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Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Page: 2107

Mr HAYES (5:53 PM) —The extent of the carnage on our roads has been reduced over recent years; however, the tragedy continues to strike too many families. We see it on our television screens, unfortunately, on a daily basis, and it continues to inflict devastation not only on the families of the truck drivers or the road users involved but also on the wider community. This trauma is not isolated to the immediate victims of road trauma. The collateral damage affects many people, from the emergency services who lend assistance to the various voluntary organisations across the country to the people whom I represented for many years—the various members of the police service. I have to say, sadly, that the fight in terms of road carnage as a result of heavy vehicles cannot be won but there are many things that we should look at in addressing those issues, and they particularly go to road safety.

The National Road Safety Strategy has a target of reducing the annual number of road deaths per 100,000 head of population to below 5.6 by the end of 2010—that represents a 40 per cent reduction relative to the 1999 benchmark. This figure has become a formidable target with the aim of reducing the number of road fatalities. On 29 February this year, the transport ministers across the country unanimously endorsed this government’s plan to put into effect a $70 million heavy vehicle safety and productivity plan. I have had the opportunity to have a brief discussion about this with one of the main characters in the industry, Lindsay Fox, and with a former colleague of mine Bill Kelty—but I will come back to that later. In terms of Lindsay Fox’s involvement in the industry—apart from his history in establishing heavy vehicle transport throughout the country and his commitment to the ongoing viability of this industry—I think his views are certainly very much respected, at least on this side of the chamber.

The Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2008 enables the nationally agreed heavy vehicle registration charges to be applied to heavy vehicles registered under the Australian government’s Federal Interstate Registration Scheme—or FIRS, as it is known. The new heavy vehicle charges are one component of this government’s broader heavy vehicle productivity and safety agenda and will ensure that the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme charges are consistent with the state and territory registration charges as they apply from 1 July 2008.

Heavy vehicles operate across our country and transport from state to state almost 1.7 billion tonnes of freight, which represents 70 per cent of the total domestic tonnage carried by all transport modes. As many as 365,000 heavy vehicles operate in Australia. As you would no doubt appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker Schultz, being on the Hume Highway, my electorate of Werriwa experiences a lot of the heavy vehicle transport that operates along the eastern seaboard. The Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne is one of our most active interstate corridors, and it carries 20 million tonnes of freight per year. In the lead-up to the last federal election, it was so critical that the then Rudd opposition outline a plan to widen the Hume Highway where significant bottlenecks were occurring. Within the bounds of Werriwa on the Hume Highway, we experience 6,000 heavy transport movements per day.

In raw terms, this bill is about ensuring there is a proper charge applied against heavy transport movements that has regard to recovery against infrastructure with respect to roads. The basis of that, as was agreed by the transport ministers, was to ensure that a fair amount was paid in order to contribute to the preservation of roads and essential infrastructure to allow the passage of this transport. Therefore, the collection of the heavy vehicle charges has the support of state and territory governments, but more importantly the Commonwealth government. This is about ensuring that heavy vehicles pay their fair way in terms of the impact on our roads.

Having just heard the contribution from the Leader of the Nationals, I should indicate that in 2007 the then Leader of the Nationals and transport minister—the member for Lyne, Mr Vaile—put reform of heavy vehicle charges on the agenda of the Council of Australian Governments. He said:

The National Transport Commission will develop a new heavy vehicle charges determination to be implemented from 1 July 2008. The new determination will aim to recover the heavy vehicles’ allocated infrastructure costs in total and will also aim to remove cross-subsidisation across heavy vehicle classes.

Currently the amount of money raised through the heavy vehicle charges does not recover the cost of providing the infrastructure for heavy vehicles. That is the position which underpins this bill and it was certainly the position at the heart of the statement made in 2007 by Mr Vaile.

Recovery of road expenditure is achieved through a fixed registration charge collected by state and territory governments and a road users charge collected by the Australian government. The heavy vehicle charges have not changed since 2001, when it was determined that the charges would recover past expenditure from the heavy vehicle sector. This had the effect of lowering registration fees for some larger trucks, which consequently brought about a situation where they were effectively being cross-subsidised by the operators of smaller trucks. As I stated earlier, an overhaul of the heavy vehicle charges is urgently needed in order to construct and maintain the infrastructure needed for these heavy vehicles. In fact, the National Transport Commission estimates that under-recovery is currently in excess of $100 million per year.

In 2007, the National Transport Commission was asked by the Australian transport ministers, who were directed by COAG as part of the overall transport reform package, to prepare a new heavy vehicle determination to deliver revised charges for introduction this year. This bill deals only with the registration charges. The road user charges are not dealt with in this bill; however the determination increases the road user charge from 19.633c per litre to 21c per litre, indexed annually. To provide industry the opportunity to adjust to the new road user charge, it was agreed in cooperation with the industry that its introduction would be delayed until 1 January 2009.

Under the proposal recommended by the National Transport Commission, there will be a new set of registration charges which will rebalance the contribution of different heavy vehicle classes. The new registration charges will in effect put a stop to smaller trucks paying as much as they do presently—in effect subsidising the larger trucks—and the larger trucks, the B-doubles and road trains, will be required to pay their fair share. This will result in decreases in registration charges for about 25 per cent of the transport fleet, a small increase for about 69 per cent of the fleet, and a significant increase for the remaining six per cent of the fleet—that is, the heavy truck trailers and multicombination vehicles that are currently subsidised by smaller vehicles. To assist the industry to adjust, these increases will be phased in over three years and will better align charges to the impacts of heavy vehicles on our roads. To supplement the determination by the National Transport Commission, the government, after listening to the concerns of the industry, has developed a $70 million, heavy vehicle safety and productivity plan. (Quorum formed)

I had the opportunity to talk to Lindsay Fox and Bill Kelty, together with the member for Maribyrnong, only a couple of weeks ago. It was very refreshing to hear what people who are absolutely committed to this industry have to say about its future and the degree of investment that needs to be made. One thing Mr Fox was talking about was the trial of technology, particularly the electronic monitoring of truck drivers’ work hours—effectively, a black box within the transport industry. As he put it, there are certain charges involved not only with administering it but also with regulating it. He was talking not only of the working conditions of professional drivers but also of the responsibility we have to drivers, their families and, as a matter of fact, all other road users. That is why an organisation such as Linfox is so committed to looking at those aspects of technical development that could be deployed in this industry with a view to enhancing the safety of our heavy transport sector.

Another thing that is being looked at is the construction of more heavy vehicle rest stops and decoupling areas along our highways and on the outskirts of our major cities. Again, that is something that is quite significant. A third thing is upgrades to linkages between our AusLink freight routes and the strengthening of some of our bridges to cope with the contemporary transport we use and its frequency.

Safety in the heavy vehicles sector is paramount not only to those directly involved in the industry but to all road users. We have a dreadful situation where approximately 330 people are killed each year in crashes involving heavy vehicles, a one in five fatality ratio, with three times as many injured. That does not mean that it is just trucks that are at fault; it means ensuring that our roads are maintained so as to accommodate the use of those roads by the heavy transport sector. This is a significant cost to our community; it is a cost which it would be almost immoral to put a value on. There is certainly a fiscal cost to the community of around $2 billion per year. But the cost that road fatalities have on our community is something that we all have an obligation to try to do something about. That is what this bill does: it seeks to recover in the transport sector the moneys to reinvest in better roads and to reinvest in the infrastructure that is ever so necessary if we are to continue to utilise heavy vehicles as the prime transport mode for our domestic product. I commend the bill to the House.