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Tuesday, 18 March 2008
Page: 2132

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (7:53 PM) —I rise to speak on the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2008 before the House this evening. This new Labor government says that it will govern for all Australians, but this is the biggest slap in the face that I have ever witnessed from any government in its first 100 days of government. It is a slap in the face for the people who live outside metropolitan Australia. The tax rise that will accrue over time from this bill is going to impact not only on the very productive sector, the wealth-generating sector of our country, but also certainly on working families. We have heard a lot about working families from the government—working families and their costs of living. It is certainly going to impact on the resources sector—the coalmining, the oil and the gas industries, the industries which are so vital to job generation and wealth creation in our country. It is going to impact on those industries. There is not a sector of our community—the resources and agricultural sectors and the families who live in rural Australia and work in the jobs which are obviously created from these sectors—that will not be affected adversely by the passage of this bill.

I represent an electorate that is almost half the land mass of Queensland, although my electorate is not quite as big as the electorate of the member for Kalgoorlie. Located in my electorate is the Surat coal basin, the largest coal reserve in Australia. It is unexploited at the moment, but over the next two years these resources will be developed by international mining companies, with demand coming from overseas, particularly from China. In the far west of my electorate—in fact, near my home town of Roma—we have the gas industry. We have coal seam methane gas. We also have gas right out in the Moomba and the Jackson oilfields and the Cooper oil and gas basin. These resources rely on the trucking industry to bring the goods and the machinery in and to service these great resources. The gas industry in the Cooper basin, with pipeline connections to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Mount Isa and Townsville, is driving industry and generating electricity—electricity needed by all Australians on the eastern seaboard. It is clean electricity in many cases, particularly when gas is used. I have seen the trucks that go out to the Cooper oil and gas basin and service these oil and gas wells. One company alone has brought in huge oil and gas drilling rigs from America. They have to go out over very unfriendly dirt or gibber roads. They are not sealed roads; they are not main highways. These are roads in very remote parts of Australia. These companies will be impacted upon by this legislation, should it pass both houses of this parliament.

Last year I made a visit to the Inaminka hot rocks geothermal power station that was under construction in a very remote part of Australia. That will generate clean electricity and will have an impact on Australia’s carbon footprint because it is a zero emission. You drive out there on dirt roads, and the trucks that have to go in to service those rigs that are drilling into these hot rocks that will generate electricity for consumption within Australia will also be adversely impacted upon as a result of this bill. What will happen to electricity prices? If we just take a look at the oil and gas industry and the geothermal plants and the hot rocks in Inaminka in the western part of my electorate and just over the border in the seat of Grey in South Australia, we can see it is going to add to the cost of production and that will have to be passed on to their consumers. As the member for Kalgoorlie asked, will that be inflationary? Of course it will be inflationary. We have the Prime Minister coming into this House every day, we have the Treasurer out there on the stump and we have the Minister for Finance and Deregulation saying that there is a great big inflation bubble coming; it is a legacy of the previous government, for heaven’s sake! I reject that notion for a start, but if there is one thing this bill will do it will be to drive up the cost of production for electricity, the cost of doing business for the mining sector and the cost of sending basic food items to and from points of production, whether it is into the cities or back out into these rural communities. The cost of freight will inevitably rise because of the passage of this bill. That is going to be inflationary.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand—but maybe I should understand. This is a very unfriendly government—or an inexperienced government; that is probably a better word. It is a very inexperienced government. I cannot for the life of me understand how this government, in its first 100 days, having been given a mandate to govern for the next three years and having not spoken about this in the federal election campaign, could introduce a bill to increase taxes on our transport sector in Australia. Out there, during the campaign leading up to the 24 November election, did the now Prime Minister and the now Treasurer—or the now transport minister, the now finance minister or any of those on the front bench, back bench or middle benches—say to the people of Australia, ‘If we are elected we are going to increase taxes on the transport sector in Australia, which will clearly be inflationary’? No, they did not.

The other disturbing part of this bill, should it pass both houses, is that the increase in the per-litre fuel tax, which will apply to the trucking industry as of next year, is also going to be indexed into the future. And it is not going to be indexed to the CPI; it is going to be connected to the cost of building roads in Australia. We know that the cost of building roads in Australia is going to increase, and does increase, at a greater rate than the CPI. So not only is this going to impact on the cost of building roads, because there are going to be extra taxes on the transport sector that are involved in the construction of roads, but also it is going to then be automatically indexed so that this tax will rise year after year without the government having to come back to the parliament or go back to the people and ask them whether they agree with that automatic indexation.

The same applies to the registration charges that are being imposed as a result of this bill. Firstly, they are certainly going to be increased across the nation. In my own electorate of Maranoa I see many, many large trucks: type 2 road trains, B-doubles and B-triples. A vital part of the freight task in Australia is being carried on roads across Australia. Tragically, in Queensland and many of the other eastern states, as we lead into what I hope is going to be a very big grain harvest this year, we are no longer seeing state governments investing in rail infrastructure and in carriages to carry grain. They have become lazy and they have walked away from their responsibility to put new infrastructure onto our rail tracks that would take the weight off our national road network. What will be the inevitable outcome of that? The freight task must be carried out. Who is going to pick up the load? The trucking industry will pick up the load.

