Ministers considering charging proposals amid inflation fears

By: Jason Whittaker

Transport ministers are coming under pressure to reject proposed road pricing hikes in the wake of another inflation-fueled interest rate

Transport ministers are coming under pressure to reject proposed road pricing hikes in the wake of another inflation-fueled interest rate rise, but may use higher mass limits as leverage for upping registration fees.

The trucking industry has used Tuesday's 0.25 percent Reserve Bank interest rate rise to pressure ministers into rejecting increased transport operating costs.

Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Chief Executive Stuart St Clair says the proposals from the National Transport Commission (NTC) to increase registration and fuel charges will put further pressure on inflation.

"Trucks carry 75 percent of Australia’s domestic freight, so the increased costs would raise prices for everyone, from cornflakes to building materials, from medicines to school shoes," St Clair says.

"Many hard working Australian families will have to sit down at the kitchen table to work out how they can cut their costs to keep up their mortgage payments. The NTC’s plan would make it even harder for them to balance their budget.

"The Government has a five point plan to fight inflation and keep interest rates down, but it will be a while before it takes effect. By rejecting the NTC’s plan, the Government could take immediate action to keep some of the pressure off working families."

Ministers must consider an environment of rising fuel costs along with recent interest rate hikes and the impact on inflation when voting on the proposals in the next month.

A spokesperson for Queensland Transport says the Government will take "a range of factors into consideration".

"Some of the considerations include fuel prices, impact on regional and rural communities, industry considerations such as the overall productivity of the vehicle fleet and investment and maintenance of road infrastructure which is what registration fees aim to recover costs from," the spokesperson says.

Minister for Territory and Municipal Services John Hargreaves, who will take the vote for the ACT Government, has told ATN he is conscious of the considerations.

"Prior to casting my vote I will be considering all factors, particularly the current economic climate," he says.

Hargreaves says ministers are yet to receive the final proposal papers, in a voting process that has been delayed since December.

Other ministers are weighing up the proposals. A spokesperson for New South Wales Roads Minister Eric Roozendaal says the NTC paper will be examined "in depth" before any decision is made.

South Australia's Transport Minister, Patrick Conolon, says he will consider his position at the next Australian Transport Council meeting of transport ministers, scheduled for February 29.

Federal Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese will also only say he is considering the proposals.

"The Government is being briefed on the issue of heavy vehicle charges and I am speaking with my state and territory colleagues," the Minister says.

ATN put questions to all transport ministers but those from other states did not respond.

As previously reported, there is now doubt the proposals can be enacted by June when the new charges are to take effect.

ATN understands jurisdictions are also delaying publishing new maps for higher mass limits access until they can guarantee increased revenue from the trucking industry.

The standoff sees the industry prepared to support reasonable price increases only if greater road access is assured, and jurisdictions unwilling to allow greater access until higher charges are introduced.

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