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Charges go up, work to begin on rest areas

Road user charge to jump to 21 cents, unlocking funding for rest areas and imposing constraints on future increases

By Brad Gardner

The road user charge will jump to 21 cents from January 2009, unlocking funding for new rest areas and imposing constraints on any future increases.

Trucking operators will pay an extra 1.3 cents per litre in return for the $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Package, which will be invested in rest areas, tachograph trials and road infrastructure upgrades.

The Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill, passed yesterday in the Senate, also allows the ACT to set its own registration fees.

Family First, the Greens and Independent Nick Xenophon—enough to pass legislation— supported the Bill after it was amended so the road user charge would not be indexed.

The amendments also mean the Government can only attempt to increase the road user charge once a year, following a 60-day consultation period.

The Coalition attempted to impose further constraints by requiring the Government to build 50 rest areas each year and to prove significant progress in regulation reform had been achieved in return for higher charges.

Aspects of the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) proposals were also rejected, with the Government declining to increase the safety and productivity package to $100 million and dismissing the call to build 90 rest areas a year.

However, a spokesman for the ATA says while it is disappointed by the rest areas decision, the ATA has succeeded in its efforts to stop indexation and ensure a fair and transparent charging process.

Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate Stephen Conroy claims it is “bad policy” to force governments to build a certain amount of facilities each year, and also rebuffed the Coalition for suggesting Infrastructure Australia audit rest areas.

“The road user charge is determined based on all road expenditure attributable to heavy vehicles, not just rest stops,” he says.

“Also, putting an arbitrary quantitative target such as 50 only encourages expenditure on smaller projects to meet the target.”

Conroy labelled the harmonisation amendment a “furphy” because the revenue from the Bill does not come from the states and therefore has no impact on them.

“There is no logical reason to link road user charge adjustment to harmonisation of transport law,” he says.

But the industry will have access to all the formulas, methods, figures and models the Government uses to justify any increase.

Unlike its previous proposal to index the charge by regulation, the Government will now need to pass any measures under a disallowable motion, which the Senate has the power to reject.

“The effect of the amendment is to ensure that any variation to the rate of the road user charge must be brought back to parliament for scrutiny through a disallowable motion,” Conroy says.

At least $30 million of the heavy vehicle package will be spent over the next two years, with the Government allocating $10 million this financial year and $20 million the following year.

It has already received a list from industry groups such as NatRoad outlining what routes urgently need new and upgraded rest areas.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss says consumer goods will rise due to the increase in the road user charge.

The Bill was passed alongside the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill, which will alter registration charges for vehicles under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS).

Fees for B-doubles will increase significantly, but charges for some rigid trucks will fall.

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