a performance regulator and a safety regulator. There can be no doubt that if trains are running in accordance with the timetable, and there are no infrastructure or other defects, then the degraded mode of operation, which often gives rise to accidents, will not occur. The danger to public safety that exists is the attempt to meet performance standards in relation to punctuality of services when, for reasons due to infrastructure failure, defective procedural rules, poor training, inadequate communications technology or otherwise, this cannot be safely achieved. Mr Christie was the only witness who did not acknowledge the possibility of a conflict between meeting performance standards and ensuring the safety of operations. Achieving punctuality and reliability in rail performance will enhance safety but must not be permitted to assume a priority ahead of rail safety when performance targets are not being met.
Mr Fraser: He was a great Director-General of Public Works and Services, too.
Mr DEBNAM: Yes, he did a good job. He was one of the few people who said, "We can manage a good system and manage safety as well within that structure." I want to mention a number of other people who disagreed with him. It is clear today that some time after Mr Christie gave the testimony, we still have a major problem in Rail and a Government that is very much aware that the community is concerned about the timetable. I refer to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 10 November, a week ago, headed "Rail delays solved by tweaking timetable." As I said in the media that day, this timetable change is not going to achieve anything for commuters. It is an admission on the part of the Government that it is failing to get the system to run on time. It improves the perception that trains are running on time. The Government is doing that because it is four months to the election. What is the focus of the Carr Government in New South Wales? It is clearly on the State election, as we are seeing every day.
The Premier is in a panic, running around the State, backflipping on anything that is a concern, and trying to put a lid on any issue that might be getting away from him. One of those issues is the rail system, which is not working well. This silly proposal that came out on the weekend to tweak the timetable to make the Government look better indicates again that the Government is focused on public relations and spin. It is not focused on fundamentals, on getting the system right. In his testimony Mr Christie said if the system was running well it would not be a problem. The reporting structures could go through to the one person and it would all work well and everyone would be a happy family, as another person testified later. I point out that the system is not working well and we have problems in operational management and in safety. On page 162 Justice McInerney said:
There is specific mention in here that funding for the rail accident investigation panel will flow straight from Treasury to give it some level of independence from the bureaucracy. I do not believe it is sufficiently independent. That is our major concern and we will make arrangements to ensure true independence, from a funding point of view, both for the rail safety regulator and for the rail accident investigation panel. Page 163 of the report notes that Mr John Hall, the Executive Director of the Transport Safety Bureau, supported the existence of an independent rail safety inspectorate. Mr John Cowling, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rail Access Corporation at that time, strongly favoured an independent rail safety inspectorate. Mr Terrence Ogg, chief executive of the former RSA, said:
It should be very clear that the Railway Safety Inspectorate is not the servant of the railway organisations. The Railway Safety Inspectorate is the servant of the travelling public in particular, and the community in general, for the purpose of ensuring the safety of railway operations. Consequently, the funding arrangements of the Rail Safety Inspectorate should reflect its integrity and operational independence.
Mr Simon Lane, the former chief executive officer of the State Rail Authority, also thought that those proposals were appropriate. Mr George Panigiris, the Assistant Secretary of the Australian Services Union, New South Wales Branch, supported the existence of an independent rail safety inspectorate and a separate rail accident investigation board. In relation to the latter he said:
I think separating the safety aspects from the regulation aspect is a very worthwhile operation, and I think having an independent Accident Investigation Board will also add significantly to the system that will operate in New South Wales …
I agree with him. Mr Roger Jowett, the National Secretary of the Australian Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union said he:
I think it is clearly in everyone's best interest to do that because, if you allow investigations to be part of an organisation, let's say, for arguments sake, reports to a Minister who is responsible for that part of the industry, there would have to be, I think, a conflict of interest in relation to that.
When asked whether he supported the existence of an independent rail safety inspectorate he said, "most definitely." Mr Klaus Clemens, General Manager, Organisational Development of the SRA of New South Wales, stated:
… supported the existence of an independent Rail Accident Investigation Board …
Mr Edward Oliver, an expert retained by the Department of Transport, gave the following evidence in answer to the question, "Do you support the existence of a separate Rail Safety Inspectorate?":
I am very, very supportive of the Inspectorate idea and the independent safety investigator.
