Burke steps in to break impasse on fuel excise debate

Deputy speaker casts deciding vote to sink the Opposition’s attempt to overturn a 10.4 percent increase to the diesel excise

Burke steps in to break impasse on fuel excise debate
Burke steps in to break impasse on excise debate
By Brad Gardner | September 18, 2012

Trucking operators will be forced to pay 25.5 cents per litre in fuel excise until June 30 next year, after an Opposition attempt to overturn the charge fell one vote short in Federal Parliament yesterday.

Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss (pictured) could not muster enough numbers to get his disallowance motion over the line. He wants the excise reduced to 24.4 cents per litre.

Parliamentarians were deadlocked when the motion came to a vote, prompting Deputy Speaker of the House Anna Burke to step in and break the impasse by voting with the Federal Government against Truss’s plan.

Truss claims the consultation process that preceded the excise increase was incompetent or dishonest because the trucking industry was never told about an apparent $144 million shortfall. The excise increased by 2.4 cents per litre on July 1.

"The industry and the consultation process took place on the basis of there needing to be a 5.7 percent increase. But the government, after the consultation period was over, imposed a 10.4 percent increase. That is clearly unfair and unjust," Truss says.

"The Coalition’s offer to the Government to meet truck drivers halfway in reducing the road-user charge remains on the table. If the government agrees to a reasonable 5.7 percent increase rather than this arbitrary 10.4 percent, the Coalition will agree to the determination."

However, Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese says Truss’s plan would have led to a budget shortfall and jeopardised the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Program.

"This is a negative and short-sighted move. It has the potential to leave taxpayers footing a bill of up to $700 million for the wear and tear on our roads caused by heavy vehicles. That is an outcome that would clearly be unfair," he says.

"It would have put at risk hundreds of new rest stops, parking areas and decoupling bays – facilities that truck drivers rely upon to take a break, catch up on sleep and check their vehicles."

Albanese dismissed claims the Government is taking too much from the trucking industry, saying road-user charges reflect greater investment in roads since 2007.

"The more you spend on roads the greater the cost recovery under the system," he says.

The Government managed to woo crossbench support to defeat the disallowance motion, with the Greens and independents Andrew Wilkie and Tony Windsor siding with Labor.

While independent Rob Oakeshott cast his vote with the Coalition, he accused Truss of hypocrisy because his colleagues in the New South Wales Government supported the increases.

"I remain at a loss to understand why the federal National Party voted against the diesel increase when the state National Party roads minister voted for it," he says.

"I would welcome…the explanation of how they are managing to walk both positions at once."

Oakeshott also used debate on the motion to argue for an overhaul of road user charges in line with recommendations from former Treasury boss Ken Henry.

Oakeshott supports urban congestion charging, saying too much of the cost burden of maintaining roads is falling on the rural sector through increases to the fuel excise.

"I want to start getting better outcomes in comprehensive tax reform and a greater commitment from political leaders, federal and state, on some of the issues that have been talked about for too long and on which the conversation has failed to progress," he says.

"It’s been too easy for federal and state governments to levy our food providers while ignoring expert calls to deal with the costs of congestion."

The increase to the fuel excise coincided with higher registration fees, particularly for those operating rigid trucks and road trains. Governments also reduced A-trailer fees to encourage greater uptake of B-doubles and B-triples.

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