Government backs down on indexation


Rudd Government has bowed to pressure against indexing road user charge, but remains quiet on rest areas

Government backs down on indexation
Government backs down on indexation
By Brad Gardner

The Rudd Government has bowed to pressure against indexing the road user charge, but it is remaining quiet on whether it will build hundreds of new rest areas.

Facing the threat of having its Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill rejected in the Senate, the Government sought to allay concerns by pledging to abandon its indexation plans.

The Coalition and Family First Senator Steve Fielding—enough to block legislation—claimed industry running costs would increase significantly under indexation, while consumers would suffer from a spike in grocery prices.

Any future charges will now be subjected to a disallowable motion under the Government’s plan, which will also include a 60-day consultation period requested by the Australian Trucking Association (ATA).

"The amendments will ensure that the Government can only adjust the charges by disallowable instrument and cannot establish any mechanism that indexes," Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate Stephen Conroy says.

Under its previous plan, the Government wanted to index the road user charge by regulation.

The ATA opposed this, arguing it excluded the industry and the Senate from scrutinising any annual increase and would result in a 7 percent rise in the road user charge each year based on infrastructure costs.

A disallowable motion means the Senate and the public will have access to the Government’s reasoning for proposing an increase, and will be able to block higher charges.

However, there has been no mention of other proposed amendments, including the Coalition’s request for 50 rest areas to be built each year in return for an annual increase. The ATA wants at least 90 built.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese previously refused to be bound by a required figure, and Conroy made no mention of any change in the Government’s stance when the Bill was debated.

As such, the revised Bill may still be rejected.

The Opposition wants progress made by states and territories in harmonising trucking regulations before any increase is agreed to.

"We will want something in there about those additional heavy vehicle rest areas," Senator Ian MacDonald says.

He also says the road use charge should not go up unless the Government can show it is spending more on roads than it is collecting from the industry. The Bill, if passed, will increase the road user charge from 19.63 cents to 21 cents to account for the rise in government expenditure.

Fielding is also supporting the ATA’s push for changes to the $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Package, which is to be spent on rest areas, tachograph trials and road infrastructure over a four-year period.

The ATA wants an extra $30 million over four years and a government commitment to review the package in 2011.

The ATA says its proposal will result in 900 new rest areas by 2019.

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