Albanese refuses to back rest area proposals

The Rudd Government will not support proposals to build hundreds of new rest areas on the nation's highways

Albanese refuses to back rest area proposals
Albanese refuses to back rest area proposals
By Brad Gardner

The Government will not back the Opposition’s proposal to build 500 new rest areas and has labelled the Australian Trucking Association’s (ATA) call for 900 "impractical".

Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese says the Government should not be bound by legislation forcing it to construct rest areas.

The ATA and the Opposition wanted a provision requiring the Government to build rest areas in return for increasing the road user charge.

If accepted, the ATA‘s proposal would have forced the Government to build 900 stops by 2019, while the Coalition’s amendment would have resulted in 500.

However, Albanese claims it is unnecessary because the Government has already shown it is committed to the issue.

"The Government does not need legislation to commit to rest stops," he says.

"We have put heavy vehicles rest stops on the political agenda of this parliament."

According to Albanese, the Government’s $70 heavy vehicle safety and productivity package and its decision to include rest areas in AusLink funding grants is proof it is determined to increase the number of stops along Australia’s main routes.

"The Opposition’s amendment…is simply impractical and I have indicated also to the Australian Trucking Association that the framing of their suggestions in impractical," he says.

As such, the Government will attempt to push through the Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill unchanged through the Senate.

"It is bad policy to link adjustment of the charge in the future to the construction of an arbitrary number of rest stops alone," Albanese says.

If passed, the Bill will give the Government the power to annually increase the fuel excise at will without consultation.

However, Albanese claims the Government will consult before increasing charges, and any increase will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

Despite this, opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss says the Coalition and the trucking industry want an assurance, which can only be given by including the amendment: "In determining the road user charge, the transport minister must not apply a method for indexing the charge."

But the Government has stood by the wording of its Bill, which reads: "The regulations may proscribe a method for indexing the road user charge."

The Opposition decided against supporting the ATA’s 900 new rest areas proposal, saying 500 staggered stops along both sides of the highways will bring them into compliance.

"That is why we chose the number of 50 rather than the larger figure that was identified in the audit," Truss says.

He claims there is no justification for the Government refusing to build 500 over 10 years because it would cost about $300 million and the revenue raised from the road user charge will be $2.5 billion.

"It is a safety matter and, quite clearly, someone has to stand up for the ordinary truck drivers who work long hours on our highways," Truss says.

"Our amendments would give them a guarantee that something is going to be done about providing the facilities they need."

Coalition MPs labelled the Government’s $70 million package, of which some is to be spent on rest areas over four years, "an offensive figure" and "so meagre it is insulting".

The Opposition also criticised the package because it does not set out where the rest areas will be built or how much of the $70 million will be invested in new facilities.

Albanese also rejected the ATA’s and Truss’ proposed amendment that the Government should receive permission from Infrastructure Australia to increase the excise after the government body audits rest areas.

"The idea that Sir Rod Eddington, as the chair of Infrastructure Australia, is going to be going around counting the number of rest stops and conducting an audit is an extraordinary distraction from what the job of Infrastructure Australia is," Albanese says.

But Truss claims Infrastructure Australia should be monitoring rest areas because its role is to audit national infrastructure.

The Nationals leader also wanted the states to be bound to overhaul cross-border inconsistencies, such as fatigue management laws, in return for any future increase in the road user charge.

However, Albanese says the amendment is not practical because it will not impact on the states at all.

"It only impacts on commonwealth funding. So there is no pressure on the states in this legislation if it is not carried," Albanese says.

According to the Minister, the Government is already making inroads into overhauling anachronistic regulations through Council of Australian Government (COAG) and Australian Transport Council (ATC) meetings.

The Government did manage to gain support for its Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill, which will bring the ACT’s heavy vehicle registration charges in line with the fees introduced in other jurisdictions earlier this year.

The Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill and the Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill were introduced into the Senate earlier this year but they were defeated.

If the Government cannot gain the support of the Coalition in the Senate, then it will need to rely on the support of the Greens and the two independent senators, Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding to pass the Bills.

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