We won't back off - ATA warns

ATA issues warning to Rudd Government on road pricing and rest areas: "We're not going to back off"

We won't back off - ATA warns
We won't back off - ATA warns
By Brad Gardner

The trucking lobby is ramping up pressure for government action on rest areas, as the federal Opposition shows support for a proposal to build 900 new stops.

Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Chief Executive Stuart St Clair has warned the Government against ignoring calls for more rest areas, saying the ATA will be pursuing urgent action, and "we’re not going to back off".

His warning stems from the ATA’s release of a proposal to link any future increase in the fuel tax to the construction of 90 rest areas a year.

Based on the proposal and the Government’s rhetoric about improving heavy vehicle safety, St Clair says Minister for Transport and Infrastructure Anthony Albanese needs to take action.

"I would think he needs to do something," St Clair says.

"This is not a game. We are paid to deliver good outcomes for this industry."

His call for Albanese to implement the proposal has been echoed by the federal Opposition, with the office of opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss indicating early support for 900 new rest areas by 2019.

"The ATA’s amendments are worthy of consideration by the Government, and we will be considering them," a spokesman for Truss says.

The Government, however, has not reached a position on the proposal, which was only released on October 3.

"The Government is currently giving consideration to the ATA's detailed proposal," a spokesperson for Albanese says.

According to St Clair, the ATA’s amendment package will ensure any decision to increase the fuel excise will be transparent because the Government will need to justify any price hikes.

St Clair is reluctant to support the Government’s claim it will only increase the excise if infrastructure costs go up.

He says ATA does not have access to road infrastructure expenditure, meaning it cannot be determined how much money has been collected and how much is actually being invested.

"We don’t believe in indexation at all because it is not open to scrutiny," he says.

St Clair rejected an assertion the ATA should have made a submission to Infrastructure Australia for funding, saying the money for rest areas is already there because it comes from the road user charge.

Furthermore, he claims there is no reason why the Government cannot implement the proposal immediately because the industry is already paying enough in taxes, and the recent Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting spoke of the need to fast-track infrastructure investments.

The ATA’s decision to recommend 900 new rest areas is based on government reports and audits on the number of rest areas and how much more are needed to cope with the freight task.

The ATA is not pushing for all rest areas to have amenities, with St Clair saying one with toilets and running water means a rest area 50km away may only need enough space to pull over and rest.

"You have to be flexible, we don’t expect everything to be perfect," he says.

The ATA last week submitted an amendment package to the Government in a bid to reach a compromise on a bill in the Senate to increase the fuel tax from 19.63 cents to 21 cents per litre and link it to indexation.

If accepted, the amendments will force the Government to gain the permission of the chair of Infrastructure Australia to increase the excise.

The chair must ensure at least 90 rest years a year are built, meet national guidelines and adequately provide for semi-trailers, B-doubles and B-triple combinations before certifying an indexation.

"It is a realistic plan that could be delivered by the Government if the amendments go through," ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says.

As well as proposing the amendments, the ATA has ended its opposition to higher registration charges for ACT vehicles registered under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS).

All jurisdictions barring the ACT passed higher charges on July 1, creating cross-border inconsistency.

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