Na­tional road re­form roll­out

Rego prices in­crease but at what cost to coun­try?

Big Rigs - - SPECIAL REPORT - Bruce Honey­will

JULY 1 saw the road trans­port in­dus­try cop an in­crease of al­most 10 per cent for the reg­is­tra­tion cost of an av­er­age B-dou­ble con­fig­u­ra­tion truck, and a 12.7 per cent in­crease for a triple road train.

This means op­er­a­tors will have to find reg­is­tra­tion costs of about $16,169 for a B-dou­ble and $18,669 for a triple road train.

These cost in­creases come as part of the roll­out of the Na­tional Heavy Ve­hi­cle Road Re­form pack­age.

Big Rigs fig­ures are sourced from the Heavy Ve­hi­cle Charges pub­lished by the Na­tional Trans­port Com­mis­sion.

This year’s in­creases in reg­is­tra­tion costs come from the rec­om­men­da­tions of the Trans­port and In­fra­struc­ture Coun­cil, a get-to­gether of trans­port min­is­ters from all states, ter­ri­to­ries and the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment.

The en­tire re­form is based on the rather ne­far­i­ous con­cept that all util­i­ties in Aus­tralia need to be paid for by the users – or ben­e­fi­cia­ries. So who are the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of road trans­port?

Road trans­port op­er­a­tors don’t drive trucks up and down the high­ways for their own plea­sure. They fit within an over­all in­fra­struc­ture chain es­sen­tial to the run­ning and sur­vival of the na­tion.

Yet the TIC, in a pa­per on the de­mand for Heavy Ve­hi­cle Road Re­form, sug­gests that: “Road in­fra­struc­ture in Aus­tralia is at a his­toric tip­ping point”.

“De­mand for sig­nif­i­cant new and up­graded in­fra­struc­ture is grow­ing,” the pa­per states.

“But it is get­ting harder for gov­ern­ments to fund the ex­pec­ta­tions and de­mands of road users from gen­eral tax­a­tion rev­enue”.

With across-the-board push for pri­vati­sa­tion and users-pay, the states and ter­ri­to­ries see road trans­port as some­thing like the sup­ply of elec­tric­ity or other util­i­ties we all use in­di­vid­u­ally.

The TIC pa­per goes on to de­scribe road trans­port as the last un­priced util­ity.

“To date roads have largely es­caped the mi­croe­co­nomic re­forms that have trans­formed other public in­fra­struc­ture sec­tors such as water and elec­tric­ity into cus­tomer-fo­cused util­ity mar­kets,” it states.

This is part of a generational change where gov­ern­ment bean coun­ters have at­tempted to change the ac­cep­tance of a na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity for big-ticket items such as de­fence, po­lice and road in­fra­struc­ture to iden­ti­fy­ing users and milk­ing them dry.

Road trans­port can be seen as be­ing more akin to de­fence than the per­sonal use of elec­tric­ity. Road in­fra­struc­ture has been un­der­writ­ten by gen­eral tax­a­tion hand in hand with reg­is­tra­tion and fuel rev­enue, at least un­til the past decade.

In ar­gu­ing for reg­is­tra­tion re­form, the TIC pa­per cites: “In the US, es­ti­mates by some in­dus­try ex­perts sug­gest there will be a 50 per cent in­crease in fuel ef­fi­ciency over the next 15 years. If this trend was to be repli­cated in Aus­tralia, there would be a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in the rev­enue col­lected from fuel ex­cise taxes”.

Yes that is right, the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ments are con­sid­er­ing in­creas­ing the cost of reg­is­tra­tion be­cause of an in­dus­try be­com­ing more ef­fi­cient, and striv­ing to­wards green­house sus­tain­abil­ity.

The re­duc­tion in fuel refers to the sec­ond thrust of cost re­cov­ery in the road trans­port in­dus­try, the tax­ing of fuel used.

The de­bate over who is re­spon­si­ble for road and in­fra­struc­ture cap­i­tal ex­pen­di­ture and main­te­nance has been go­ing on since year dot.

In a coun­try with­out the pop­u­la­tion den­sity to sup­port al­ter­nate trans­port in­fra­struc­ture such as rail, most goods are car­ried by road.

