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Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Page: 2129

Mr HAASE (7:38 PM) —I have listened with interest to the member for Brand and I congratulate him on a very well disciplined performance on behalf of the government. It must have galled him somewhat because he does know the impact that this legislation will have on the trucking industry and, more importantly, he knows the impact it will have on north-western Australia and the cost of living.

I am delighted to be able to speak against the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2008 this evening because this bill will do all of the things that this Labor government have said they will undo. It will increase grocery prices—absolutely; there is no doubt. For the trucking industry, of course, it will increase fuel prices, when another pre-election commitment from Mr Rudd, the current Prime Minister, was that he would contain fuel prices. It will increase the cost of construction of dwellings and therefore impact directly on housing affordability. So a disciplined performance it was indeed from the member for Brand, because he is a member of the government and he is not—most assuredly he is not—representing the constituents of north-western Australia.

This bill has been introduced to the House in order to make changes that will allow at some point in the future an increase in the registration charges for rigs. How on earth can you increase the charges for anything and not impact on inflationary pressures? I thought that was another promise by the incoming Rudd government—that inflationary pressures were going to be reduced; that the pain of working families was going to be eased. Let us talk about those working families, because many of the families of Australia today are in fact non-working families. I will explain to you in detail just how this bill will help keep those non-working families as non-working families. This whole proposition has been whitewashed on the basis that the industry, if it suffers increased charges, will simply pass those increased charges on to the consumer. The wholesale consumer, the freight industries, will pass those additional costs on to their retail consumers. We are led to believe that somehow those additional costs will simply evaporate into the ether. It does not work like that in all situations, if in any.

I have a situation back in my electorate, which I am passionate about, where the trucking industry has come to me and said: ‘This is a no-go zone. For years, the Howard government kept increases at bay by using the discretionary measures of the transport minister to curtail the increases nationally.’ The member for Wide Bay, Warren Truss, to his credit, in a previous government did just that. Contained in this legislation is the fact that the Commonwealth minister must agree to the proposition put up by the council—the ministers, that is.

In my electorate we have a situation where the transport industry is involved to a great degree in the transport of ore from a mine site to a milling site, sometimes over a distance of hundreds of kilometres. That ore is milled, and the resultant gold is sold onto a world market. The world market dictates the price of that gold. All that these increased transport costs will do is to increase the operating costs to the transport industry and the operating costs for the mining industry. And the mining industry will not be in a position to simply increase their revenue. They rely on a world price. So what will that mean in mining industry boardrooms around the nation? Instead of them looking at a prospective development and saying, ‘Yes, we can separate revenue from mining costs to the degree that we can give this project a tick and go ahead,’ these increased costs will make the difference between that new project going ahead or not—and the member for Brand knows that. If those projects do not go ahead, prospective employees will not be employed. Should they be unfortunate enough at this point in time to be on welfare, they will stay on welfare. It is irrefutable that these increases will directly affect those hard-working, struggling families that the leader of the current government loves to talk about.

You might say, ‘How on earth can it be that these increases will have such an impact on the profitability of mining operations?’ I will give you a case in point. These transport companies shift ore using A-class trailers. A-class trailers, as a single part of the popular rig for the transport of ore, currently have a registration cost of $355 per axle. Each trailer has three axles. The proposed new registration cost for these A-class trailers is $2,000 per axle. That is not an insignificant sum, and I assure you that it will impact on the mining industry, it will impact on the viability of Western Australia as a state supporting the whole nation currently and it will impact on would-be working families. More importantly, this change makes a mockery of the publicly stated aspirations of this government about making our transport system safer.

The information that has been provided by the Refrigerated Warehouses and Transport Association of Australia shows that the current rate for registration of a B-double bogie-drive tri-axle is $8,041 per annum. The B-double combination is considered by the transport industry to be the safest, most economical use of diesel on the bitumen. They shift a substantial amount of payload—about 37 tonnes per unit. They shift it efficiently and they shift it safely. The use of B-doubles means that there is a minimal amount of transport traffic on the road. The more traffic that you put on the road the more frustration that is caused for the motoring public in Australia—the grey nomads, those who tow caravans and those who are moving from city to city on country roads.

