Govt amendments don't go far enough, ATA says

ATA continues to press for more action on rest areas, saying amendments to transport Bill do not go far enough

By Brad Gardner

The Rudd Government must commit to rest areas if it wants to gain industry support for its controversial transport Bill, the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) argues.

While saying it is "delighted" by government amendments to the Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill, the ATA says it will not support it unless greater action is taken on rest areas.

The Government has agreed to proposed amendments from the Opposition and the ATA to scrap plans to index the road user charge, but the ATA is lobbying senators to make sure the revised Bill includes extra funding for rest areas.

It wants the $70 million Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Package—of which some is to be spent on rest areas over four years—to be increased to $100 million to build 900 rest areas over 10 years.

The ATA wants the states and territories to match federal funding.

"We have put the case to coalition and independent senators to continue to press for more action on rest areas," a spokesman for the ATA says.

"The Government has fully met our concerns on two of the three issues raised."

However, the ATA is also pushing the Coalition to drop its proposed amendment requiring harmonisation of trucking regulations in return for higher charges.

While supporting national regulations, the spokesman for the ATA says the Coalition’s approach is the wrong way to go about achieving it.

The spokesman says the issue cannot be solved by inserting a few extra words into the Bill, and regulatory impact statements are essential to progressing reform.

But the Coalition has indicated it will not drop its proposal, with Senator Ian MacDonald saying the issue is something "the Government should have no fear of".

"I have been told by government sources that harmonisation is happening in any case. If that is the case, then I would not imagine that government would have any objection," MacDonald says.

If passed, the Bill will increase the road user charge from 19.63 cents to 21 cents. The ATA says the trucking industry will accept this as long as all of its concerns are met.

The Bill will also allow the ACT to set its own heavy vehicle charges to bring them in line with other jurisdictions that passed higher registration fees on July 1.

The Government has faced criticism from the Opposition and the industry for previously attempting to index the charge by regulation, with the ATA referring to the action as an attempt to avoid scrutiny.

MacDonald claims the Government is merely interested in increasing taxes, and has accused it of "grubby politics" because it will not invest the $70 million package unless the Bill, along with the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill, is passed.

"It suggests the Government is more interested in collecting taxes than in industry productivity and safety," he says.

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