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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 10752

Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (16:10): I welcome the opportunity to speak on this disallowance motion because it is the coalition who understands the difficulty the transport industry is facing at the moment. It is the coalition that understands the stresses that are imposed on small business. We recognise that many small business operators have their house on the line. Every time that truck goes out it has to make a profit because they have repayments to make, they have the bank to keep happy. It is a very difficult environment.

And what does this government do when businesses are facing falling traffic volumes, falling freight volumes and falling profitability? It increases the road user charge by some 10.4 per cent. That is the action of a government that does not understand business. That is the action of a government that does not understand the fact that the heavy lifting in the freight task is done by the heavy haulage industry, that every item we export begins its journey on a local road. It is transported—so much of it—on the back of a truck. Rail has its place in the transport task but, unfortunately, road will still be doing the major part of the heavy lifting, particularly in regional and rural Australia.

Those regional electorates will be facing and bearing the biggest brunt of this cost increase that will be passed on. It will be impossible, given business conditions at the moment, for businesses to absorb increased transport costs. Businesses are too competitive. The environment is too competitive. But, rather than listen to the concerns of business, we have a government pushing up the road user charge by 10.4 per cent. That is why the coalition, in introducing this disallowance motion, is bringing some common sense to this debate. We need a viable road transport industry. We need viable trucking operators. We need to support small business. We need to keep transport costs as low as possible because it is vitally important for the people of regional Australia and the Australian economy more generally.

We saw the coalition at the weekend, at the national party conference, pledging to invest $5.6 billion in the Pacific Highway to make our freight task more efficient, to make the transport industry more efficient—$5.6 billion, $2 billion of new money. It took the coalition in opposition to commit the funds that are needed to finish the Pacific Highway. We have a government that pledged funds in the budget and we had the member for Lyne come out and say he had expended all this political capital on securing certain concessions in the budget. But what really happened was not a budget commitment. It was a hoax; it was a confidence trick. Because that $3.5 billion commitment depended on matching funding from the state—funding that the states did not have. It was a cruel hoax on the people who live on the North Coast.

We had that same budget announcement supported by the member for Page, also supporting the cruel hoax. The member for Page knew, the member for Lyne knew and the government knew that the state government could not match that funding, and there was a $2 billion hole. That caused a $2 billion hole in that commitment, because the state in financial difficulty just could not match it.

There is a clear choice in the election that is coming up, between the coalition, who are committing $5.6 billion in real money, and the Labor Party and the member for Lyne and the member for Page, who are peddling an illusion. The difference is in the order of $4 billion. A vote for Labor and the member for Lyne and the member for Page at the next election is a vote to have $4 billion less committed to the Pacific Highway. A vote for the coalition is an additional $4 billion over what the current government and what the Independents and what the member for Page are promising to commit to the project. It was a cruel hoax; it was a confidence trick. The current minister for transport knew the states could not match the funding. So he thought he was on pretty safe ground. He could claim the moral high ground—'We're putting extra funding into the Pacific Highway'—in the full knowledge that that funding would not be drawn down because of the condition he put on that it had to be matched dollar for dollar by the state of New South Wales, and he knew that that was just not going to happen. The people in my electorate and the people on the North Coast know the importance of the Pacific Highway to the freight transport task and to safe travel along the highway. They know the importance of getting those heavy vehicles out of the main street. They know the benefits in transport time and travel time that will be achieved through an improved highway. But what did we have? We had the government, with the support of the Independents, contriving a confidence trick—to be seen putting money into the highway when, in fact, the investment was going to be substantially less because New South Wales could not match the funding. That shows the depth of their commitment: a $4 billion gap now between what the coalition will put into the highway and what the Independents, the member for Page and the government are going to put into the highway. It is a gap in our productivity.

A completed Pacific Highway will mean greater national productivity. It will mean a massive return on investment in the funds already invested in the road by reducing travel time. It is a project that is welcomed not only by people on the east coast but also by the entire country, because we are increasing the productivity of our nation through improved transport. I welcome the opportunity to talk on this disallowance motion. Reducing costs to the transport sector is vital. Having a more sensible approach to the road-user charge, as proposed by the coalition, is an important step in providing some relief to the transport industry and at the same balancing the need for some degree of increase in the road-user charge—but one that is manageable, not 10.4 per cent, which is not a manageable increase. That flies in the face of business doing it tough. That flies in the face of common sense.

We also see the transport industry, I am sure, looking forward to 2014. We will have the member for Lyne, if he is re-elected, the member for New England and the member for Page queuing up to vote for a carbon tax on the heavy vehicle industry, to put further burden on the transport industry—to make it that much tougher. Not happy with a 10.4 per cent increase in the road-user charge today they will be backing up their cart again to put more burden on the transport industry and to have a carbon tax on heavy transport as of 2014. That is a further burden that this industry cannot afford to bear. So they should hang their heads in shame that they would propose a carbon tax that is going to ultimately be foisted on the road-transport industry.

Again, as with the Pacific Highway, people have a clear choice. A vote for the coalition is a vote to get rid of the carbon tax. It is a vote to take pressure off the transport industry and a vote for a party, a coalition, that knows what the transport industry needs, that knows how small business works and that knows we need to have an efficient transport sector free from the cost burdens that this government seeks to impose. I look forward to this disallowance motion being voted on in the House. It is very important that the motion is successful, because we have a government that is out of touch—out of touch with the transport sector, out of touch with the needs of small business and out of touch with ordinary Australians. Through proposing a 10.4 per cent increase in the road-user charge they just make it even more clear how out of touch they are.

Question put.