When asked why, he said:
Absolutely. I have been arguing for that in every possible forum for at least ten years, so nothing makes me happier than to see you recommend it.
He was then asked:
Because it is the only way in which a safety supervision process can be applied which is free of commercial and, to put it bluntly, political motivations. It is the only way in which the railway system can understand that its safety performance is being monitored by people who are dedicated to safety performance, whose only objective is safety performance, and where any departure from safety performance will not be kowtowed to by commercial considerations.
Should the Inspectorate be part of a Department of Transport or should it be somehow separated from a government department?
Mr Oliver said, on page 166:
There are two parts of that and I am not sure how I can weigh them up. I believe that from a public perception point of view, and from a political reality point of view, it is important that it be properly independent. You can't have even the appearance of somebody getting in the way. On the other hand, I think it is vital that there be communications to the Minister and the Director General in such a way that, if this Inspectorate sees a problem, they can get on the 'phone to the Minister and say, "Hey, Minister, you have a real problem here", or similarly, to the Director General, and they need to be able to do that without going through intermediaries. There has to be a direct path. I favour independence, but it has to be accompanied by a system to ensure the rapid communication of problems.
On page 167 we get an interesting testimony from Dr Sally Leivesley, an international expert in safety, who was retained by the Director-General of the Department of Transport. She was asked her view about the independent rail safety inspectorate and stated:
… another witness expressed one of my concerns, which is that the thing could be marginalised by insufficient funding, or simply be ignored, and the independence has to be structured in such a way that it can't be insufficiently funded and it can't be ignored.
She favoured an inspectorate that was located within the Department of Transport. She stated:
All my reading of the facts that came out of the interim report, and going through the hearings and talking with the personnel, lead me to the view that an independent Inspectorate was essential.
I do not know the good doctor, I have never met her, but I suggest that she never met the Carr Government. Nobody would say that about a crisis in New South Wales if they had spent a couple of years living in New South Wales with the Carr Government in office. I find it truly extraordinary that this person, even if she is an international expert in safety, is suggesting a model that works well in isolation, but it is not in isolation; it is under the Carr Government. As I said before, thankfully we have only four months left. This system will not work under the Carr Government and I can only assume that the good doctor was not briefed and had not met the Carr Government. On page 168 Justice McInerney said:
The reasons that I went the route that I did were that the rail service is like a family, and it operates like a family, and what I find is that, like many other service organisations, where people are quite committed to the service they are doing, they learn more through example and guidance than by punishment, or the feeling that they are being viewed by people who are remote from the organisation. In other words, it is like learning from the parent in the family and what I had felt was that the success of the safety management was really going to come from an Inspectorate that about 80 per cent of the time was leading and setting the standards and providing the top layer of safety management capability, and helping them along the way with that, and only about 20 per cent of the operation would be the actual negative, or side that was looking at the full exposures.
What I had felt was that, in having the Inspectorate in the family, this could be managed in an independent form, as long as the reporting was through to the Minister.
If there is any chance that there could be corruption of the independence of that inspectorate, then I would view a totally independent body as being the most important part.
From this body of evidence, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that there is strong support among witnesses from rail management, trade unions, the rail bureaucracy and independent safety experts for the existence of a separate Rail Safety Inspectorate and Rail Accident Investigation Board. Indeed, none of this evidence was contradicted in cross-examination or submission by any person or entity represented before the Special Commission of Inquiry.
All of this evidence confirms my own independent view, expressed in the second interim report, that a separate and independent Rail Safety Inspectorate and a separate and independent Rail Accident Investigation Board are essential.
Apart from the need for a separate and independent Rail Safety Inspectorate and a separate and independent Rail Accident Investigation Board, there seems to be an inadequate and inefficient allocation of resources to rail safety.
Further, Justice McInerney said:
On the uncontested evidence before me, rail operations were not being conducted with a proper regard to safety. The focus of the culture, such as it was, remained very much one of on-time running. Safety matters were either subjugated in whole or in part to on-time running and ignored.
