ATA backs charges as St Clair blasts states

Governments asked to rethink increases to trucking charges amid accusations jurisdictions are concealing road expenditure figures

By Brad Gardner

Governments are being asked to rethink increases to trucking charges amid accusations jurisdictions are concealing road expenditure figures from the trucking industry.

The Australian Trucking Association wants the proposed 3.2 percent increase to registration fees and the road user charge delayed by six months, saying governments need to recognise the impact a declining economy coupled with higher charges will have on operators.

The peak lobby group wants the charges introduced on January 1 next year, meaning if its recommendation is accepted then from 2010 B-double registration fees will jump by almost $3000 and fuel tax credit will be cut by 0.7 cents.

Although the ATA says the increases are justified on the basis of government expenditure on the road network, it has questioned the validity of the figures provided.

ATA Chief Executive Stuart St Clair has accused state governments of compromising the credibility of the calculations used to determine if charges should be increased.

"Of the data made available, there is unexplained variability in expenditure and growth trends differ between states," he says.

Jurisdictions are not required to report non-road investment in areas such as safety programs and enforcement initiatives, but the ATA says the states should release all expenditure figures.

"The spending of public money should be openly accounted for, and without this transparency the industry and regulators cannot ensure accurate cost recovery," St Clair says.

The ATA wants governments to be independently audited and a network established requiring full data disclosure.

A spokesman for the group says it recently held a meeting with Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese's office to lobby for greater transparency and a delay to increased charges.

The NTC is currently consulting industry stakeholders on the proposed 3.2 percent increase, and a spokesman for Albanese says a decision will be made once the NTC reports its findings.

"At this stage the NTC will consult and then make recommendations," the spokesman says.

If the NTC’s proposal is accepted, the fuel tax credit will fall from 17.1 cents to 16.4 cents per litre.

The NTC says the increases will deliver key benefits for trucking operators.

"Revenue recovered through heavy vehicle charges contributes to building better and safer roads for improved higher productivity vehicle access," the government body says.

However, Hughie Williams from the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) has slammed the proposed increase, claiming it will hurt owner-drivers struggling to make ends meet.

The changes in registration fees stem from the 2007 agreement to annually adjust charges. B-doubles were significantly affected due to claims larger vehicles were not paying "their fair share of road infrastructure costs".

The Australian Transport Council last year adopted the 2007 Heavy Vehicle Charges Determination, while the Government amended the Fuel Tax Act to give it the power to adjust the road user charge.

The Government tried to gain the power to index the charge but backed down after the Senate refused to support the measure.

As part of the amendments made to the Act, Albanese must give 60 days notice of an intention to raise the charge and publicly release relevant documents justifying his decision.

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