The latest communique from the fourth meeting of the Transport and Infrastructure Council turns out to be much like the ‘Curate’s Egg’, that is, good in parts. There are some encouraging signs in the decisions by the assembled transport ministers of Australia, but the industry is to remain overcharged for rego.
The latest meeting of all of the states and territories transport ministers with the federal minister took place in Adelaide and made encouraging noises about a roadworthiness scheme improvement , infrastructure spending and key freight routes. However, the ministers also decided to continue to charge the trucking industry more, through rego charges, than would be needed to maintain the current road network.
This freeze on the current rego regime, rightly, took the headlines when the communique was released after the meeting. The calculations were, supposedly, designed to ensure an accurate estimate of the amount of road wear created by the trucking industry could be found. This figure would then be used to reckon how much registration charge each vehicle had to pay on an annual basis, to ensure the roads were maintained properly.
Even those charged with making these calculations admit the numbers aren’t right. It is not just the ATA and others who are causing a stink about the ongoing overcharging. The figures, of actual trucks working on the road, have been accepted as being too low, but no-one is going to do anything about it.
In fact, the National Transport Commission came out, said the numbers were wrong and recommended a 6.3 per cent reduction in heavy vehicle registration charges, two years ago. How did the ministers react? By freezing the existing payment levels until 2016. Now, they have done it again for another two years. The motto appears to be ‘If it’s broke, don’t fix it’!
There are other pressing questions, which come to mind straight away. One would be whether we are convinced, even though we are being over charged, the roads of Australia are being maintained. Many operators, especially in rural areas, will tell you about constantly deteriorating road conditions. Obviously, the ministers are keener to maintain the current level of revenue instead. When it comes to rural freight routes, it’s a matter of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
There has been plenty of talk about reforming the road charging system, but projects seem to get started and then disappear in a puff of smoke when the results look like they are going to cost too much, or be politically unpalatable.
At least the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator looks like it is here to stay. Every year the NHVR has to go through the nerve wracking process of getting its budget approved by each of the states which contribute funding. They decided to come up with the money for next year, but when will the funding model become more certain?