At page 170 he said:
There are many examples of urgent safety matters not being addressed by rail organisations, which the Transport Safety Bureau was in turn required to monitor. These include incompatible radio systems …
I remind honourable members that an incompatible radio system was highlighted in the Glenbrook recommendations as one of the major problems. The Government perpetrated a fraud on the people of New South Wales. Up until the Hexham crash people believed that the rail network had moved towards compatible radio systems. On the Saturday night a press release from a Government spokesman muddied the water with an announcement of about $6 million of funding for radios. When we dug behind that press release and the Hexham accident we found that compatible radios had not been implemented for all trains across the State. Justice McInerney went on to say:
These include incompatible radio systems, inadequate safeworking units, poor training, deliberate disobedience by staff of safety directions from superiors and staff refusing to follow communications protocols. Inadequate resources, particularly staff levels, prevented the Transport Safety Bureau from so doing.
Justice McInerney highlighted, at that point and continually throughout his report, the issue of resources. He said at the bottom of page 170:
However, in my view, there must be an independent Rail Safety Inspectorate. The primary object of a Rail Safety Inspectorate should be the continual improvement of rail safety.
Importantly, at page 172, he said:
Reports of any such audit and inspection should be made public.
At page 174 he said:
I have considered various structural arrangements for the Rail Safety Inspectorate but have come to the conclusion that it should be part of the Department of Transport. The legislation creating it should preserve its independence from ministerial control.
That is the end point of his discussion. I highlight again that there are many qualifications to the final acceptance that the rail safety inspectorate should be within the Department of Transport. Justice McInerney talked about resources and the board not only being seen to be independent but obviously being truly independent. He talked about the funding arrangements and reporting to Parliament. I share his concerns. Even in the structure that the Minister has delivered in this bill—which I acknowledge is a major step forward in rail safety in New South Wales—I am not confident that the Government will fulfil the spirit of the Glenbrook recommendations. At page 176 Justice McInerney made the further point:
When it comes to determining how safe an industry is, an industry can go along for many years with a large number of potentially serious incidents occurring because it is not being safely managed until contributing factors coincide and a disaster results.
We saw that at Glenbrook, and we still see a substantial number of accidents, injuries and derailments across the system. We see a Government that finally brought itself to say that the accidents at Hexham and Bargo were of real concern, even after countless of its spokesman said, "Nothing could be more minor" and "The system is as safe as it has been in 100 years". The Government has finally acknowledged the seriousness of the situation. But the Government must embrace the spirit of the Glenbrook recommendations and ensure that the safety regulations and the accident investigation boards are truly independent, powerful enough and sufficiently well funded. At page 177 Justice McInerney said:
The Rail Accident Investigation Board should not be involved in investigating every accident or incident on the railway. It should determine for itself which accidents it should investigate.
I do not believe that the bill gives the board sufficient latitude to do so. The Minister said in his second reading speech:
The bill proposes significant reforms to the management of rail safety investigations. These changes are in response both to Justice McInerney's recommendations and to reforms occurring at a national level. As I previously stated, the rail industry is becoming increasingly national. The Commonwealth Government is currently enacting legislation which will enable the Australian Transport Safety Bureau [ATSB] to undertake investigations into any accidents on the interstate network. In New South Wales, this is the network from Sydney north to the Queensland border, south to the Victorian border and west to Broken Hill.
We welcome that increased co-operation with the Federal safety bureau. The Minister further said:
This bill details a multi-tiered investigation system, which provides for independent investigation of all major rail accidents and interfaces with the new Commonwealth legislation.
That is true, but we believe it is not adequate. The Minister went on to say:
There will be an appropriate level of investigation for each level of seriousness of incident. The Government has the power to appoint a royal commission or judicial special commission of inquiry in the most serious of cases … For most major incidents on interstate track, the Commonwealth ATSB will have the first right of refusal to conduct an investigation. If that body elects not to investigate, or if a major accident occurs outside the interstate network, an independent Rail Accident Investigation Panel will investigate the accident or incident. For less serious incidents, the Rail Safety Regulator will have the power to investigate. For the least serious incidents, an operator will conduct an internal review. To preserve the panel's independence, the Governor will appoint the chair for a three-year term. While not wanting to have a proliferation of rail agencies, a statutory independent panel chair is vital to ensuring continued community confidence in the rail system.
