Albanese pledges no automatic increase in fuel excise

The Rudd Government rejects claims it will annually index the fuel excise, saying an increase will be open to scrutiny

By Brad Gardner

The Rudd Government has rejected claims it is attempting to annually index the road user charge, saying any increases will be open to parliamentary scrutiny.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese argues the Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill does not grant the Government free reign to increase the fuel excise.

Rather, he says any increase will be scrutinised because the Government intends to amend the excise by regulation.

Under this method, the Senate—which neither party holds a balance of power in—will decide the fate of any proposed increase.

A spokesman for Albanese says this ensures the Government will be held accountable because senators will have the final say on whether to increase charges.

Furthermore, the spokesman points to the Government’s decision to omit the word ‘annual’ from the latest wording of Bill as evidence Albanese will not necessarily increase charges each year.

"It does not index the charge. The Bill’s amendments to the Fuel Tax Act establish a mechanism to allow adjustment of the road user charge by regulation," Albanese says.

Despite the assurance, however, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) has continually raised the prospect of higher charges being rammed through parliament each year.

"The Government’s legislation could take trucking operators back to those bad old days. The road user charge could ratchet up every year by seven per cent or more. It could go up without consultation or parliamentary scrutiny," ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says.

The ATA wants any increases linked to the construction of rest areas. The Opposition has also sided with the ATA in opposing the Government’s stance.

It wants at least 50 rest areas—as opposed to the ATA’s proposed 90—built per year in return for increasing charges.

In attempting to gain support for the Bill, Albanese told the Opposition it could seek to amend the word ‘indexation’ in the Senate if it felt so strongly about it.

He says there is no justification to oppose the Bill on this basis because the Government does not need to pass legislation to make regulations.

If the Bill is passed, the excise will increase to 21 cents per litre, which Albanese says is necessary because it has not been adjusted since 2000 despite the rise in infrastructure costs.

"Road funding by all levels of government has increased by 33 percent since that time," he says.

Labor MP Chris Trevor also claims the Government’s decision to consider the fuel excise in the context of infrastructure costs may benefit the trucking industry because if costs to government fall then the road user charge and registration charges may be reduced.

The Government last week failed to gain the support of the Coalition in sending the Bill to the Senate. The Bill will now head to a senate inquiry where the ATA and NatRoad will make a formal submission reiterating their position.

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