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Monday, 27 March 2023
Page: 173


Mr BIRRELL (NichollsDeputy Nationals Whip) (18:32): I'm very pleased to speak in support of the motion from the member for Barker. Like the member for Barker, I represent a significant food bowl, and it isn't just delicious apples, pears, plums and tomatoes that come from the fertile irrigated soils of the Goulburn Valley. Those early orchardists soon realised they needed to transport their goods to market, so they bought a truck. Many started carting fruit for others, and then they bought another truck and then another, and, as well as carting produce to market, they started carting goods back from the capital cities and later expanded to general freight and interstate transport. Nicholls is a real trucking area, particularly around the greater Shepparton region. The result is that, historically, around 30 per cent of all heavy vehicles registered in Victoria are based in my electorate.

That is why I have no hesitation in speaking against this proposal for up to 10 per cent annual increases in heavy vehicle charges for three years running. As soon as I heard about it, I did what you should do as a local member and I met up with transport operators and representatives from the fruit industry in my electorate. Their message to me was that this would mean that smaller players and independents would be unable to pay the proposed tax increases or pass them on, making them unviable and the industry less competitive. They said that larger transport companies would pass on the costs, and primary producers would have to absorb some of the pain, making them less profitable and viable, and costs would also be borne by the end user, the consumer, and Australians would end up paying more for the clean, healthily grown food that this nation is so renowned for producing.

Transport companies and supply chains are still recovering from the disruption of the pandemic and are dealing with higher fuel prices and operating costs. The cost-of-living pressures are hitting all Australians through more expensive grocery prices, inflated fuel costs, soaring energy costs and rising interest rates, causing mortgage stress. So at a time when Australian families are already struggling to balance their household budgets we have a government that literally wants to drive a truck through it like a proverbial wrecking ball.

Every heavy vehicle that uses Australian roads pays a vehicle registration fee. Operators also pay a road user charge on diesel and fuel. State and territory governments use the money to maintain and improve the roads for heavy vehicles. Truckies have no issue with tax, but Labor is proposing to increase these heavy vehicle road user charges on fuel and these truck registration charges by up to 10 per cent per year for three years. That would lift the fuel tax truckies pay from 27.2 cents a litre to 36.2 cents a litre by 1 July, according to the National Transport Commission, raising an additional $2.6 billion over three years.

There's no support for this huge hike. The industry groups I've talked to—farmers and truckies—are not supportive. Not one submission in response to the implementation options paper supported the 10 per cent cost-recovery model. There's another option on the table to increase charges by 18 per cent over three years. This would also have widespread negative impacts. The Australian Trucking Association submitted in response to the options paper that truck charges should be frozen for 2023-24, followed by modest annual increases of 2.7 per cent.

The former coalition government froze the heavy vehicle road user charge in 2020 in consideration of the economic impacts on the transport sector and economy from the COVID-19 pandemic and border restrictions. Common sense was applied, and common sense should apply here. That's what we do in the Nationals—bring common sense to Canberra.

Australian families are already getting the inflationary hamburger with the lot. The cost of bread and cereal is up 12.2 per cent, the cost of fruit and vegetables is up 8.5 per cent, the cost of dairy is up 14.9 per cent and the cost of meat is up 8.2 per cent, based on some terrible policies towards agriculture, quite frankly. This will just add to it. Don't add to the already high cost of living under Labor. Apply some common sense and scrap the truckie tax increases.