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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1335

Senator NASH (6:07 PM) —I rise tonight to make a contribution to the second reading debate on the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2008 and the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Repeal Bill 2008. I am very honoured to follow my National and Liberal colleagues who spoke last night in the other place and then here today on this particular legislation, because I do not know that a bill that shows such hypocrisy from a government has come into this place for quite some time.

On 29 February, as people would realise by now, the Australian Transport Council made adjustments to the cost recovery charge setting mechanism that applies to the trucking industry—that is the formal term. Basically, they lifted registration charges and made changes to the diesel fuel excise system. Those registration charges on the trucking industry go straight to the hearts of those truckies, their families, the trucking companies and the people that they deliver to. The Labor government know this and they are hiding behind weasel words over there to try to justify what is an incredibly bad decision and very bad legislation.

What we have seen with the heavy vehicle registration charges is that there is some kind of belief that the trucking sector is not paying its way. I know that the trucking sector takes its responsibilities for paying its way very seriously. It knows that it has a responsibility to the Australian people, to the communities out there, to ensure that it does pay its way—and it does. But what have we seen from the Labor government? We have seen them bring in legislation that is going to mean that truckies are going to pay 69 per cent more in registration fees. I do not know if I am missing something here, but slugging truckies with an extra 69 per cent charge is not something that is productive either for the industry or for the country as a whole and yet we see the Labor government, with no qualms at all on the other side, speaking about this as the best thing since sliced bread. Well it is not. It is hurting those industries and it is going to hurt communities right across the board.

Let us look at what this will actually do. For example, the registration charges for B-doubles will increase from $8,041 to $14,340, including a multicombination prime mover charge of $7,050; and B-triple charges will skyrocket to $20,340, including, again, that multicombination prime mover charge of $7,050. Do you know who drives these trucks? Mostly people in working families. To my mind it is appalling to be slugging them with more charges when they come from working families that the Labor government professes to know so much about. It is not fair and it is not right.

The other thing the government is doing with this legislation is increasing the diesel excise, or the road user charge. I have only been in this place for three years, but I have been involved in politics for quite some time and one of my very first memories of becoming involved in politics was when people were complaining about the indexation on fuel. They complained and complained about it, so the previous coalition government did the right thing seven years ago and removed it. Yet what do we see with this legislation? It is back. The wonderful indexation that we saw under the Paul Keating government is back—in another form, mind you—under the Rudd government. What this government has done is to increase that excise from 19.633c to 21c. That might not sound like very much, but I can tell you it is. Billions of litres of diesel fuel get used by the trucking industry in this country every year, and this indexation is coming back. Whilst it might have escaped the notice of people out there in the Australian community until now, I can tell you right now that they are going to know about it from today, because it is wrong. I cannot understand how the Labor government can sit over there and profess to be doing everything it can for working families—and, mind you, making sure it does everything it can to bring down inflation—when this very measure targets both those things.

What is really interesting is that on 12 April last year at the Australian Trucking Convention in Cairns—Innovation and productivity in Australian trucking: unlocking tomorrow’s prosperity—Martin Ferguson, who was the then shadow minister for transport, roads and tourism, said:

We appreciate the importance of the trucking industry and we are committed to investment in the infrastructure and regulatory framework needed to improve its efficiency and viability for the long term.

I started my speech by talking about hypocrisy. If that is not the most hypocritical thing that we could possibly see coming from the Labor government, I do not know what is. Last April the then opposition were saying, ‘We’re going to support the trucking industry; we’re going to make sure we get the regulatory framework right.’ What have they done? They have brought in bills that slug the trucking industry, that raise registration and that bring back indexation.

I might not be particularly bright, but putting those two things together—this quote from the then opposition and what they are bringing into this chamber today—shows the absolute hypocrisy, and they should be ashamed that they would on the one hand profess to support the trucking industry and on the other hand rip the rug out from underneath it with these bills. Unfortunately, time precludes me from saying more on this matter, but it is indicative of their approach in a whole range of policy areas—all the things they said prior to the election, now we are seeing something different; all the flip-flops from what they said before,

Senator Boswell —Like on the wheat bill.

Senator NASH —Thank you, Senator Boswell, I will take that interjection—the wheat bill. Before the election they were talking about supporting the single desk and now what are we seeing? A move towards deregulation. They cannot be trusted.

