He Who Pays the Piper…

Talking Turkey About Trucking

The next round of registration charges will be announced sometime in the New Year and will be greeted with more criticism and complaints. Yet again, the Ministers, both State and Federal, responsible for signing off on the next set of registration charge increases, have backed away from fairness and decided to continue with an inequitable formula for calculating what truck operators should pay.


The current situation is a mess. Each year the National Transport Commission gets to play the bad guy and use the inaccurate figures in a flawed formula to come up with another set of registration charges which will overcharge trucking, with no prospect of compensation.


Of course, this is not the NTC’s fault. The system was put into place many years ago and the complications introduced with the introduction of the Road User Charge don’t make it any easier. The road transport operator gets a rebate on diesel but pays rego charges for each vehicle, the idea is for the sum total raised to match the funds required by the government to keep our roads in the pristine condition they were in to begin with.


This assumes we are content with the infrastructure provided to us for the transportation of goods, the life blood of our economy. We are far from content with the infrastructure and then have the further insult of being charged more than the original developers of the formula envisaged. The system assumes there are fewer trucks on the road than there are in actuality.


At the recent meeting of the transport ministers in Adelaide, the NTC had come up with some alternatives, whereby some redress for the trucking industry could have been had. However, this would have meant the state and federal purse foregoing some funds.


Therefore, we are overcharged and the ministers decide this year is not the year to introduce fairness into the system. We will leave that for a while longer, during which time we will have to figure out a more equitable system.


As ATA CEO, Chris Melham, pointed out this week, there is a mechanism whereby a certain amount of fairness can be reintroduced into the system. In a statement this week, he referred to the Australian Government’s response to the Competition Policy Review (the Harper Review).


“Establishing an independent economic regulator, such as the Access and Pricing Regulator proposed in the Harper Review, would help ensure that governments could not ignore pricing decisions like this in the future,” said Chris.


In its response to the Harper Review, the Australian Government has said it was willing to consider resuming competition policy payments to the states and territories. This latest straw for the industry to clutch onto may or may not eventuate. Whatever system finally appears, it will be a long time before it becomes a reality.


There has been pressure for a long time, by government departments, to take Australia down the mass/distance/location charging route. In this system, each operator pays an amount based on the number of kilometres at a certain tonnage and over a particular route, the truck travelled.


This may appear to be scrupulously fair. The more your truck wears out the road, the more you pay. It is also a pain to levy in the current circumstances. The situation would be similar to the fuel tax nightmare US truck operators have lived with, where the driver has to record how many miles they have travelled in each state, every day.


Of course, all of this recording will be a lot easier when all of our trucks are wired into the internet and compiling data which is true and accurate, and able to be made available to the authorities. Although many trucks, especially in the big fleets, are already wired and recording, the amount of time to will take to get everyone on board is too long to wait for a more equitable system.


It is unlikely the transport ministers are going to walk away from a transparently unfair system, which nets them more money. Rational argument will be answered with a promise to come up with a charging system using electronics in the future, unless severe pressure is put upon the powers that be, to make amends for this rip-off.