NTC says time running out to meet start date for new charges

By: Graham Gardiner

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has conceded that it is "running out of time" to meet the July 1, 2008

The National Transport Commission (NTC) has conceded that it is "running out of time" to meet the July 1, 2008 implementation date for the new heavy vehicle charging regime set by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).

State, territory and federal transport ministers were scheduled to vote on the proposal prior to Christmas, as required by COAG. However, a change in government at the Commonwealth level – along with the appointment of a new federal transport minister – has delayed the vote.

The Commission’s General Manager, Communications and Stakeholder Relations, Paul Sullivan, says a date has yet to be set for the vote.

The NTC, he adds, is currently briefing the new minister, Anthony Albanese, on the proposal. A final regulatory impact statement (RIS), based on the revised charges circulated late last year, has been completed and will be distributed to transport ministers along with voting papers.

The regulatory impact statement will not be circulated to industry for comment prior to the vote taking place, Sullivan says.

"At the moment [the decision on when to call the vote] is still with the Department, which acts as the ATC (Australian Transport Council) secretariat. We could issue the voting papers tomorrow but we want to ensure all ministers can express their views on [the proposal] before they vote," he says.

Even if a vote was called tomorrow, Sullivan admits the legislative and regulatory changes required in each jurisdiction to implement the new charging regime will make the July 1 start date "very tight".

Model legislation drafted by the NTC will need to be implemented by the states and territories during what is already shaping up as a busy Parliamentary schedule, he says.

Additionally, changes to the original proposal – including a modified charging structure for multi-combination vehicles that separates charges for the prime mover and trailer – will also necessitate "system changes" in each jurisdiction.

"It will go down to the wire," Sullivan says of the July 1 start date.

Industry, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of transparency in the final stages of the process.

The NTC will neither confirm nor deny whether the revised charges, obtained by ATN, are either accurate or final. But ATN has confirmed that this second draft was circulated to the Standing Committee on Transport (SCOT) last October for comment.

It has told some industry groups that "nothing is finalised".

Industry is also concerned about the Commission’s intention not to release a new RIS for comment prior to the vote by transport ministers.

With the latest proposal including a 7 percent hike in the diesel excise tax from July 1, and a near doubling in registration charges for B-doubles over three years, industry figures contend operators need time to assess and prepare for the massive changes in operating costs.

Sullivan rejects industry criticism about a lack of transparency, pointing out that it consulted widely on the initial proposal and made significant changes based on stakeholder feedback.

"[The process] has been absolutely transparent," he says.

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