Pallas leads the charge against Baillieu's port licence fee

Victoria's Opposition refuses to support proposed licence fee, which will increase costs for Port of Melbourne users from July 1

By Brad Gardner | February 14, 2012

Victoria’s Opposition has gone on the attack over a proposed port licence fee, labelling it a "ham-fisted" attempt that will drive up cost of living expenses.

Labor’s spokesman on ports and infrastructure, Tim Pallas, says the party will not support Premier Ted Baillieu’s decision to impose the $75 million charge on the Port of Melbourne Corporation from July 1.

The figure will rise annually and the corporation will be responsible for recouping the money from port users, including trucking companies.

Announced as an alternative to the freight infrastructure charge championed by the previous government, revenue from the fee is designed to fund infrastructure upgrades.

However, Pallas says affected parties will simply pass higher costs down the chain to the detriment of jobs and the price of consumer goods.

"You could not think of a more broad-based, ham-fisted, blunt instrument than what has been proposed by the government," Pallas says.

"It is clear that the cost of the port licence fee will have a substantial impact on industry."

But Nationals MP Tim McCurdy says the fee is a more equitable approach than former Premier John Brumby’s scheme, which would have applied a toll to trucks accessing the East or West Swanson terminals to fund transport projects.

"It will be allocated across the broadest possible customer base. Instead of slugging the primary producers and truck operators like the FIC [freight infrastructure charge] was going to do, this will be across a broader perspective," he says.

McCurdy says the fee is projected to rise to $76.7 million on July 1, 2013 and $78.4 million the following year.

Labor has questioned whether the government will invest the revenue in transport infrastructure, with Footscray MP Marsha Thomson claiming the industry will get nothing back from the government.

Martin Foley, who represents the electorate of Albert Park, has derided the government’s plan.

"This is a tax revenue grab on Victorian families and it will be at the expense of Victorian jobs. Nothing is more certain. This is a grab for consolidated revenue and nothing more," he claims.

Ports Minister Denis Napthine introduced the Port Management Amendment (Port of Melbourne Corporation Licence Fee) Bill in December last year to create the licence fee as an alternative to the freight infrastructure charge.

Under the previous government’s plans, a $100 million tolling system would have been set up at the port to charge trucks.

Industry groups such as the Victorian Transport Association and the Victorian Farmers Federation campaigned against the charge, while the Transport Workers Union (TWU) threatened to blockade the port if it was introduced.

The union wanted shippers and stevedores to bear the impost and claimed owner-drivers and small companies would not be able to recoup the tax from their customers.

"The previous government imposed a truck tax. That was not supported by the industry. It was clumsy and ineffective, and it was going to be very costly," Baillieu says.

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