The Harper Com­pe­ti­tion Re­view was handed down in 2014 with a gov­ern­ment re­sponse a year later.

Com­ing out of that re­sponse, the Heavy Ve­hi­cle Road Re­form ini­tia­tive was es­tab­lished and the TIC in­au­gu­rated.

The gov­ern­ment claims that un­der ‘im­proved’ com­pe­ti­tion pol­icy, there will be sav­ings of be­tween $8 bil­lion and $22 bil­lion to the na­tional purse over 20 years, de­pend­ing on what user-pays sys­tem is in­tro­duced.

No guesses where that’s com­ing from – straight out of the pocket of the road trans­port in­dus­try.

The pro­posed road re­form has a long way to run with noth­ing but an in­creased bur­den on trans­port op­er­a­tors with on­go­ing de­bate, and the pro­posed shift to­wards a user-pays sys­tem for road in­fra­struc­ture is cre­at­ing con­cern among ru­ral and re­mote trans­port op­er­a­tors.

Many op­er­a­tors are anx­ious, be­liev­ing that if the de­ci­sions go the wrong way, road ser­vices to re­mote and ru­ral Aus­tralia may not be sus­tain­able over the long term.

Those in the trans­port in­dus­try know only too well of the mil­lions upon mil­lions of dol­lars paid by in­dus­try into in­ter­nal rev­enue sup­pos­edly for the up­keep and con­struc­tion of roads, yet these funds are lost in the maze of de­mands from Can­berra and through the tor­tu­ous con­duits to state and lo­cal gov­ern­ment ju­ris­dic­tions.

The Heavy Ve­hi­cle Road Re­form has pro­moted the no­tion that in­creas­ingly, road man­agers will not be able to de­liver the qual­ity of road ser­vices nec­es­sary to meet the grow­ing na­tional freight task un­der the cur­rent sys­tem.

David Smith is pres­i­dent of the Live­stock and Ru­ral Trans­porters As­so­ci­a­tion of South Aus­tralia and runs a re­gional and line­haul op­er­a­tion out of Tumby Bay on the Eyre Penin­sula.

He poses what he con­sid­ers an anomaly in the pro­posed re­form.

“For re­gional and ru­ral trans­porters, we cur­rently pay a fixed fee for our reg­is­tra­tion but a lot of lo­cal car­ri­ers don’t do the kilo­me­tres that east­ern seaboard run­ners do,” he said.

“If you di­vide your reg­is­tra­tion by kilo­me­tres-per-tonne driven, look at the costs at the mo­ment to reg­is­ter a road train prime mover, say around $17,000 per year. If you’re only do­ing 150,000km per year, the cost per kilo­me­tre (could be nearly dou­ble) com­pared to a prime mover that is do­ing more than 300,000km per year on a more reg­u­lar freight route.”

Mr Smith said there were in­con­sis­ten­cies in the cur­rent reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem and these could be­come worse un­der some of the pro­posed mod­els.

He reck­ons no­body is try­ing to dodge their re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Main­tain­ing and sup­port­ing the sparse pop­u­la­tion and huge area of Aus­tralia comes at a price.

Is our wealthy na­tion of Aus­tralia pre­pared to pay that price? Sub­sidise es­sen­tial in­fra­struc­ture?

Or do we take a bean-counter’s vi­sion that doesn’t ex­tend be­yond the top of a spread­sheet and con­tinue to gut the bush.

We have seen an­other slug on the road trans­port in­dus­try with the turn­ing of the fi­nan­cial year, but there could be more dra­co­nian mea­sures in the pipe­line.

The an­swer could well lie in the no­tion that road trans­port is es­sen­tial to the run­ning of the na­tional econ­omy and in­fra­struc­ture charges need to be em­braced by all Aus­tralians.

❝change This is part of a generational

where gov­ern­ment bean coun­ters have at­tempted to change the ac­cep­tance of a na­tional re­spon­si­bil­ity for big-ticket items such as de­fence, po­lice and road in­fra­struc­ture to iden­ti­fy­ing users and milk­ing them dry.

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

REGO IN­CREASE PRES­SURE: Could in­creas­ing costs mean road ser­vices to ru­ral and re­mote Aus­tralia be­come un­sus­tain­able for trans­porters to main­tain?

What will the im­pact of these in­creases be?

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