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Cars and taxes.

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Friday 17 October 2003

Jeff Heath, editor, ‘Link Disability’ magazine


Cars and Taxes  


Even non-observant drivers will be aware that over the last 10 years there has been a marked change in the type of vehicles seen on Australia roads. Where once 4WDs were restricted to farmers, they are now the vehicle of choice for many city families.  


But this change has not come about without controversy. Detractors seem to have plenty of evidence to back up their complaints that 4WDs are excessively dangerous and have a very poor environmental record. However, I'm more interested in the fact that the Government provides massive subsidies to encourage people to buy 4WDs. 


Most drivers are probably unaware of the fact that all imported cars are slugged a 15 per cent tariff to protect the local car manufacturing industry. However 4WDs are subject to only 5 per cent. This concession originated in 1975 and the 5 per cent rate has applied since 1996. It was conceived as a tax break for miners, farmers and other 

rural-based commercial operators, who at the time were virtually the sole users of 4WDs. 


The net effect of the concession at retail level is that the buyer of a typical $45,000 4WD is enjoying a 10 per cent subsidy - a bonus of about $4,500! The cost to the public is staggering. In 2001, the community subsidised the cost of 116,236 4WDs to the tune of $500-600 million - with at least 90 per cent of the subsidy going not to rural industry but rather to anybody who can afford such a vehicle. In other words, it is a failed program that has resulted in more middle class welfare.  


By comparison, the government provided just $75 million last year in the form of a "Mobility Allowance" to 46,000 people with a disability to help them with their transport costs. 


As a person with a disability, and someone with a frail elderly father, I could list a host of ways the taxpayer could get far better value for money than continuing the present failed scheme. When I take my 87-year-old father out, he has real trouble getting into and out of the car, doing up the seat belt and generally being comfortable. 


The discomfort faced by my Dad is typical of the problems faced by other car users - be they old, disabled, or even parents of babies and small children - because cars are not designed for the needs of real people. There are exceptions. In the UK, the famous London Cabs are showing what can be done when the focus is on users. Every cab can transport a person who uses a manual wheelchair or a scooter. The doors are wider, the floor is lower to the ground, and the seats are easier to get in an out off. The arm rest between the two rear seats doubles as a dickie seat for small children or as a purpose-built secure baby capsule. 


In one move, the government could help millions of Australians and assist local manufacturers with an export edge if funds were provided to local car manufacturers with incentives to design and build standard features that make production cars more accessible to older people and people with minor disabilities.  


This could then be topped up with a much larger industry grant, say $20m over five years, to any manufacture willing to look at making production line vehicles accessible to the 530,000 Australians who use a wheelchair, walking frame or other mobility device.  


Finally, while we are waiting for manufactures to make an accessible production line vehicle, we could subsidise the 20,000 Australian with a severe disability, who need to travel sitting in a power chair, to own their own modified car and enjoy the personal mobility the rest of us take for granted. This could be paid for with as little as $100m a year, over a 5-6 year period.  


Regrettably, the Government considerer the issue less than 12 months ago, and decided there was no case for city based 4WD owners paid their fair share of import duties. Had they wished otherwise, we could continue to provide tax breaks for miners, farmers and other rural-based commercial operators; and we could dramatically improve the design of production line vehicles so that millions of aged and disabled Australians could enjoy more comfortable, safer, and dignified transport. Finally, compared to the present situation, we would still have hundreds of millions of dollars left over.  


Guests on this program:

Jeff Heath  


The Link Disability Magazine