Albanese holding truckies to ransom: Coalition

Government accused of jeopardising safety by refusing to spend on rest areas unless Senate passes higher rego and fuel charges

By Brad Gardner

The Rudd Government is being accused of "holding safety to ransom" because of its refusal to invest in rest areas unless greater registration and fuel charges are rammed through the Senate.

Despite both sides of politics supporting the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008, Coalition and Labor MPs continue to fire salvos at one another over the Opposition’s decision to block higher registration charges in the ACT as well as an indexed fuel excise.

Patrick Secker has accused the Government of trying to blackmail the Coalition into supporting the greater charges because it will only spend its $70 million safety and productivity package once the charges are passed.

Secker says Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese needs to be investing in rest areas "with no strings attached".

"Holding safety to ransom, as the minister would have done by linking funding for rest stops to increased registration charges, is not reflective of a responsible government," Secker says.

According to Secker, action must be taken now to offset the massive growth in the road freight task, which he says will double by 2015.

However, Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou has reiterated Albanese’s claims the Opposition is ignoring the Government’s quest to improve road safety.

She accused them of backflipping on the issue because the former transport minister, Mark Vaile, was responsible for launching the review into the adequacy of registration charges.

"Despite this emphasis on improving road safety, the Opposition seems determined to block these important measures in the Senate," Vamvakinou says.

"Sadly, it seems that the safety of Australian motorists comes a distant second to the recalcitrance of an out of touch opposition."

Secker rejected Vamvakinou’s claims, instead claiming the Opposition is standing by its decision because an indexed fuel excise will bankrupt small trucking operators.

The fiery exchange occurred as the debate continued on the AusLink (National Land Transport) Amendment Bill 2008 in parliament.

Albanese introduced the Bill to extend the definition of road to include rest areas as well as weigh stations, and to also extend the Roads to Recovery program.

Despite their differences, the Coalition and Labor supported the Bill. Both sides of politics agree the Roads to Recovery program is essential in developing and maintaining sound local road infrastructure.

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