Industry, government in disagreement over higher rego and fuel charges

By: Jason Whittaker

Fierce debate is heating up over higher registration and fuel charges as the Coalition uses its Senate majority to block

Fierce debate is heating up over higher registration and fuel charges as the Coalition uses its Senate majority to block their implementation and that of a multi-million dollar heavy vehicle plan.

In a speech to the Australian Business Economists, Secretary to the Treasury Dr Ken Henry criticised the Opposition for last week passing a Motion for Disallowance on a bill that would raise the diesel excise from 19.63 cents to 21 cents per litre.

This move follows on from the Opposition’s blocking of the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill which intends to raise registration charges in the ACT.

As the Government’s $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Plan won’t be introduced until both bills pass into legislation, Henry has accused the Liberals of holding up key transport reforms.

"We are going to have to do better than this – a lot better," he says.

"The road user charge for heavy vehicles… is a pre-condition for other, more important, land transport reforms," he says.

Yet the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has refuted claims the Government needs to jack up registration and fuel charges in order fund its $70 million plan, which will be invested in rest areas and tacograph trials.

"The plan is $70 million. In terms of government spending that is a very small amount of money," a spokesman for the ATA tells ATN.

"If the Government wanted to go ahead in the absence of heavy vehicle charges it could."

But the plan currently remains indefinitely in limbo, with Senator Nigel Scullion rallying his Liberal and National colleagues behind his Motion for Disallowance. He says based on the Government’s rhetoric around reducing the cost of petrol and increasing productivity, "it absolutely beggars belief" that it would propose increasing registration and fuel charges.

According to Senator Ron Boswell, the Government’s bills are flawed because they do not tie the states and territories to invest the revenue from increased registration and fuel charges into road maintenance or transport infrastructure.

"If ever there was a piece of legislation that deserved to be disallowed, this is it," he says.

But the Government is standing firm on the issue, rejecting opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss’ question as to whether it will scrap the bills after the Senate’s actions.

"We believe it is the right measure and it has been supported by responsible elements of the nation’s trucking industry," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says.

With the Liberals refusing to budge, the bills will not be passed until at least after July 1, when the new Senate is sworn in and the Coalition loses its majority.

However, a spokesman for Truss says the Government will still struggle to get the charges through the Senate because it will need the support of Senator Steve Fielding, who has raised opposition to supporting measures that may increase consumer living costs.

The industry has long argued any increase in heavy vehicle costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices for everyday goods such as groceries.

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