ROAD TRANSPORT (GENERAL) AMENDMENT (HEAVY VEHICLE USER CHARGES) BILL 2007
ROAD TRANSPORT LEGISLATION (BREATH TESTING AND ANALYSIS) BILL 2007
Debate resumed from 28 November 2007.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY
(Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [11.45 p.m.]: The Opposition does not oppose these bills. I note that the Minister for Roads is not present in the Chamber. I am sure he has a good reason—even bus lanes would be clear at this hour of the night! The Opposition does not oppose this amending legislation as it is part of the road reform plan announced this year by the Council of Australian Governments. However, the Opposition has some concerns that should be highlighted with respect to incremental pricing for heavy vehicles and the Intelligent Access Program.
The first concern relates to the doubling of fees. The proposed incremental pricing scheme is to be based on variations in use and the cost impact of activity. Currently heavy vehicle drivers are charged through their registration and heavy vehicle fees. The fees comprise a diesel fuel excise charge, which is collected by the Commonwealth, and a fixed registration charge that is collected by State and Territory governments. Within those charges, there is already a fee for road-related expenditure that is attributable to heavy vehicles. It concerns the Opposition that incremental pricing will increase costs unfairly for heavy vehicle users who are already paying a fee through registration and heavy vehicle fees.
The trucking industry plays a vital part in our economy. Disincentives, such as excess fees and charges, are placing a burden on operators. It is noted that in Victoria, under the Road Safety (Vehicle) Regulations, heavy vehicles may be eligible for concessional mass limits. This allowance of higher mass limits is at no extra charge, unlike the situation in New South Wales—where the Government has not seen a tax it does not like. The trucking industry is certainly a vital industry. It contributes 3.4 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product [GDP]. Any productivity gains made through changes such as those being debated today should flow on to provide services and infrastructure for businesses in the trucking industry.
The Opposition is also concerned about drivers not being able to obtain a daily permit. Many drivers of heavy vehicles are not able to buy a daily excess limit permit. This means that drivers or operators who may be carrying excess mass for a short period only, or for a single run, will have to pay the costs of a longer-term permit, which is a disincentive for drivers who would otherwise take advantage of the ability to carry excess mass limits in the first place and derive associated productivity. The Opposition always views with concern legislation introduced by the Government: we look for the sneaky tricks. The Minister at the table, the Minister for Lands, Minister for Rural Affairs, Minister for Regional Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council, will recall the Labor Government's stuff-up over the 30 gas-powered buses. The gas-powered buses were part of a $115 million contract, but were ruled unroadworthy because they exceeded the 16-tonne mass limit. The Opposition wondered how such a situation could be resolved and asked whether the Minister would change the weight limit to allow the buses to be registered.
On 17 October I asked the Minister by way of a question on notice whether the Roads and Traffic Authority was considering raising load limits on any roads in New South Wales. The Minister responded that the Roads and Traffic Authority was not considering increasing load limits on any roads in the State—and now we know why. Under this bill the buses that were over the limit will be able to use our roads. Concern has been expressed about the Intelligent Access Program, to which the second part of the bill relates. The program introduces a new way of managing heavy vehicle access and compliance using global positioning systems. Technology will be used to track the location of vehicles to determine route compliance and for charging applications. However, the Australian Trucking Association and others in the trucking industry feel strongly that there is a greater need for on-road enforcement. They would prefer to see more police and enforcement officers on the road rather than having a system such as this that tracks drivers through technology and sends drivers fines.
I note also that B-double drivers are concerned about the confusion as to which roads they are able to access. The drivers tell me that up-to-date maps are accessible only over the Internet. Not all drivers have access to the Internet, particularly when they are on the road, and some do not even have ready access to the Roads and Traffic Authority site when they are at home. Even when maps are accessed over the Internet not all country roads are marked clearly and there is the added confusion of having to get local government permission to drive these trucks on local roads. With all the fuel tax and registration fees these drivers pay, surely a better, more accessible system could be established or, as one truck driver suggested, up-to-date maps could be provided to truck drivers when they pay their registration fees to the Roads and Traffic Authority. That would alleviate the problems experienced by a truck driver who approached us recently who had been fined because he could not access up-to-date maps.
The Road Transport Legislation (Breath Testing and Analysis) Bill 2007, which is a cognate bill, will amend the Road Transport (Safety and Traffic Management) Act 1999 to allow reporting of the concentrations of alcohol in both a person's blood and/or breath to reflect the national standards. I note that New South Wales and all other States and Territories are bound by the National Measurement Act 1960 and under this Act the National Measurement Institute has redefined the requirements for breath analysers. The bill seeks to implement these changes. The Opposition supports the bill, and has no trouble with it.
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[11.52 p.m.]: The Greens do not oppose the Road Transport Legislation (Breath Testing and Analysis) Bill 2007. It seems sensible to have a national standard measurement for blood alcohol limits. However, the Greens are concerned about the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Heavy Vehicle User Charges) Bill 2007. I note that we are debating these bills at almost five minutes to midnight. This is probably the final week of the parliamentary session and the Government is once again abusing the democratic process in this State by pushing large amounts of legislation through Parliament. About half an hour ago I bumped into the Leader of the House, the Hon. Tony Kelly, and asked him about his plans for business tonight. He said that we would conclude debate on the Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Amendment Bill 2007 and then the House would adjourn. But, all of a sudden, we are debating these bills.