Because of the monopolies that the state owned rail corporations have and the state governments’ failure to invest in grain trucks, we are going to see a situation, I predict, by the end of this year, where we as a nation are not going to be able to lift the grain from the farms and the receival points in regional and rural Australia and carry it through to the ports for export. I predict that, as a result of that, there will be markets lost because we are not able to meet those market demands and shipping regimes on time. We are dealing with an international market where competition is fierce and is growing all the time. And, of course, after seven long years of hard drought for those many grain producers out there, the last thing that they need is the impost of a new tax introduced by this government on their costs of doing business. And that is what this legislation will do: it will bring a new cost—a new tax, an increase in the cost of doing business—and I refer to the grains industry in this regard.

But we need not stop there. We can turn to the beef industry. The beef industry is Queensland’s second largest export earner by value. I just cannot understand the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, or her transport minister even thinking of supporting this, because the two largest industries by value in Queensland in terms of exports in dollar terms are the coal industry and the beef industry. They are not located down in George Street or on the coast or in Brisbane; they are in the outback—in Mount Isa, in north-west Queensland; they are in the Bowen Basin; they are now in the Surat Basin. Of course, the beef industry is scattered throughout Queensland and, obviously, across Australia. This bill, if it passes both houses, will be a further impost on those industries. It is going to hit their bottom lines. And if you hit the bottom line of any business, business finds itself in a position where it has got to pass that cost on to the consumer. Once again, that is where the inflationary component comes into this bill—its imposts and the impact that it will inevitably have on the very productive beef and coal sectors of Queensland.

The other point I want to make with regard to this is that there is not a commitment from this government to use the additional tax revenue that will inevitably flow from this bill; there is not a commitment from the government to invest a dollar more in our road infrastructure—or, for that matter, our rail infrastructure. So this is just a tax grab on the productive sector that creates jobs for Australians. That is what this is: it is a tax grab—a new tax; a tax that has been stealthily brought forward without the people of Australia being advised prior to the last federal election.

I mentioned a few moments ago the importance of the beef industry. Some of the roads that I would like to see more money invested in are the Warrego Highway and the Landsborough Highway. They link Brisbane right through to Mount Isa. We desperately need an investment of $700 million where the Warrego Highway comes up through Toowoomba so that a second range crossing can be established just to the north of Toowoomba. This is a main arterial road from Brisbane through to Darwin, via Longreach and Mount Isa. This road carries the bulk of the road freight between the port of Brisbane and the port of Darwin and all the points in between. One particular section of the Warrego Highway, between Mitchell and Roma, is impacting as we speak on the beef industry and the freight industry from Darwin to Brisbane and from points in the south. Type 2 road trains—that is, three semitrailers are hooked up behind a prime mover and are about 60 metres to 70 metres long when they are on the road—can couple-up about 90 kilometres west of my home town of Roma and travel through to Darwin with freight or, vice versa, bring livestock back to Roma. Roma is the largest store cattle selling centre in Australia.

If we can get some investment from this government to upgrade that road so that it is safe for the type 2 road trains to travel the extra 90 kilometres to the largest store cattle selling centre in Australia, it will have the effect of reducing the cost of bringing cattle to the sale point of Roma. Roma sells something like 8,000 to 10,000 head of cattle per week. The cattle market in Roma is a bit like the Sydney stock exchange: it sets the prices and the trend of prices right across the eastern states. Cattle often come from Victoria to the markets in Roma. It is not uncommon to see cattle being trucked from Kununurra in Western Australia—a five- or six-day trip on type 2 road trains—to Roma. The cattle are spelled twice, but they are 80 kilometres short of their final destination at the saleyards of Roma. The driver has to decouple the last trailer and take the other two trailers through. They decouple the trailers on the flat outside of the town of Mitchell. No-one is there to supervise this. Either another truck is sent out to bring one of the trailers in or the truck comes in with one trailer, which is decoupled at the saleyards, and then it goes out without any trailers behind it to bring in the next trailer. It is the reverse when they want to go west, whether they are taking cattle, heavy machinery for the mining industry or goods from the eastern seaboard through to Darwin.

If the government is serious about the freight task that we confront in Australia and the bill passes through the House, we have to see the revenue from these measures not just as a money grab for Treasury but as money to be reinvested for the benefit of our road network in Australia, because it is the transport sector—the truckies and the truck owners—who are going to pay the price.

I mentioned earlier the impact that this legislation will have on working families. Whether trucks are carrying beef into the markets, soft goods—food items—into the supermarkets in the west, flour to the mills or animals for processing for human consumption, there is going to be an inevitable cost if this bill is passed in its entirety. The inevitable cost on working families will be an increase in the cost of their groceries at the supermarket. Why? Because the freight task—the cost of moving freight across Australia—will rise and that will be passed on to consumers. If it is not passed on to consumers, it will be passed back to the producer. Someone is going to pay. I assert tonight that it will be working families and the trucking sector, as well as the production sector in Australia, which will be impacted on by this legislation.

This legislation is a most appalling grab for money and the most deceitful performance that we have witnessed in modern times by any government in its first 100 days in office. One hundred days into this government and legislation is being introduced into this place that will bring new taxes into play. One of the worst aspects of this legislation is that the registration charge and the fuel tax charge that apply if this bill passes the parliament are going to be automatically indexed every year, and that linkage will be to the cost of building roads in Australia, which is far greater than the annual CPI. When the coalition were in government, we ended automatic indexation of fuel excise in this country, and now we are seeing it reintroduced by a Labor government, without it having told the people of Australia before 24 November. Members on this side of the House could speak on this issue for days and days. We are going to fight this legislation to the end. We are not going to give up.

  (Quorum formed)