New senate but same problems for government reforms

Government plans to increase ACT registration charges may come unstuck as ATA lobbies against reforms and new senate sits

By Brad Gardner

The Rudd Government may struggle to pass greater heavy vehicle registration charges for ACT operators in the face of a hostile senate and active behind-the-scenes work from the Australian Trucking Association (ATA).

While the Coalition may have lost its majority in the Senate, which it used to block the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill 2008 and the Road Transport Charges (Australian Capital Territory) Repeal Bill 2008, opposition to registration hikes is expected to continue.

The Liberal Party has ruled out any change in its stance, with opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss’ office saying the increases are bad news for the industry and consumers.

"You are either going to drive more people out of the industry who cannot afford to absorb these costs or the costs will be passed on, which is the most likely case," a spokesman for Truss says.

Furthermore, ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair says the peak body is lobbying incoming senators in an effort to convince them to vote down the reforms.

"Our policy has not changed and our policy is quite clear and that is we do not accept that there needs to be this increase that is being proposed," St Clair says.

"We have articulated that position to incoming and current senators in particular as we do articulate that to the Government and the Opposition in the House of Representatives."

Without Coalition support, the Government will need to rely on an eclectic mix of senators to pass both bills. Joining the Coalition in the Senate will be five Greens, Family First’s Steve Fielding and South Australian Independent Nick Xenophon.

If one senator sides with the Coalition it means the bills will once again be defeated, meaning the ACT registration charges will be different from other jurisdictions.

ATN contacted Fielding and Xenophon’s offices but it is yet to receive a reply.

The Australian Transport Council (ATC) agreed to implement registration hikes and an indexed diesel excise during its February meeting.

From July 1, operators in all Australian jurisdictions beside the ACT became bound by increased registration charges.

The Government introduced the bills separately earlier this year with the aim of increasing charges for ACT-based vehicles whether they are registered in the Territory or under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS).

The Government linked its $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Plan to the passage of both bills but it did little to sway the Senate’s decision. The package is designed to be spent on a number of initiatives, including rest areas, tacograph trials and route upgrades.

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