The other interesting thing is that this bill actually discourages the use of efficient vehicle combinations. It will actually increase truck traffic on the roads. We do seem to hear quite an amount, colleagues, about the environment from the other side of this chamber—and rightly so. I am a farmer from out in the middle of New South Wales, and probably no-one more than farmers understands how important the environment is. So it is vitally important we continue to talk about it. The hypocrisy of this! How can the Labor government talk about how important the environment is and then introduce bills which introduce measures which discourage the use of efficient vehicles?

Senator Scullion —Crazy.

Senator NASH —It is crazy, thank you, Senator Scullion. It does not make sense. It just highlights the hypocrisy of the Labor government. They say one thing and expect us to believe it and then they do another. They are hoping that the people of Australia will not notice that what they say is not what they do. But they will notice, because it is not right, it is not fair and it is not on.

Then we come to the Australian Transport Council. Under these bills the Commonwealth actually loses its discretion to dissent from the ministerial council. What it means is that in its own right it is not able to apply charges that should apply to Commonwealth registered vehicles if they choose to do so. I understand that the decisions of the group that make up the Australian Transport Council are often not by consensus. So the federal government could be held to a decision with which they do not agree and have no mechanism to dissent from and apply a different charge to their Commonwealth registered vehicles. What does that do? First, it reduces competition, because there is no ability then for any competition out there within the charges, and it is absolutely locked up tight. Again, the Commonwealth would be bound by a decision that it may well not agree with. This might be about ending the blame game, but obviously the current Labor government is just giving a free kick to the Labor states—including, as my very good colleague here, Senator Boswell, said, about $170 million in taxes to the states. I bet they are delighted about that, because there is no requirement on where that funding should go—there is none. There will be no check and balance about where it is going to go. It is a windfall in tax for the state governments; it is a slamming of working families through the trucking industry through this bill.

I think Labor senators on the other side should be hiding, not speaking on this bill. I note that Senator Sterle, who I know has a very, very longstanding and genuine interest in the trucking industry, is not even in the chamber. He has not spoken. I wonder why that might be, colleagues. Because he knows and he understands how important the trucking industry is to this nation. It is often the backbone of this nation.

Senator Ronaldson —Where is he?

Senator NASH —Where is Senator Sterle, I wonder. Thank you, Senator Ronaldson, for that interjection. For those of you who did not know, 75 per cent of the freight task, which is going to double in this nation by 2020, currently goes on trucks. We would like that to be different; we would like to see a lot more go on rail—and thank you very much to the ALP government for slashing $65 million from the Parkes to Cootamundra railway line. That was not very helpful either, in terms of getting freight off the roads. We see here the absolute targeting of an industry. If anything it needs assistance to streamline, to be better and to find ways to get the trucks off the roads. But, no, we are seeing an increase in the registration and indexation being brought back.

What is also interesting is the lack of understanding from the Labor government about the effect this is going to have on local communities. Real people living in real communities are going to feel the effects of this. Do you know what is going to happen? The charges the Labor government are imposing will be passed on to working families and people living in communities—and even more so to those people who live out in the bush and have the added burden of tyranny of distance. They live great distances from major cities and they cop extra costs anyway. Now we see these extra costs going onto the trucking industry. Guess where they are going to go? As I said, to those working families and those local communities.

Interestingly, this came up not very long ago. I was travelling up on the New South Wales North Coast, where I am duty senator. I had a range of discussions with people up there about the impact of rising costs and what was going to happen in the future. Which brings me to the fact that running up to the election the Labor government said they were going to bring those costs down—they were going to bring down the cost of petrol and it looked like they were going to bring down the cost of food. What has happened? Exactly the opposite, because these charges will be passed on to people in those local communities—local homes and local businesses—and they are going to have to wear the costs. I notice that the Labor members for Richmond and Page last night both blindly supported these ALP bills. On one hand they are up there in their electorates, saying, ‘We’re such a great government; we’re going to address the cost of living,’ and on the other hand, in the very next breath they are supporting bills that are going to increase costs for their working families. That is not right. It is not on. These bills—the charges themselves and those flow-on effects into the community—will do nothing but hurt this country.

I do not comprehend how the Labor government can think these bills are in any way, shape or form a positive change to the laws of this country, because they are going to hurt an industry that is the very backbone of this country. They are going to hurt the families that operate those businesses and drive those trucks. These families, including working families in all of our communities, are going to bear the brunt of these increased costs. For those reasons, the opposition will be opposing the bills.