Government losing excise increase debate

By: Chris Smith

The Coalition is standing by its refusal to support an indexed diesel excise, claiming it will cripple small trucking operators

The Coalition is standing by its refusal to support an indexed diesel excise, claiming it will cripple small trucking operators and disappear into consolidated revenue.

Liberal MP for the West Australian seat of Forrest Nola Marino has referred to the Rudd Government’s decision to annually increase the diesel excise as "yet another round of inflationary tax rises" that is unwarranted in light of current economic conditions.

The Government has failed to pass an indexed excise as well as greater registration charges for ACT-based heavy vehicles. It has linked the passage of both measures to a $70 million safety and productivity package, using this tactic to accuse the Coalition of jeopardising road safety.

But Marino has blasted the Government’s stance, claiming the excise proposal, if passed, will have a much greater impact on the industry.

She says small-time operators are already struggling to absorb costs, while most will be unable to pass on costs because they are signed to term-based contracts that limit the ability to charge greater freight rates.

"Many truckies have reached breaking point and have exited the industry. I have been told that there were 3,600 repossessions of trucks in the first six months of the year," Marino says.

Furthermore, Marino has questioned the transparency of the revenue process, which will add another $168 million to state coffers.

"I would like to know exactly how much each state and territory government has already invested back into roads from the revenue they are currently receiving," Marino says.

"And where are the guarantees and the audit processes to ensure that the states and the territories will actually spend the proposed revenue windfall on roads, in particular on facilities to assist heavy vehicles? Who will pay for these audit processes?"

Marino says the Government’s approach is nonsensical because it is attempting to raise taxes on the diesel excise while simultaneously saying it will provide the trucking industry with a rebate once emissions trading begins.

She has also criticised the $70 million package, to be spent over four years, as a fraction of what is needed.

Marino made her comments during a parliamentary debate over the Rudd Government’s proposed AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008.

While she backed the Bill, Marino raised some "technical issues", particularly in regards to funding for local roads.

If enacted, Marino says the Bill means Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese will decide how money is spent, rather than the current practice of allowing local government to determine how best to invest in road infrastructure.

"I certainly will not endorse the decision-making process being taken away from individual councils by a Canberra-centric regime," Marino says.

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