WA and NT break ranks, as anger grows over fuel tax

Western Australian and Northern Territory operators dodge a bullet on registration charges, as opposition mounts to increase in fuel excise

WA and NT break ranks, as anger grows over fuel tax
WA and NT break ranks, as anger grows over fuel tax
By Brad Gardner | April 13, 2012

Western Australian and Northern Territory operators have dodged a bullet on registration charges, as opposition mounts to the Federal Government’s push to significantly increase the fuel excise.

The two jurisdictions were the only ones to refuse a proposal last month from the National Transport Commission (NTC) to increase national registration charges by more than 25 percent in some cases from July 1.

Meanwhile, the Coalition today threatened to move a disallowance motion against the charges, which includes a 2.4 cents-per-litre increase in the fuel tax, when Federal Parliament resumes.

While the price of B-doubles and B-triples will fall in most states when the new financial year begins, the cost of registering road trains will climb by more than 21 percent, with registration fees for rigid trucks jumping by as much as 29.6 percent.

In its charging proposal handed to transport ministers in March, the NTC claimed governments would lose $144 million in revenue if they stuck to annual adjustment formula used to set charges. The formula recommended a 5.7 percent increase.

The NTC claimed the industry was not paying its way, prompting most ministers to support higher charges to claw back lost revenue.

However, the Northern Territory has broken ranks and will impose a flat 3.7 percent increase in charges across the board. It has also decided to delay the increases until January 1, 2013.

"And the A-trailer charge will be lowered to that of a semi–trailer," a spokeswoman for Transport Minister Gerry McCarthy says.

The spokeswoman says the state could not support a proposal that led to large increases on other heavy vehicle combinations to offset a reduction in B-double fees.

"A redistribution of costs away from B-doubles is not appropriate in the NT because road trains and innovative vehicle combinations are more common," the spokeswoman says.

A spokesperson for Western Australian Transport Minister Troy Buswell says the the NTC's plan would lead to "unacceptable increases in registration charges for WA's double and triple road trains and B-doubles".

The spokesperson says the state will instead introduce a 5.7 percent increase, in line with the annual adjustment formula.

The spokesperson for Buswell has indicated the state will once again go it alone when the next round of charges pops up.

"WA will increase its 2013-14 charges with an alternative to the national charging model, which would result in lower registrations for a variety of heavy vehicle combinations in WA," the spokesperson says.

"This approach recognises that charges for double and triple road trains and B-doubles should be considerably less in WA than in the other states and territories due to WA's particular circumstances."

The federal Coalition has also taken a shot at the NTC, accusing it of using outdated figures on truck numbers to calculate charges.

"Unless Federal Transport Minister Anthony Albanese can explain the discrepancies between the NTC’s theoretical and the actual number of trucks on our roads to justify these exorbitant extra costs, the Coalition will move in Parliament to disallow the proposed new national heavy vehicle charges," Opposition spokesman on transport Warren Truss says.

He claims the industry will be overcharged by $700 million and that regional areas will suffer the most under a higher fuel tax due to the greater distances trucks must travel to deliver goods.

"The trucking industry would have expected to pay $1.7 billion under the national heavy vehicle charges. Instead, the NTC’s dodgy data has them coughing up $2.4 billion," Truss says.

"Over-inflating road user charges, in what can only be described as a shameless and deceitful tax grab by a desperate government, will further drive up the cost of transporting consumer goods and commodities, undoubtedly hitting grocery prices at the checkout and making our industry less competitive."

The Australian Trucking Association says it will lobby other jurisdictions to follow the Northern Territory’s lead.

It also wants the increase in the fuel tax pegged back to 3.7 percent, significantly less than the 10.4 percent rise that will take effect on July 1.

The ATA says limiting the increase to 3.7 percent will add an extra 0.9 cents per litre to the excise, in line with inflation.

"Minister McCarthy has recognised that many trucking operators simply cannot afford to pay the extra fuel tax and increased registration charges. He has also recognised that reducing A-trailer charges will encourage operators to use modern, safer truck combinations like B-doubles and BAB-quads," ATA Chairman David Simon says.

"His decision is also a huge win for remote communities that get their supplies by road train."

Simon says Northern Territory operators will pay $3546 less than their interstate counterparts when registering their road trains.

The Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure (SCOTI), which brings together transport ministers, voted on March 21 on heavy vehicle charges.

Ministers last year tasked the NTC with looking at ways to reduce A-trailer fees. The industry argues the high cost of registering the trailers is a disincentive to using B-doubles and B-triples.

From July 1, in most states, the cost of a tri-axle A-trailer will fall from $6525 to $3300. A tandem-axle unit will drop from $6195 to $3150.

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