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Parliament still split on road pricing legislation

Senate report shows Government and Coalition still split on whether to index the road user charge

By Brad Gardner

The Federal Opposition will again block a Bill to increase and index the road user charge, and will not back a proposal to build 900 rest areas.

The Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee has completed its report into the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill and the Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill.

Although noting general support for the Bills, the inquiry found the trucking and rail industries and Labor and the Liberals remain divided on whether the road user charge should be indexed.

Although it supports the Interstate Road Transport Charge Amendment Bill, which will harmonise truck registration charges, Liberal senators oppose indexation of the road user charge under the second Bill.

“The Opposition members of the inquiry regard the failure of this Bill to preclude the prospect of automatic indexation as a significant weakness,” the report says.

“In light of the weaknesses of this Bill, the Opposition members of the committee recommend that the Road Charges Legislation Repeal and Amendment Bill be rejected unless the Government accepts its amendments.”

As well as scrapping indexation, the Opposition wants the Government bound to build 50 rest areas a year and require jurisdictions to harmonise regulations in return for greater charges.

The Opposition refused to back the ATA’s 900 rest areas proposal, saying 500 is enough.

“The proposal that the Government should be required to build 900 rest areas, while desirable, is perhaps unrealistic,” the report says.

The Opposition also says the proposal to expand the Heavy Vehicle Safety and Productivity Package from $70 million to $100 million is only a “partial solution” to funding rest areas.

In order to gain the support of the Coalition — which is necessary unless the Government woos the Greens and the two independent senators — the Government will need to accept the Opposition’s proposed amendments.

The Opposition also criticised the relationship between the National Transport Commission (NTC) and the trucking industry, which butted heads over the NTC’s methods in developing a new charges determination in 2007.

“The failure of the Bill to mandate adequate levels of consultation between the organisation calculating the road user charge and the industry paying it is the second major weakness of this Bill,” the report says.

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