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Friday, 9 June 1995
Page: 1246

Senator ALSTON (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (1.26 p.m.) —These bills establish the basis for a national uniform heavy road vehicle registration charging scheme. The collection of charges under the scheme will contribute to recovery of the costs of wear caused by the operation of heavy vehicles. Amounts equivalent to the charges will be paid to the interstate road transport fund and distributed to the states and territories for the maintenance and upkeep of roads used by heavy vehicles. This is part of the reform processes developed by the National Road Transport Commission under the mandate of the Australian Transport Council, which is made up of Commonwealth, state and territory ministers.

  This is an example of pegged legislation, where the Commonwealth passes legislation to apply in its jurisdiction and the states and territories pass similar legislation in their jurisdictions. It used to be called mirror legislation. The charges which are the subject of this bill are due to take effect on 1 July 1995. Similar legislation has already been passed in relation to driver licensing and the carriage of dangerous goods. The legislation will have no budgetary impact. However, it will result in charges increasing in some jurisdictions and falling in others. The charges will be calculated on an annual basis. They are set out in the schedule, which may be amended annually, but with no greater increase or decrease than five per cent per annum.

  The bill also provides for the removal of the option to nominate an actual distance amount as the amount of registration charge payable and for the removal of the option to pay in instalments. References to motor vehicle and trailer charge monitoring devices are also removed.

  The heavy vehicles agreement of the ministerial council foreshadowed the development of a more refined charging method following these initial changes. The new charging approach has the support of industry peak bodies, such as the Road Transport Forum, which wants a simple, uniform one-off charging system. The National Road Transport Commission has issued a discussion paper outlining options for more refined processes. This paper will be the basis of industry consultation.

  All states except New South Wales and Western Australia have strongly supported the changes. The previous New South Wales government expressed concern about the financial impact of the changes because the new charges were substantially lower than the existing charges. The new New South Wales opposition believes the changes will be revenue neutral and should proceed. However, Bob Carr, following the very poor example of his close friend, Paul Keating, promised before the New South Wales election to implement these changes by 1 July 1995.

  However, in true form, after the election he attached a rider saying that this would all depend on whether the other states and territories were in a position to proceed. Western Australia was originally opposed, due to the cost impact on intrastate operators. However, it has modified its opposition and is examining options for discounting the increase for intrastate operators. However, it may not be ready to proceed by 1 July. Victoria, Queensland and the ACT expect to introduce new charges by 1 July. South Australia and Tasmania are committed, but will not pass legislation until July or August. The Northern Territory will enact but not implement until other states and territories have legislation in place.

  Generally, this is a non-controversial bill which is supported by the opposition as an important part of the micro-economic reform process of the road transport industry. It is important that interstate truckers do not have to go through a raft of bureaucratic mazes to comply with differing state and territory laws. However, it should be pointed out that Bob Carr's about-face will cause significant problems. At the annual conference of the New South Wales Livestock Transport Association a few weeks before the New South Wales election, the ALP transport spokesman, Brian Langton, was asked whether a Carr government would implement these uniform registration charges by 1 July 1995, and his answer was that it would. Bob Carr indeed put this promise in writing to the Australian road transport forum coordinator. Now the New South Wales government is saying it will only implement it when the other states and territories do likewise. All I can say is that that is par for the course.

  It should also be pointed out that the National Road Transport Commission has calculated that a user pays charge for heavy road transport vehicles equates to 18c a litre in fuel excise. At present road transport operators pay 32.5c a litre in fuel excise. There has been no attempt by the government to rebate the excess. The average semitrailer operators pay $66,400 a year in taxes and charges to the Commonwealth and the states. The 5c a litre increase in fuel excise in the 1993 budget increased this impost by $6,000 a year.

  The government is significantly decreasing the amount of money that it is spending on roads. In the 1992 budget prior to the last election, the government said it would spend some $1,600 million on roads. In this year's budget it says it will spend only $840 million. Compare this with 1982, under a coalition government, when $150 million was spent on roads, and fuel excise was 6c a litre. With those reservations, we support the bill.