OUR SAY: Potential price gouge shows need for change

The heavy vehicle charges process should leave operators angry and calling for immediate change

By Brad Gardner | March 30, 2010

You get the sense sometimes that bureaucrats like to model themselves on the former controversial Queensland Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

When Australian Trucking Association (ATA) Chief Executive Stuart St Clair last year demanded access to figures and formulas used to determine if the trucking industry needed to pay higher charges, he was ignored.

As if channelling Joh, the policy makers waived St Clair’s plea aside with a "Don’t you worry about that" gesture.

The industry is not allowed to peek at the formula used by the NTC to determine if charges should rise. It is also denied access to road expenditure data of the states and territories that is put into the formula.

Trust us, the bureaucrats are saying. After all, we know best.

Or so they think. If the industry was irate over the charges process last year, it has even more reason to be angrier now.

Unless the NTC made a "technical amendment" to the formula, operators would have been ripped off from July 1 this year.

The diesel excise would jump from 21.7 cents to 23.8 cents a litre compared to the revised option of 22.6 cents.

The cost to register a B-double would hit $16,148 instead of the revised sum of $15,340.

Sure, some congratulate the NTC for making the change and pointing it out.

But remember, the NTC also in the past boasted of how accurate and conservative its formula was.

The "technical amendment" should not be seen as a sign that the industry can be confident in the current system.

After all, how can operators legitimately be asked to accept that everything will be right from now on?

How can they be certain there are not other potential flaws in the data or formula?

The failure demonstrates why the industry should be allowed to verify the information. It is unbelievable that those who must pay cannot see how the bill is determined.

The latest price rise proposal also indicates the need for a user pays system.

According to the NTC’s figures, governments have spent more than $2 billion extra on urban arterial roads than rural arterial roads between the 2002-2003 and 2008-2009 financial years.

There is no expenditure figure for rural roads for 2008-2009 financial year, but the difference between it and urban investment based on the latest information is more than $13 billion.

But while urban operators benefited the most, rural and regional carriers will be forced to pay the same registration and fuel charges.

And as the Executive Director of the Australian Livestock Transporters Association (ALTA), Philip Halton, pointed out this week, regional and rural companies should not be paying the same fees because they do not use their equipment as much as their larger counterparts.

Halton says regional operators have B-doubles but only get partial use from their A-trailers.

"Paying a premium price for something that they aren’t using is starting to drive operators wild," he says.

"As long as the system relies on huge rego charges that are calculated as ‘averages’, they will be too high for 66 percent of operators on the road and too low for the big boys."

The credibility of the system is broken. The only way of restoring it is through change and accountability.

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