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Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Page: 3201

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) (9:36 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2010 will ensure that heavy vehicle owners who operate under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS) are not unfairly levied with higher registration charge increases next financial year than vehicle owners who are registered in state or territory systems.

The bill will ensure that from 1 July 2010, heavy vehicle owners of trucks and trailers registered under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme will pay a registration increase of only 4.2 per cent instead of 9.7 per cent.

This bill proposes a minor, technical amendment to delete subsection 5(6) of the Interstate Road Transport Charge Act 1985.

The Interstate Road Transport Charge Act 1985 imposes registration charges for heavy vehicles registered under the Australian government’s Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS) to recover the cost of road usage by heavy vehicles.

Subsection 5(6) of that act specifies that any regulations made for the purpose of section 5 (amount of charge) must not take effect earlier than the first day after the end of the disallowance period.

The effect of subsection 5(6) is that it prevents amended regulations that would lower the annual registration charges adjustment from a 9.7 per cent increase in registration charges to a 4.2 per cent increase from coming into effect on 1 July 2010.

Instead the adjusted, lower charge would come into effect after 15 parliamentary sitting days from when the new regulations are made—which would not be until late September 2010.

This would affect over 1,000 FIRS vehicle owners who would be charged the higher 9.7 per cent registration increase (determined automatically under the current regulations) rather than the proposed 4.2 per cent increase because the adjusted charge would not come into effect until late September.

There is no administrative option available to deal with this issue. The act does not provide a ‘refund’ power that could enable vehicle owners charged the 9.7 per cent increase to have the difference returned to them.

Deleting subsection 5(6) will not in any way remove parliamentary scrutiny. The provisions of part 5 of the Legislative Instruments Act 2003 that facilitate scrutiny by the parliament will still apply to amendments to the regulations. Those provisions could still operate to disallow an amendment to the regulations that came into effect on 1 July 2010.

The bill will help implement the agreement by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) that heavy vehicle charges should be adjusted annually to maintain cost recovery.

In February 2008, the Australian Transport Council adopted the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination, which ensures that the road user charge and heavy vehicle registration charges achieve cost recovery from the heavy vehicle industry for its fair share of road infrastructure and maintenance costs incurred by governments in Australia.

In 2009 an agreed automatic adjustment formula was included in the Commonwealth Interstate Road Transport Charge Regulations 2009 for application to the 20,500 heavy vehicles registered under the FIRS. That automatic annual adjustment to heavy vehicle registration charges applies from 1 July each year.

Adjustments to the heavy vehicle registration charge depend heavily on changes in the level of spending on roads and bridges and on changes in road usage by heavy vehicles.

Roads expenditure across all levels of government has increased significantly in recent years. At the same time, there has been a substantial growth in the number of higher productivity heavy vehicles using the road network.

The effects of those factors in the current automatic annual adjustment formula results in a registration charge increase of 9.7 per cent and a potential national over-recovery of $116 million from heavy vehicle owners and operators in 2010-11.

All transport ministers agreed to address this over-recovery at their meeting held in Perth on 30 April 2010 by amending their respective charges legislation to ensure the formula neither under nor over charges the trucking industry. They also agreed that industry should benefit from this lower adjustment from 1 July 2010.

State and territory governments will implement the adjusted 4.2 per cent registration charge increase from 1 July 2010.

The adjusted 4.2 per cent figure has been calculated by the National Transport Commission following appropriate adjustments to the current charges formula to address any over-recovery resulting from changes in the heavy vehicle fleet mix.

I asked the National Transport Commission to undertake public consultation on the proposed charges adjustment, consistent with requirements under the relevant legislation.

It would be fair to say that industry acknowledges it needs to pay its fair share for road usage and that the 4.2 per cent adjustment is a preferable outcome for it than an adjustment of 9.7 per cent.

The principle of cost recovery has been broadly agreed by all governments and industry and the charges aim to recover, not over-recover or under-recover, the heavy vehicle industry’s share of aggregate government road expenditure.

Governments have been spending more on roads; more and heavier vehicles have been using roads. The charges need to reflect these factors.

This government is working successfully through COAG with all states and territories to deliver national, streamlined heavy vehicle regulation that will provide an even, certain and transparent playing field for the heavy vehicle industry.

We need to be sure that this extends to all areas of industry operations, including registration charges.

The passage of this bill is necessary to ensure that federally registered vehicles will not be differently and unfairly charged compared to vehicles registered under state or territory law.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Andrews) adjourned.