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Friday, 16 August 1991
Page: 607

Senator CRANE(2.39 p.m.) —In speaking to the Interstate Road Transport Amendment Bill 1991 and the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 1991, I believe it is fair to say that this is the first major reform in the transport industry. Hopefully, the next ones will come quicker than this one.

I would like to highlight briefly the advantages of using B-doubles and of reform in the road transport industry. My State, Western Australia, has been using larger configurations of trucks for transport for a number of years, with very startling results in efficiency gains and keeping the cost of transport down. I will address the benefits of B-doubles under the Federal interstate registration scheme.

B-doubles will operate right around the mainland, which will stop some of the wasteful practices which have been occurring on State borders. In fact, it has been brought to my attention that in some instances there have been delays of up to 14 hours for trucks seeking to get across the border into the next State. B-doubles have a pay load of 37 tonnes, which is a significant increase on the conventional 26 tonnes. As outlined by my colleagues, the productivity gains are in the order of 40 per cent but, after allowing for increased capital costs, that comes back to about a 20 per cent efficiency gain. As my colleague Senator Panizza said, as the B-doubles develop, I am quite certain that that efficiency gain will be even greater.

There will be a number of other benefits. First of all, consumers will benefit, which is very important. Also, particularly in light of the national accounts figures which came out yesterday, our exporters will benefit. The savings in the first year are estimated at about $250m, so that poses this question to the Government: why has it taken six years to introduce the recommendations of the National Association of Australian State Road Authorities? In talking to these two Bills before us, I emphasise that we cannot hang around for another six years before we have further reform in the road transport industry, or the transport industry in general.

However, there needs to be flexibility with or tolerance of unintended overloading. The best example I can give here is that of loading grain. Because of the nature of the product, there needs to be an estimation made in picking it up initially and there needs to be some understanding and tolerance. These trucks, by their very nature and because of the way they operate, cause less road wear. They are safer; there are fewer trucks on the road; and, because there is a greater pay load, speed is not necessary for the business to survive. I particularly urge the Australian Democrats to support our amendments with regard to making the registration fees consistent with those for other modes of transport.

Senator Macdonald —They want to add taxes, not take them off.

Senator CRANE —Yes, I realise that, but maybe this time they will come to their senses. If we are going to maximise the efficiency gains that are available here, it is very important that charges be consistent. I am greatly concerned with what is happening in the transport industry. Charging procedures being put in place for the road transport industry are being made in such a way that they allow rail to compete with the road transport industry, rather than tackle the inefficiencies which exist within the rail system, making it more efficient so that it can compete.

One can refer to work practices and a whole range of other things, but one point I particularly emphasise is the fuel excise that the rail system pays on diesel. Initially about a third of the excise goes to road funding, and yet we never see too many trains trundling down a road. It has always seemed to me to be an anomaly that the rail system has to pick up some of the cost of road maintenance and road building in this country. The emphasis has to be not on making road transport dearer so that rail can compete, but on getting the inefficiencies out of the rail system so that there is fair competition between the two modes.

I will touch on a few of the charges to the rail system. These figures have been given to me by the National Transport Federation. I will highlight them. The road transport industry pays 35 per cent more in taxes and charges than the average paid by other industries. The purchase of an articulated unit-prime mover and trailer-and its travel of 250,000 kilometres per year in the first year contribute $84,750 in transport-related taxes and charges, these being as follows. A sales tax on the vehicle at 20 per cent is $37,600. Registration is $4,000. The fuel levy, State and Federal, is $41,900. The sales tax on tyres is 20 per cent, which equals $1,250. The sales tax on commercial vehicles is 17 1/2 per cent higher than the average of that on all goods in Australia. The import duties on commercial vehicles are 17 1/2 per cent higher than those on all goods in Australia.

We can see from those figures that the road transport industry is put at a significant disadvantage when compared with other industries. If we look at the transport business financial structures, we will find that, of the total cost, fuel comprises 35 per cent, wages 25 per cent, parts and overheads 35 per cent, with a gross profit under the current pricing structure of 5 per cent, making a total of 100 per cent.

All users of fuel pay 24.9 cents per litre. Of that 24.9 cents of the Federal fuel levy, only 5.8 cents per litre is returned to the roads. On those figures, an articulated vehicle travelling 250,000 kilometres a year which uses 140,000 litres of fuel would contribute $40,700, of which only $8,120 would be returned to roads. It is quite nonsensical to say that the road transport industry is not making its contribution in taxation. In fact, there is a very good case for the reform of the taxation system which we intend to introduce after the next election.

I conclude by saying that we on this side of the chamber support this Bill. We require it to be amended so that there is consistency in charges for licences. Once again, I strongly urge the Democrats to support our amendment so that we can maximise the potential efficiency gains in this reform.