Government has it wrong on charges, industry says

Opposition grows over decision to increase heavy vehicle charges, with claims the process has left businesses in jeopardy

By Brad Gardner

Opposition continues to grow over the Federal Government’s decision to increase heavy vehicle charges, with claims the process has left businesses in jeopardy.

Although saying it supports the 3.2 percent increase in the road user charge from July 1, the Victorian Transport Association (VTA) has criticised the introduction date.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese only gave notice of a 0.7 cent rise in the road user charge on June 26, prompting the VTA to claim businesses cannot pass on costs because the short notice did not give them enough time to factor it into their budgets.

"This timing completely ignores commercial budget cycle realities and, to be blunt, is totally unacceptable to the transport industry and to all sectors of the economy which rely on cost-effective and efficient road transport services," VTA Chief Executive Phil Lovel says.

The VTA wants the road user charge adjustments finalised by February each year and a decision made by March, saying it will give trucking companies enough time to alter their freight rates.

But the Government has defended the timing, saying the decision would have been finalised earlier if legislation on heavy vehicle charges had not been held up in Senate last year.

"It took so long to resolve last year’s charges that it pushed everything back," a spokesman for Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says.

The latest increase, however, may run into similar difficulties, with Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate Fiona Nash saying it is not a good time to be raising charges "no matter what benefits the Rudd Labor Government claims will be showered upon the trucking industry".

Liberal Senator Ian MacDonald says he is concerned of the impact the 0.7 cent rise will have in regional areas where the cost of goods is higher than metropolitan areas.

He has also questioned why the Government announced the changes after parliament ended for the long winter break, which means the Senate cannot vote on the 0.7 cent rise until it resumes on August 11.

But even if the Senate defeats the measure, MacDonald says the industry will not be reimbursed for the period of time in which the increase was in effect.

"You can’t get it [money] back," he says.

Despite the opposition to the charges process, the National Transport Commission says the new charges, introduced alongside a 3.2 percent rise in registration fees, are justified due to the level of government investment in the road network.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese says the industry will see a return for its money, with some of the $28 billion going into the road network being spent on rest areas, parking bays and decoupling areas.

Nash says the Nationals will be monitoring the Government’s investment in rest areas to make sure there are better facilities for truck drivers.

Nash's colleague, Senator John Williams, yesterday told ATN he didn't support the Government's decision and would lobby opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss to vote against it.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA), however, supports the increase and says the Senate should pass it.

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