Victoria passes port licence fee

Licence fee on Port of Melbourne users has passed Victoria’s parliament, but government opposes amendment to end it in 2016

By Brad Gardner | February 29, 2012

A licence fee on Port of Melbourne users will kick-off on July 1 after legislation passed Victoria’s parliament, but the government has rejected a proposal to end it in 2016.

The Port Management Amendment (Port of Melbourne Corporation Licence Fee) Bill passed both houses this week in a move that will slap an indexed fee starting at $75 million on the port from the beginning of the new financial year.

The Port of Melbourne Corporation will be responsible for collecting the fee from all port users, and the government claims revenue will go toward funding infrastructure projects. However, Planning Minister Matthew Guy says no specific infrastructure projects have been earmarked.

The Opposition wanted a sunset clause inserted into the legislation to end the scheme after four years. It won the support of the Greens, but Guy says the government has no intention of scrapping the licence fee.

"We certainly think the sunset clause is a good idea. It will enable the pros and cons of the licence fee to be reviewed so the government at that stage – and it could be a different government – can review whether the fee has been successful or not and either continue or discontinue it," Greens MP Sue Pennicuik says.

The government also opposed a motion for a committee to examine the Bill in detail and report its findings on March 29.

"It is incredibly disappointing that the government has taken that position," Labor MP Matt Viney says.

Minister for Higher Education and Skills Peter Hall says the government has had "a long and detailed consultation with industry" on the Bill.

"It may well be true that the government has consulted widely, but the parliament has not had such an opportunity. It may well be true that the government has heard the views of various stakeholders about this legislation, but the parliament has not," Viney says.

The government announced the licence fee as an alternative to Labor’s proposal when John Brumby ran the state.

The former government wanted a tolling system established aimed solely at trucking operators using the port precinct. Revenue was intended to fund projects under the Victorian Transport Plan.

"This is a tough area and no-one likes to see any charges levied against our primary producers, transport industry or those people who rely heavily on imports and exports and trade and traffic movements through the port," Nationals MP Damian Drum says.

"However, we all understand that to keep our ports up to a certain standard there needs to be investment in infrastructure and the appropriate mechanisms put in place."

Along with a sunset clause, Western Victoria MP Jaala Pulford wanted a series of amendments made to the Bill to, she says, improve transparency and rectify instances of over-recovery.

"We believe, and I think it is fairly clear, that everything contained in the amendment is simply extra bureaucracy," Guy says.

However, Guy says the Bill already has safeguards in place, including requiring fees to be published and giving the Essential Services Commission the power to investigate complaints of unreasonable pricing.

Labor has derided the licence fee as a tax grab that will affect the livelihoods of businesses and families. The government says the fee is projected to rise to $76.7 million on July 1, 2013 and $78.4 million the following year.

A $100 million tolling system would have been set up at the port to charge trucks under the previous government’s plans, which the Victorian Transport Association and the union movement campaigned against.

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