According to the proposed new registration charges, the registration for a B-double bogie-drive tri-axle will increase from $8,041 per annum to $14,340 per annum. Is that an insubstantial increase? Not on your life. It is a very substantial increase; it nearly doubles the cost. Smart transport operators—certainly those in my electorate—will go back to the old semi—the semi bogie-drive tri-axle—because they are presently registered at $5,084 per annum and will increase to $5,220 per annum. They carry a payload of 24 tonnes. The transport industry will be faced with carting 37 tonnes—that is 50 per cent more—at almost three times the price per annum for the registration of that rig. It is absolutely unacceptable. If they make the change back to the semis at about a third of the cost per annum for two-thirds of the payload, more prime movers will be on the road, more fuel will be consumed, there will be greater hazards for the other motoring public in Australia and the environment—another issue that this government is concerned about—will be impacted upon by the additional litrage of diesel consumed in a year on the roads of Australia. It is not rocket science. This legislation flies in the face of all those public statements that the government have made about wanting to reduce the impact of inflation and wanting to reduce the cost of groceries, fuel and housing—increasing housing affordability, they say in a very lofty manner. To have some semblance of understanding as to how on earth they can get away with it requires rocket science.

Under the previous government, our Minister for Transport and Regional Services rejected the suggestion that federally these interstate registration rates should be increased. He said, ‘No, there is no way that we are going to contribute to inflationary pressures.’ This government says, ‘We want to pull down inflation, but we want to take the registration costs for a B-double from $8,000-odd to $14,340.’ That is not going to impact on inflation? You would have to be a rocket scientist to understand that. If this government is seriously concerned with maintaining office in the long term and convincing the Australian public that it is dinkum about the reduction in the cost of groceries, the reduction in the cost of fuel and the reduction in the cost of houses—that is, improving housing affordability—how on earth can it argue for an increase in registration costs for transport rigs? It is incomprehensible.

Western Australia, the powerhouse of the nation right now—and I have 91 per cent of it in my electorate—is suffering a skills shortage. If we create an economic situation where it is advisable for transport industries to put more prime movers on the road to carry the same amount of freight, they will be looking for more drivers. Where will they get them? We cannot house them in Port Hedland or Karratha because of state government actions, and there is no way that we could build houses for these staff because LandCorp have got such a monopoly on land development over there. One of my outstanding transport operators, frustrated with the lack of accommodation in Port Hedland in the last 18 months, bought a pub. He had to buy the local hotel to accommodate his drivers.

This move has been portrayed as very soft and insignificant, as having minimum impact that will allow costs to be passed on and as having no significant impact whatsoever. Nothing could be further from the truth. Tonight I have heard Stuart St Clair from the Australian Trucking Association so frequently quoted. They just love his grab that said:

The trucking industry and working families will benefit from the Australian Government’s decision to delay increasing the fuel tax paid by trucking operators

That is like saying that we are sentencing you to death but we will delay it a little while. I could hardly believe it when I found this selective quotation in the minister’s speech, because it is one of the very few things that were said by Stuart St Clair that was in any way complimentary to the introduction of this legislation. He said reams of other things that absolutely criticised this government pushing through this legislation at a time when the economy cannot stand it and when it will simply add to inflation. The proposed bill additionally takes away any ministerial discretion. If this government were fair dinkum about doing the things that they promised before the election when they said to the Australian people, ‘We are your saviours, we are your white knights; vote for us and the world will be a better place,’ how on earth can they sleep at night? This piece of legislation is absolutely perfect in demonstrating the hypocrisy of this leadership. The Australian public, through this opposition, will learn of that hypocrisy, and learn it fast.