For each accident investigation the chair will be provided with the specialist expertise he or she requires.
The point I want to make in this regard goes to the crux of the matter. It is simply not good enough to have issued a press release in November last year stating that Ron Christie would head the rail accident investigation panel, discover that could not be done because the legislation had not been changed, then introduce this bill, which allows the Government to appoint Ron Christie, or any other person, to head the panel. The Government says that the chairman will get the resources he or she needs at the appropriate time to investigate any accident or issue that arises. That is not good enough.
The Government will have to properly resource the chair of the rail accident investigation panel on an ongoing basis so that he or she can monitor the entire rail system and the rail safety inspectorate. It is not good enough for the Government to simply say that when an incident occurs it will send the right people. I do not believe that will happen; I do not believe the panel will be truly independent. There is only one way to guarantee independence, that is, to have standing resources made available to the chair at all times so that the chair can decide whether an incident is major and whether there is a significant trend or disturbing issue and appropriately investigate. The Minister went on to say:
As I have said previously, I acknowledge that the bill has picked up the Commonwealth definition of "major". I do not believe that definition is good enough. The Minister continued:
The chair will have a self-referral power to investigate all major rail accidents, which are defined in the bill using wording which captures the Australian Standard definition of a major incident.
The Minister or Director General may also refer investigations to the panel. To preserve the integrity of the panel, all investigations will be funded directly by Treasury.
All honourable members know how Treasury works. We saw this week how Treasury works when the Treasurer tried to suggest that the New South Wales Treasury is truly independent and would be delighted to act as an independent consultant to cost the Opposition's election promises. That sentence in the second reading speech is a load of rubbish. As if, by divine right, the Minister can call upon Treasury to provide truly independent funding! What a load of rubbish! I have watched Treasury closely, not only in the very brief time that I was in government when I first came into this place but also in the eight years since. There is nothing independent about New South Wales Treasury. Like many senior personnel in the public sector, I have very real concerns about the way it has done its job in recent years. Equating the New South Wales Treasury with independence is absurd and unacceptable.
The panel chairman needs to be appropriately resourced on an ongoing basis. The Minister said that the panel would be independent—not only the rail accident investigation panel but also the rail safety regulator. It will be independent only if it has ongoing resources. The Minister also said that reports to the panel will be tabled in Parliament and published on the parliamentary web site and the regulator's web site. It is good that investigations undertaken by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will be published on its web site. It is standard practice across the public sector that information be made available on web sites. I agree with that, but my concern relates to the timing. We must get safety information out in hours and days, not weeks and months. The Minister should not be able to delay the publication of reports until a politically opportune moment.
The bill also refers to fatigue management. The Opposition endorses that concept. It is one of the good things that came out of the consultation process. I look forward to seeing more detail on the negotiated arrangements. The bill also refers to drug and alcohol testing, which is long overdue and problematic. It is a critical issue for the people of New South Wales. I look forward to seeing the Government negotiating workable arrangements in that regard. The issue of train radios has been raised a number of times. It is not specifically addressed in this bill, but it is a major concern and was a key recommendation resulting from the Glenbrook inquiry. We all thought the Government intended to address that problem. We are all concerned—I am very concerned—about that issue. I would welcome a detailed explanation of the status of compatible radios in all trains operating in New South Wales.
I repeat: The Opposition will not oppose this bill. Members on this side will work with the Government to ensure that it is not delayed in this House or in the other place. It is very important that this legislation be enacted quickly, but a number of concerns have been raised. The Opposition would welcome the government amendments to accommodate those concerns—to improve the independence, powers and resources of the safety regulator. However, if the Government decides not to go down that path the Coalition Government will do so immediately after the election.
Mr WEST (Campbelltown) [12.54 p.m.]: I support the Rail Safety Bill and, in doing so, express my support for the efforts of the Minister and the Department of Transport to improve the management of rail safety. Rail safety is an important issue for the people of Campbelltown. Each week nearly 14,000 rail trips are taken from the Campbelltown area. Passengers may be travelling to work, to school, to entertainment venues, or to visit family and friends across the city and the State. As these figures indicate, many people in Campbelltown are reliant on public transport, and they deserve a safe, reliable rail service.
