OUR SAY: Surrender pricing battle to win war


The truck lobby is starting to look a little like the Black Knight in the <i>Holy Grail</i>. Its arms lopped off, clearly defeated, it refuses anyway to give up on the fight. The decision earlier this year by transport ministers to accept higher registration and fuel excise charges for the trucking industry was more than “just a flesh wound”, as the Knight declares, blood gushing from his empty sockets. It should have spelt the end of the fight, and the start of a new push for productivity gains.

By Jason Whittaker

The truck lobby is starting to look a little like the Black Knight in the Holy Grail. Its arms lopped off, clearly defeated, it refuses anyway to give up on the fight.

The decision earlier this year by transport ministers to accept higher registration and fuel excise charges for the trucking industry was more than "just a flesh wound", as the Knight declares, blood gushing from his empty sockets. It should have spelt the end of the fight, and the start of a new push for productivity gains.

Legislation enacting the charging hikes is
locked up in the Senate, which is where it could stay for some time yet as Labor lobbies the Greens and independent senators to pass the legislation. The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) fully supports the filibuster – it maintains it shouldn’t have to pay a cent more.

The argument has always been problematic. As record amounts of expenditure are spent on road infrastructure (it may not be enough, but you can’t quibble over the increase), the industry look miserly in maintaining it can’t and won’t pay more.

It should also be remembered that the 'holy grail' for the National Transport Commission (NTC) is mass-distance charging - that is, you'll pay for what you carry and how far.

This war for future market competitiveness must move to a new front. Fleet operators, more than anything, need consistency in regulation and they need wider network access for higher productivity vehicles.

Don’t think for a moment that will come before governments see the money. State departmental bureaucrats have said as much.

Smarter operators realise this. As ATN has reported, Bunker Freight Lines General Manager and ATA Councillor Kathy Williams argues the industry must "do a deal" on truck charges. "We will only get the results we want if we pay all of the higher charges recommended by the National Transport Commission," she told the ATA Convention earlier this year.

It’s a shame her colleagues on the board don’t take her advice, rather than be mired in a debate they can’t win and one holding back the reform agenda.

Higher charges are, sadly,
a fact of life, another impost that must be passed up the transport chain, and a necessary evil to justify the initiatives that will increase efficiency and really put more money into the pockets of trucking operators.

So what do you think? Can we admit defeat in the prices battle to win the greater war? Post your comments below…

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