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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 2222

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (10:56 AM) —in reply—I thank those members of the House who have contributed to the debate on the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2008 and the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Repeal Bill 2008. I wish to make some comments on their contributions. According to opposition members, you would think that the previous government had no role at all in developing this legislation. That is not so. This is yet another example of a coalition that has lost its way, saying one thing when it was in government and the opposite since it has been in opposition. Indeed, you can trace the genesis of the legislation back many years. The 2004 energy white paper endorsed by the Howard government as its policy framework for securing Australia’s energy future has the following to say at page 100:

The transport sector has long argued that the current excise arrangements for heavy vehicles, defined as those with a gross vehicle mass of 4.5 tonnes or more, are inefficient and need reform. The government has listened and will introduce reforms to remove inefficiencies and ensure the excise system plays a more positive role in supporting Australia’s transport task.

The existing partial excise applying to fuel used in heavy vehicles will be formally recognised and set as a non-hypothecated road user charge from 1 July 2006. The value of the charge will be set in accordance with the National Transport Commission’s heavy vehicle charging determination process. This cooperative federal-state process assesses the impact of heavy vehicles on road costs, and is used by the states and territories to set and adjust registration charges for these vehicles. The excise-based charge will be adjusted annually in the way that the states and the territories adjust registration fees. Changes to the charge will be made by the varying level of effective excise through adjustments in the level of the excise credit paid for fuel used in heavy vehicles.

The 2006 Productivity Commission study into road and rail infrastructure pricing commissioned by the Howard government found under-recovery of infrastructure costs occurs in the heavy vehicle industry. In April 2007, COAG, under the Howard government, required the Australian Transport Council to devise a new charges determination that did three things—fully recovered the costs from the heavy vehicle industry, ended cross-subsidisation between heavy vehicle classes and indexed charges. The National Transport Commission devised a determination and commenced consultation with the industry in 2007.

In a speech given on 28 June 2007 entitled ‘The coalition government’s transport reform agenda’ the member for Lyne, the then federal transport minister and Leader of the Nationals, 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.

That was the coalition policy. The difference between the coalition policy and what is in this legislation is that this legislation delays the charge until 1 January 2009 and we have a safety and productivity package. We have listened to the industry and responded accordingly. The opposition are simply not fair dinkum in saying they oppose these bills. They set up the processes. They said it was their policy. This bill of course allows for a change in cost and cross-subsidisation. At the moment the smaller of the heavy vehicles are subsidising the larger vehicles. Common sense tells you that the smaller vehicles tend to be operated much more by smaller, family owned businesses and often owner-drivers.

Opposition member interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE —The member opposite says, ‘That’s right.’ He should vote with us on this legislation because it is outrageous that owner-drivers and smaller operators are subsidising the big companies, and that is the situation at the moment. This bill removes this anomaly. The opposition understood it when they were in government. Now in an opportunistic move they say they are opposed to it. Twenty-five per cent of the fleet currently pay too much. Twenty-five per cent of the fleet—one in four heavy vehicles—will get a reduction in their costs as a result of this determination. The increase, which is substantial, will only apply to six to seven per cent of heavy vehicles, on the basis that the heavier the vehicle, the greater the cost on the roads and therefore the greater the cost to the taxpayer.

The other comment that was made by the opposition was that somehow the fact that this was a determination of the ATC on 29 February showed that the Commonwealth was adopting charges forced on it by the states. We know that the blame game simply gets us nowhere. The coalition’s chest beating and posturing in dealing with the states was nothing more than rhetoric and they did not get things done. Good government is about working together and getting results. The Federal Interstate Registration Scheme and state registration charges are correctly pegged at the same rate. The opposition should think about this: if they block this legislation, it will lead to different charges at the state level and for those vehicles which are federally registered. Is there a serious argument that that is sensible economic policy? That would lead to a substantial regulatory burden and a substantial increase in costs.

The member for Wide Bay has also said that indexation arrangements will be higher than inflation. That is simply not the case. The indexation is linked to historical road funding. This is about full cost recovery. What it does is look at the actual costs, so there is nothing hypothetical about the way that this will operate. The other extraordinary fact is that of all the opposition members who spoke not one mentioned the safety and productivity package, the $70 million commitment proposed by this government which will trial new black box technologies, facilitate better speed and fatigue management, provide more heavy vehicle rest stops and provide for increased expenditure on infrastructure to strengthen bridges. The fact is this package has been warmly welcomed by industry. In 2007, tragically 1,611 people died on our roads. Accidents involving heavy vehicles account for nearly 20 per cent of these deaths, with speed a factor in around 30 per cent and driver fatigue a factor in up to 60 per cent of cases, but the opposition has remained silent about this important reform.

Mr Truss —It is not even in the bill.

Mr ALBANESE —The shadow minister says it is not in the bill. There are a lot of things that are not in the bill. This is about registration charges. The changes in excise that you spoke about are not in the bill either. This debate is about two things. One is the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill. This adopts new heavy vehicle charges for vehicles registered under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme from 1 July 2008. It ensures that federal charges are consistent with state and territory registration charges. They will go ahead anyway, so let us not create a two-tiered system. The second is the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Repeal Bill 2008, which repeals the 1993 act and allows the ACT government to introduce new heavy vehicle registration charges into its own legislative arrangements in the same manner as other states and territories. In total the bills deliver the road transport reform requested by the Council of Australian Governments with broad agreement from the industry. The reform follows the self-evident principle that the heavy vehicle industry should pay for its share of the infrastructure costs incurred by governments. I commend the bills to the House.

Question put:

That this bill be now read a second time.