This bill recognises that rail safety is not about only train operations. Rail safety also relates to the security of the 900,000-plus passengers who use the system every day. Commuters have a right to feel safe when travelling on trains late at night or when they alight at their home station after a long day. Earlier this year I was concerned by the number of security incidents occurring at Campbelltown and Leumeah stations and the surrounding car parks. Car theft was on the increase, as was antisocial behaviour in and around the railway stations. Although in many cases there are no quick fixes for crime, I approached the Minister about improving security at the station. I am pleased to advise that he and his agencies were very responsive. Since I first raised this issue a range of security measures have been put in place.
Improvements such as extra lighting and help points, remotely monitored closed-circuit television cameras and long-line public address systems have been installed at both Campbelltown and Leumeah stations. Co-operation between the councils, the department and the Police Force has increased. Additional security staff now patrol Campbelltown station, with an increased presence on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. As a result of these initiatives the number of security incidents at Campbelltown has decreased by 85 per cent from 20 in January to only three in September. Assistance has also been provided at the surrounding car parks at both stations. Lighting has been improved and Campbelltown has new cameras and security patrols. These initiatives have helped to reduce crime significantly in the station precinct and to provide commuters with the level of security they expect. These measures are supported by network-wide security measures, such as two security guards patrolling every train after 7.00 p.m. and the other specialised State Rail staff targeting crime on the rail system.
State Rail has made real improvements in providing security measures in Campbelltown. However, this bill takes that further. Safety accreditation requirements will now be expanded so that all passenger operators will be required to submit a passenger security policy and plan to the regulator. The bill also provides that if the Director General of Transport does not consider that passenger safety is being properly managed he or she may impose specific conditions or requirements on the operator. These conditions will be supported by penalties for noncompliance. This is a fundamental change to the existing regulatory framework, and it is a positive step.
Safety and reliability are paramount to all users of the CityRail network, and rightly so. However, I recognise that running a rail system of this size is hard work; it is a complex network that presents a range of operational and engineering challenges. It employs more than 12,000 people in the government sector alone. I have many railway workers living in my electorate, and I am aware of the challenges they face as employees in this environment. Those employees have been working hard and finding solutions to operational problems. The railways are no different from many workplaces in which staff in the field have valuable knowledge and on-the-ground expertise to contribute to solving problems.
A great example is a project examining why certain trains continue to perform poorly during peak periods. Allen Tollis—a State Rail employee with more than 45 years railway experience—was put in charge of investigating the issue. He initiated a co-operative effort and spoke to signalers, train controllers and other operational staff seeking their views on train performance at specific points on the network. Those consultations resulted in a range of operational changes that will increase the efficiency of trains running across the network. I know that I have not done the project justice, but employees continue to demonstrate a collegiate approach and a real desire to get things done for the benefit of all commuters.
Another terrific example is the incident-recovery project that was commenced under the former Co-ordinator General of Rail, Mr Ron Christie. That initiative examined how both State Rail and the Rail Infrastructure Corporation [RIC] manage breakdowns on the network. A single breakdown can result in significant delays throughout the network. Once again, the approach was to get the staff involved. Dennis Lambros from RIC and Tony Eid from State Rail led several teams over a period of months working through the problems that caused undue delays. These staff worked to deliver a single outcome, irrespective of organisational allegiances. The result is that incident-recovery time in some locations has been reduced from 50 minutes to as little as seven minutes. I know that my constituents who travel considerable distances by train are pleased to hear about such initiatives.
This bill is a fundamental step in the development of a proactive rail safety environment. This model is focused on rail safety management systems, which cover all elements of rail operations, not only the point at which the wheel meets the track. It is clear from these examples that rail employees make a significant contribution to the operation of the railways, not only to the day-to-day services but also to longer-term initiatives that require the collective skills and knowledge of the work force. Effective safety management systems ensure that the work force is trained to take on the challenges of the modern rail environment. As we have seen with these projects, with effective management and leadership State Rail staff are willing to work together to deliver improved safety outcomes.
Debate adjourned on motion by Mr Fraser.
[Mr Acting-Speaker (Mr Lynch) left the chair at 1.00 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]