EDITORIAL: Inflation, HML driving political decisions on charges

By: Jason Whittaker

There's a lot of politics at play in the latest truck charging proposals. And the issue is far from black

There's a lot of politics at play in the latest truck charging proposals. And the issue is far from black and white.

In a delayed and less than transparent process, the vote on proposals from the National Transport Commission (NTC) to significantly hike registration charges on multi-combination fleets, on top of a painful fuel tax increase for all vehicles, is now just weeks away. Probably. It's important to know what ministers are weighing up.

For the Federal Government, the decision seems simple, as was cleverly exploited by the Australian Trucking Association in this week of interest rate rises. Kevin Rudd's war on inflation (and higher interest rates) — which has given us a five-point plan, a cost-cutting razor gang and even a vow by Julia Gillard to reject a pay rise to set an example on costly wage increases — doesn't gel with any attempt to put up truck charges that will ultimately make products on the shelf more expensive.

If Rudd is serious about keeping a lid on inflation he will instruct his transport minister to reject the proposals.

The decision for state governments is not as clear. Jurisdictions believe they've been short-changed on truck charges while industry is demanding more from infrastructure.

State governments and local councils are reluctant to open up their roads to higher mass vehicles without assurances of extra revenue to upgrade and maintain infrastructure. ATN understands some states are delaying a mapping process for HML routes until the charging proposals are accepted.

It puts government and industry in a standoff: no more access without more money, no more money without more access.

How governments, Labor parties all, align on the issue is fascinating politics and crucial to the viability of the industry and important for the economy widely.

Don't for a moment think these are easy issues for ministers to deal with.

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