BUDGET 08/09: Money for safety and productivity plan but future in doubt

By: Jason Whittaker

The Government has followed through on its promise to implement its Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Plan but its future

The Government has followed through on its promise to implement its Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Plan but its future will hinge on the workings of the Senate.

Treasurer Wayne Swan’s allocated funding for the $70 million plan, which will be implemented over four years. The Budget has divided up the funds over the life of the plan, with $10 million to be invested in 2008-09, followed by $20 million a year from 2009 to 2011.

The funding for this, according to Albanese, will come from the ATC’s decision to increase the road user charge, which will reduce the fuel tax credit the trucking industry can claim by pushing up the current 19.63 cents per litre excise to 21 cents.

As such, it will not be implemented until the Senate votes in favour of passing the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill and the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Repeal Bill.

The Liberals have used their majority in the Senate to hold up the process. But while that majority will end on July 1 when the new Senate takes shape, a spokesman for opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss believes Labor will still struggle to get the bills passed because it will need the support of Family First’s Steve Fielding.

Fielding has indicated he will not support the charges because there is concern greater road user charges will lead to higher grocery bills because the trucking industry will pass on any rise in running costs.

But while the ATA opposed the increases, it appears to now support the passing of both bills after ATA chairman Trevor Martyn announced his support for the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Plan.

"The plan will be a great start toward building the extra rest areas we need, although more funding will be required in the years to come," he says.

The plan, agreed to by the Australian Transport Council (ATC) during its February 29 meeting, will focus on three key areas: tacograph trials, route upgrades and construction of more rest areas.

Although citing this as the Government’s commitment to increasing safety and productivity in the heavy vehicle industry, Albanese’s $70 million announcement has come under criticism from sections of the transport industry.

Chief Executive of the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) Phil Lovel labelled the initiative "absolute bloody chickenfeed" while Steve Shearer of the South Australian Road Transport Association referred to the plan as merely recognising serious problems rather than fixing them.

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