Heavy Vehicle Mass Limits

About this Item
SpeakersScully Mr Carl
BusinessUrgent Motion

Urgent Motion

Mr SCULLY (Smithfield - Minister for Transport, and Minister for Roads) [3.48 p.m.]: I move:
      That this House:
      (1) calls on the Federal Government to fund the necessary upgrading of road and bridge infrastructure in New South Wales to allow any increase in heavy vehicle mass limits to proceed; and
      (2) supports the New South Wales Government position that mass limits should not be increased until adequate Federal funding is provided.

The New South Wales Government has been involved in a lengthy process through the Australian Transport Council to evaluate the costs and benefits of allowing heavy vehicle operators to increase their allowable mass limits for a standard semitrailer from 42½ tonnes to 45½ tonnes. The National Road Transport Commission argues that the proposal to increase the axle load limits for trucks fitted with road-friendly suspensions will result in significant productivity benefits for the road transport industry. The New South Wales Government does not have an in-principle opposition to this proposal.

New South Wales leads the country in providing efficiency and safety reforms for the road transport industry and has worked co-operatively with truck operators in this State to encourage industry self-regulation and to clean up the cowboy operators who bring the industry into disrepute. However, I have stated from the outset that I need to be convinced that any productivity gains from increased vehicle masses will not be outweighed by increased road and bridge costs to the State and local governments.

Even if so-called road-friendly suspensions minimise the damage to our road pavements, the extra mass on our bridges is a cause of considerable concern. As a result, the Roads and Traffic Authority [RTA] and local government completed a major assessment of the capacity of the New South Wales bridge stock to carry the increased mass. New South Wales has more than 12,000 bridges, many of timber construction, designed to a pre-1948 load limit based on a 20-tonne truck. The vast majority of these bridges - approximately 8,000 - are on local roads and therefore are the funding responsibility of local governments. New South Wales also carries the vast majority of heavy vehicle traffic in Australia; approximately 80 per cent of interstate truck movements are through New South Wales.

The RTA has assessed the capacity of the State’s bridges to carry the increased mass limits and has assessed the total cost of strengthening and replacing bridges at $760 million. Of this total, approximately $470 million will have to be spent on local government bridges, to replace 1,037 bridges and to strengthen another 680 bridges. The impact on the State Government will be $290 million on State and national highway bridges - money the State Government does not and should not have to spend. The New South Wales Government has already begun to implement a $129 million bridges upgrade program to improve the condition of our bridges to carry current mass limits - and now the Commonwealth wants to increase weights.

At the Australian Transport Council meeting last year the Federal Government agreed to provide details of Federal funding available to the State and local governments to compensate for heavier vehicle masses. The position put by the New South Wales Government to the Australian Transport Council in April, which was strongly supported by the Australian Capital Territory Government and the Local Government and Shires Associations, was that the Federal Government needed to fund a comprehensive bridge upgrading program before any increase in mass limits could be countenanced. This had to be new money, not funds diverted from elsewhere in the national highway system, as the Federal Government’s other funding initiatives have been.

During the Federal election campaign the Federal Government allocated a pathetic, measly $20 million nationally for bridge upgrading. Compare this to the $44 million it allocated during the Federal election campaign from the Federation slush fund to fund three new bridges in Tim Fischer’s electorate. That is $44 million for three bridges in Fischer’s electorate and $20 million for the whole of Australia to upgrade our bridges to accommodate the increase in mass limits being sought by Howard and Anderson.

Mr J. H. Turner: Be very careful if you say that outside Parliament.

Mr SCULLY: I have said it outside Parliament plenty of times.

Mr J. H. Turner: Have you said "Tim Fischer’s slush fund" outside?

Mr SCULLY: It is the Federation slush fund, not the Tim Fischer slush fund.

Mr J. H. Turner: We will have a look at what you said in Hansard tomorrow.

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Mr SCULLY: I am more than happy to say that the Federation Fund was misused by the Federal Government to secure a marginal seat strategy prior to and following the Federal election. If members opposite want to talk about the Federation Fund whiteboard I am happy to do so. We have John Howard, Tim Fischer and now the Deputy Leader of the National Party with their text on the Federation Fund whiteboard stating "$44 million, Tim Fischer’s electorate; rest of New South Wales, Bob Carr and Labor Government, nil". So do not talk to us about that. It is $44 million from the Federation slush fund, and $20 million across Australia for the bridge upgrade.

