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Tuesday, 13 October 1970


Mr BENNETT (Swan) - I rise to raise strong objection to the imposition on the road transport industry of the diesel fuel tax. The Diesel Fuel Tax Bill (No. 2) varies the rate of tax to be collected on diesel fuel used in propelling a road vehicle on a public road. This will mean a savage increase in the cost of fuel to people who are the lifeline of our outback. They have been encouraged to purchase diesel units in preference to petrol units on a running cost basis. They now are caught again by the Government's increases after they have been involved in fleet standardisation on diesel, or after the single unit operator has made one major investment in what is in fact his total business based on a unit which is economical to operate compared with petrol driven units. In the situation that is developing, he is to be a tax gathering machine for governments.

The operators would not complain so strongly but for the fact that they firmly believe - and I agree - that insufficient of these lax revenues are finding their way back to the State governments, whether they be Liberal or Labor. The proof of this lies in Western Australia with its Liberal Government, which has had to resort to the imposition of the road maintenance tax which everyone abhors. Its imposition and the non-payment of it have led to several gaolings of truck owners, not only Western Australians but also of people from other States, simply because these States are not getting back sufficient tax moneys. Because they are not getting sufficient money they find other devious means to raise money for road maintenance. How this road maintenance tax spent on Western Australian roads can help the interstate driver after he has incurred the costs of repairs and unit depreciation, after his unit has broken down on that national disgrace, the unsealed section of the Eyre Highway, the one and only road link between east and west which he must traverse, and for which the Government has refused to give a special grant for sealing, is beyond comprehension.

So with tongue in cheek this Government foists yet another imposition on an industry which must be one of the most heavily taxed in Australia, and that is really saying something. The owners pay the Government's heavy sales tax when they purchase their unit. This is followed up with sales tax on subsequent spare parts, tyres, etc. Now they must pay heavier tax on fuel, plus road maintenance tax; then they must pay for permits to move a load. If they are not bankrupt because of higher interest rates on their unit repayments, again Government inspired, they will go on to pay income tax or provisional tax on their expected earnings.

How about coming down to earth with these taxes and prevent the high costs to our community that must be passed on, causing inflation to spiral, because this is a service industry and no doubt it passes on each and every cost if it can. This Government is one of the greatest creators of inflation, with its never ending increases to the tax spiral costs which must be paid by someone. Perhaps the Minister for Customs and Excise (Mr Chipp) will assure the House that this increased revenue will go back in full to the States for road maintenance and will not add to the S800m Treasury surplus alleged earlier in the debate so that State Ministers, in particular the responsible Western Australian Minister, will stop gaoling businessmen in the form of truck owners who happen to have a bad run and cannot pay the fines imposed by the special courts appointed to deal out this so-called justice. Some 2,600 charges have been issued in Western Australia alone this year. It is no wonder that out of the 200 bankrupt people listed in Western Australia this year, 41 are truck owners. Other men are waiting to go to gaol because they just cannot pay the $1 for %\ fines and costs accruing from the imposition of a Government tax which should not exist and which exists only because enough money is not granted to the States to maintain their road systems.

I ask that in granting this money to the States the Minister discuss with the appropriate State Minister a reformation of the overall tax systems which are killing the transport industry. If the Commonwealth Government will not grant sufficient money to the States to do away with the road maintenance tax, I ask the Minister to consider seriously making sufficient moneys available to allow a total reformation of the road maintenance tax system. The State Opposition has pledged to abolish the tax in Western Australia so no doubt the Federal Government will have to face up to this matter after the next election. Interstate operators should be able to go to Western Australia without the fear of being gaoled, losing their trucks, their incomes, their good name for the future. This danger does exist primarily because the State imposes the other tax I have mentioned and because it does not receive back sufficient from the Federal Government.

If the Government is to put yet another charge on transport operators in the form of increased taxes, it must endeavour to allow them to survive in business, to continue to purchase fuel and serve the country. The honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) has asked the Government to waive the tax increase where there is no alternative transport. I would support him and ask the Minister to review the charges in developing areas such as the north west. I hope that the honourable member for the Northern Territory will obtain some support from his fellow party members to assist us of the Labor Party to defeat the Bill and thus enforce a review. I will be most interested in the Minister's reply.







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