Rest areas for higher charges: ATA wants deal

By: Jason Whittaker


The nation’s peak trucking body will end its opposition to greater registration and fuel charges if the Federal Government commits

The nation’s peak trucking body will end its opposition to greater registration and fuel charges if the Federal Government commits to building more rest stops during the next decade.

The Australian Trucking Association (ATA) wants 900 new truck stops built by 2019 on the AusLink network in return for lobbying the Senate to support two bills that aim to increase the road user charge and raise charges for vehicles under the Federal Interstate Registration Scheme (FIRS).

The Rudd Government has struggled to pass both bills, with the Senate raising particular concerns over the provision which permits the Government to annually index the fuel excise.

In order to break the impasse, the ATA has developed a number of amendments it wants made to the bills, such as making sure indexation is linked to the construction of rest areas.

If the Government plans on increasing the road user charge, the ATA’s amendment will only allow it do so if the chair of Infrastructure Australia certifies at least 90 additional heavy vehicle rest areas have been built per year.

Rest areas must be adequately spaced, meet national guidelines, have amenities and also have provisions for the use of high productivity vehicles.

"Every truck driver and trucking operator knows we need more rest areas because fatigue is a major cause of truck accidents," ATA Chairman Trevor Martyn says.

To speed up the process, the ATA has commissioned a law firm to draft the amendments so they can be slotted into the legislation as soon as possible.

Martyn says the amendments are necessary to ensure the industry benefits from higher charges, and the Government is not free to index the excise at will.

If the excise bill passes without conditions, Martyn claims it will permit the Government to use a "stealth tax" because it will not be open to scrutiny or consultation and the industry will not have access to the reasoning as to why the increase is necessary.

"The Government’s legislation would allow it to index the road user charge, which means the charge would automatically ratchet up every year by 7 percent or more," Martyn says.

"Our proposed amendments would require the Government to adopt an open and transparent system for setting the road user charge, instead of indexation."

Martyn says it is also necessary to pass the registration increases to remove cross-border inconsistencies. The ACT is the only jurisdiction that has not passed the charges.

"We need to fix this inconsistency because it is causing strange cross-border anomalies," he says.

The change in the ATA’s position from vehemently opposing the charges to supporting them was made during by its Transport and Economics Policy Committee.

Martyn says the ATA is talking to senators, the Government and the Opposition about the proposed amendments.

"It is a realistic plan that could be delivered by the Government if the amendments go through," Martyn says.

The Senate previously rejected the charges after the Australian Transport Council (ATC) agreed to implement them.

The Rudd Government has linked a $70 million investment in rest areas, road works and tachogrpahs to the passge of both bills.

Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese has refused to unlock the funds unless the bills are passed in the Senate.

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