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Thursday, 14 March 2002
Page: 752


Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer) (10:20 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL SERVICES LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (APPLICATION OF CRIMINAL CODE) BILL 2002

The Transport and Regional Services Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2002 amends certain offence provisions, in legislation within the Transport and Regional Services portfolio, to reflect the application of Chapter 2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (the Criminal Code) to all Commonwealth offences from 15 December 2001.

The amendments proposed by this bill will harmonise the offence provisions with the Criminal Code and will ensure that the provisions operate in the manner they did prior to the application of the Criminal Code. The bill affects a small number of offence provisions that were not included in the Transport and Regional Services Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Act 2001. As a result the offence provisions are inconsistent with the Criminal Code principles and may be interpreted and enforced in an unfamiliar manner.

The bill provides for amendments that clarify the physical elements of an offence and the corresponding fault elements, particularly where those elements vary from those specified by the Criminal Code.

The bill also provides for amendments that specify whether an offence (or physical element of an offence) is one of strict liability. In the absence of such an amendment, offences (or physical elements of offences) that, prior to the application of the Criminal Code, were interpreted as being of strict liability, would be interpreted as not being of strict liability.

The bill also restructures certain offence provisions so that any defences to the offence are restated separately from the physical elements of the offence.

The amendments proposed by this bill will not have retrospective effect.

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ROAD TRANSPORT CHARGES (AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY) AMENDMENT BILL 2002

I am introducing here the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Amendment Bill 2002. The Bill provides for automatic annual adjustments to the level of registration charges in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), for vehicles over 4.5 tonnes, based upon a formula that accounts for changes in road expenditure modified by changes in road use by heavy vehicles.

This Bill forms part of the national road transport reform agenda in Australia, which is conducted by a cooperative process involving the Commonwealth, States and Territories. The National Road Transport Commission (NRTC) facilitates this reform process. Under the Heads of Government Heavy Vehicles Agreement, which is a schedule to the National Road Transport Commission Act 1991, the Commonwealth enacts nationally approved road transport legislation on behalf of the ACT, subject to its agreement. Other jurisdictions then either reference or adopt the substance of the ACT legislation in their own legislation.

This Bill will therefore provide a model for nationally consistent charges, by amending the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Act 1993 (the Principal Act). The Australian Transport Council comprising Commonwealth, State and Territory Transport Ministers has voted unanimously to support the Bill. The Victorian, South Australian and Northern Territory Governments reference the Principal Act in their own legislation. Other States and the Commonwealth reproduce the system and level of charges in their own legislation.

Nationally consistent heavy vehicle charges are an essential component of the road transport reform agenda being put in place by Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments and the NRTC. Major differences in charges between States and Territories put a straightjacket on efficiency and distort competition in the road transport industry, a vital sector of the economy. This was one of the key issues that Governments recognised needed to be fixed through the cooperative road transport reform process.

The Commonwealth, States and Territories first implemented national registration charges between mid 1995 and late 1996 based on the first charges determination developed by the NRTC. A second charges determination was implemented in 2000 and a third charges determination is planned for 2003/04. Charges determinations involve detailed consideration of methodology and are not feasible to conduct every year.

Since the national charges were first calculated, levels of both road use and road expenditure have changed, and the understanding of the relationship between road use and road wear has improved. This has given rise to the opportunity to implement an annual adjustment process that reflects road costs attributed to heavy vehicle use. The annual adjustment procedure takes into account rolling averages of changes in road expenditure and expected changes in road use. This enables jurisdictions to recover costs and provides for graduated increases in registration charges, rather than accumulated increases at intervals of several years.

Transport Ministers agreed to the application of the annual adjustment formula in May 2001. As there was insufficient time to implement this in legislation in 2001, results derived from the adjustment formula were applied on a one-off basis by all States and Territories and the Commonwealth between October 2001 and December 2001.

As I have indicated, passage of the Bill will give the ACT Government the ability to adopt, from 1 July 2002, the automatic adjustment procedure for national registration charges and will provide other jurisdictions with a model to ensure national consistency. Subject to legislative and administrative processes, the States and the Northern Territory are targeting 1 July 2002 as an implementation date for the first automatic annual adjustment. A related Bill, the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2002, will implement the adjustment procedure for Federally registered vehicles, from 1 July 2002.

The Principal Act deals with the level of registration charges for heavy vehicles, which are calculated according to the type of vehicle, number of axles and mass of the vehicle. The Bill applies an adjustment to the annual charges for heavy vehicles to ensure that heavy vehicles continue to meet their share of the costs of using Australia's roads. The adjustment formula is moderated to reduce the effects of any large fluctuations in road expenditure by applying rolling averages to the data. Further moderation is applied by a `floor' of zero and a `ceiling' based upon movements in the Consumer Price Index, averaged over four quarters in a year compared to the four quarters in the previous year. The NRTC is required to publish the details of its calculations of the adjustment factor each year.

The fact that heavy vehicles pay fuel excise is recognised by the NRTC in calculating the level of registration charges. A portion of the fuel excise is nominally recognised as representing a contribution towards the cost of heavy vehicle road use. The updated charges assume this contribution to be 20 cents per litre. This excise component is not the subject of this legislation. It has no impact on the price of fuel at the pump or on road funding.

The charges are logical and based on the principles set out in the NRTC's legislation. The charges, when combined with the nominal excise component, will achieve full cost recovery in total, and for most vehicle classes.

There is a financial effect for the States and Territories in that increases in the level of charges in any given year will reflect any increases in expenditure on provision and maintenance of road infrastructure for heavy vehicles. The increases in charges in July 2002 will represent a relatively small change in the costs of operating vehicles (typically less than two per cent of total operating costs).

The road transport industry supports the concept, encapsulated in these updated charges, of paying a fair charge for their road use. The NRTC consulted extensively with industry about the proposal.

In conclusion I commend this Bill and the work of the NRTC in developing the annual adjustment process. It has widespread support and provides a transparent, consistent and fair updating mechanism for the national heavy vehicle charging regime.

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INTERSTATE ROAD TRANSPORT CHARGE AMENDMENT BILL 2002

I take pleasure in introducing the cognate Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2002, which provides for automatic annual adjustments to the level of charges for vehicles registered under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS). The Bill does this by reference to the adjustment amount determined in a Bill introduced earlier—the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Amendment Bill 2002. The Bill ensures that charges for FIRS vehicles will be identical to those applied in the States and Territories and agreed by all Transport Ministers. It is intended that the adjusted charges will apply from 1 July 2002, which is the nationally agreed target date for implementation in the States and Territories.

FIRS is an alternative to State or Territory based registration for heavy vehicles engaged solely in interstate trade and commerce. The States and Territories administer FIRS on behalf of the Commonwealth. It is worth noting that the Commonwealth retains no revenue from FIRS registration charges. All revenue is returned to the State and Territory Governments through an agreed formula that reflects the road wear attributable to FIRS vehicles.

Formerly a regulation making power allowed for increases or decreases in registration charges of up to 5% to be made each year. The power to increase charges by regulation has been removed; ensuring that any charge under FIRS cannot exceed the agreed national maximum applicable charge.

As I stated when introducing the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Amendment Bill, this automatic annual adjustment of nationally agreed heavy vehicle charges has widespread support and provides a transparent consistent and fair updating mechanism to the national heavy vehicle charging regime.

Debate (on motion by Senator Buckland) adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.

Ordered that the Transport and Regional Services Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2002 be listed on the Notice Paper as a separate order of the day.