New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Queensland will continue to resist this arrogant attempt by the Federal Government to impose a massive infrastructure repair bill on State and local governments in New South Wales. However, the Federal Government has ignored the position of the New South Wales Government and local government in this State, and has announced that it will unilaterally introduce heavy vehicle mass limits for federally registered vehicles from 1 July this year. This irresponsible announcement by the Commonwealth has raised industry expectations, and I doubt it can deliver on its promise.

The Commonwealth has no capacity to monitor and enforce the necessary bridge upgrades and the necessary conditions that operators must meet to be approved to carry a higher mass, and it has made no attempt to discuss with New South Wales how such a proposal could effectively work. It intends to override State regulations by allowing federally registered vehicles to drive at the higher mass limits. These vehicles regularly show up on Safe-T-Cam records as the worst speeding offenders but because of their Federal registration status their registration cannot be cancelled by the State. Therefore, they will have a competitive advantage over State-registered vehicles, and are effectively being encouraged by the Commonwealth to flout New South Wales law.

The Commonwealth is encouraging a flight of vehicle registrations from the State to Federal registration, which is completely contrary to the national registration system agreed to by all the States and Territories, and the Commonwealth. It also makes a mockery of the Commonwealth’s promise only six months ago to abolish the Federal registration scheme once all States have adopted the national registration scheme, which New South Wales has already implemented and which all States are due to commence by mid-1999. This heavy-handed approach by the Commonwealth to override State sovereignty on the New South Wales road network has drawn the opposition of all States and Territories, with all jurisdictions except the Commonwealth supporting the call by New South Wales for the repeal of the interstate registration scheme legislation by 1 January next year.

However, the Commonwealth intends to ignore the unanimous position of the States and Territories, and proceed with ramming through its heavy trucks. The message I am sending today to all local governments across the State is to wake up to the implications of this arrogant Federal Government decision - a massive $470 million Federal assault on their budgets. The result of this decision, if it is allowed to proceed, will be either a massive hike in council rates to pay for this upgrade or a serious deterioration in the condition of our local road and bridge network. Neither option is acceptable to the people of New South Wales.

I have received dozens of letters of support for the New South Wales Government’s position from local government across the State, which will join with the State Government to resist this massive Federal assault on local government budgets. The position of the Local Government Association [LGA] on this issue supports that of the New South Wales Government, with the LGA resolving that:
      Local Government opposes any increase in the mass limits for 6 axle articulated vehicles unless the Federal Government provides additional funding to Local Government for the damage caused to the road and bridge network.

The position of the New South Wales Government is supported by a large number of councils from urban, regional and country areas across the State. All these councils have joined the Government in strenuously resisting the Federal Government’s imposition of heavier vehicle mass limits. Last year the mayor of Parkes described the Federal Government’s allocation of $20 million for bridge upgrading nationally as a "pittance" which "would pay for a coat of paint" only. I think he is right.

The costs imposed on local councils in New South Wales by this Federal decision is massive: $165 million in northern New South Wales, $143 million in the Hunter, $32 million in southern New South Wales, $48 million in south-western New South Wales, $58 million in western New South Wales and $22 million in Sydney. Examples of bridges that will need replacing to cope with increased mass limits are Railway Parade bridge in Casino, Barrington River bridge in Gloucester, Kiama Creek bridge in Crookwell, Martins bridge in Murray and Goan bridge in Dubbo. The Government will not accept the Federal Government shifting its
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funding responsibilities to the States and local government.

The Federal Government is the main beneficiary of this proposal, and most of the productivity improvements, which have been estimated in the order of $150 million per annum, will flow back to the Commonwealth in increased tax receipts. However, all the Federal Government is proposing is to pay a measly $20 million to all the States and Territories across Australia to fund the necessary bridge upgrades. At the same time the Federal Government is handing out like confetti billions of dollars in diesel fuel rebates. My position remains unchanged. The Commonwealth must provide a comprehensive funding proposal that does not impose unreasonable infrastructure costs on the State and local governments before I will agree to increase allowable axle mass limits for heavy vehicles.

Pursuant to resolution debate interrupted.