I acknowledge the interjection by the Hon. Amanda Fazio. The Government gives us a program of business, but it is changed time and time again.
The Hon. Michael Costa:
That's because you filibuster all night about rubbish.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
We can rely on the Treasurer to come forth with a ridiculous statement, and I am pleased to acknowledge that one. The Minister for Roads informed us in his second reading speech on the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Heavy Vehicle User Charges) Bill 2007 that national freight is expected to double by 2020. That Minister also referred to "getting the right truck on the right road for the right price". That is a catchy little slogan, which I imagine the Minister will use in the speeches he makes around the countryside. But on this day—the day after Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd ratified the Kyoto protocol in Bali—the right truck for the right price must surely be a rail freight car. The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, has thrust Australia onto the world climate stage. Most people now consider us to be part of the new low-carbon global economy, and we should make every effort—
The Hon. Michael Costa:
You want no carbon emissions.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
Once again the Treasurer does not know what he is talking about. He does not read Greens policies. That is the expectation that people have of the new Federal Labor Government, and surely State Labor governments should be pulling in the same direction. With carbon taxes on the horizon and the amount of freight we need to move set to double, we should be taking firm steps to shift a large chunk of freight handling off our roads and onto rail if we are to meet our national target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. The Greens are concerned that in this new era of climate change the New South Wales Government is still driving blindly down the same old road, and putting more and more freight on our highways.
The Greens acknowledge the positive benefits of the bill to local councils, which will receive direct compensation for heavy vehicles using local roads. In a positive step, local councils will still need to grant approval before the Roads and Traffic Authority can allow these vehicles to operate on council roads. Because of these important benefits to local councils the Greens will not oppose the bill. However, those measures could have been coupled with moving freight off our roads and onto rail. The role of government is much broader than increasing road freight transport productivity. Reforming heavy vehicle charges is not going to deliver the changes we need if New South Wales is to play its part in meeting our national carbon emissions targets. We must remember that under Kyoto Australia will face tough penalties if we fail to meet our targets, as the United Nations warned us last week. Nor are incremental productivity gains from road freight an adequate response to peak oil. According to Austroads—the association of Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic authorities—Australia has the most road freight per capita in the world and the highest greenhouse gas emissions from freight movements per capita in the world.
Put simply, the most energy-intensive way of moving freight is by road. Our reliance on oil for road freight transport and the high greenhouse gas emissions from road freight are alarming. Even more alarming is the signal that this bill is sending from the Government to the road freight industry: "You can continue to fill our roads with more and more freight trucks at a slightly higher cost but that cost will remain artificially lower than rail freight because we will continue to distort competition between road and rail freight." That is the message the freight industry is picking up from this Government. Australia has been failing to recover costs from its heavier truck users for many years, including during the three decades—1954 to 1986—when there was free registration for interstate trucks.
National Road Transport Commission registration charges have subsidised the heavily loaded big trucks that haul goods long distances each year. Philip Laird, a leading transport academic at the University of New South Wales, in his supplementary response to the Productivity Commission's inquiry into road and rail freight infrastructure pricing made the point that in 1989 the New South Wales annual permit and registration fees for an eight-axle B-double totalled $12,650. But then they were slashed to $5,500. How does the Government justify that? Adjusting for the consumer price index, the 1989 New South Wales fee for B-doubles would now be about $20,500 per annum, which is almost three times more than the current National Road Transport Commission fee of $7,426 per annum for an eight-axle B-double. That is why the clear message to the freight industry is: "Use our roads". That will have local environmental costs and a very dangerous international environmental cost.
This high level of government subsidy is one of the reasons why the number of large B-doubles has grown so rapidly in recent years. This increase has caused serious safety problems in local communities. B-doubles and B-triples are a scourge on our roads, and extended exemptions for these dangerously large trucks carrying potentially heavier loads and using the soon-to-be-approved quad-axle trailers are a great concern to communities—particularly those in northern New South Wales—that my colleague Mr Ian Cohen and I consulted about this issue. The Greens plan to shift freight transport back to rail and away from heavy trucks on our roads by phasing out B-doubles and other heavy freight trucks from the Pacific Highway by 2011 was met with tremendous community support on the North Coast during the State election campaign earlier this year. The Greens policy would put New South Wales right on track following Australia's ratification of the Kyoto protocol this week.
North Coast communities are suffering because at present about 350 B-double trucks use the Pacific Highway each day, and the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics predicts that these domestic freight movements will increase by 80 per cent by 2020. These communities along the Pacific Highway cannot sustain an extra 50,000 trucks on their roads by 2020, given that one road fatality in three involves an articulated truck. It is a farce to suggest that these exemptions can be introduced while producing improved safety outcomes, and we remain concerned that safety implications of this bill have been glossed over. I urge honourable members to talk to communities in northern and western New South Wales that are faced with the increasing numbers of B-doubles and B-triples on their roads. Many people have told me that they no longer go out at night because of their fear of an accident or being intimidated by those monsters on the road.
The Australian Labor Party and the Coalition have been all talk and no action on this issue, continuing to subsidise truck registration and relegating rural rail lines around Australia to the rust pile. Expanding rural freight lines to put more freight on rail would reduce the number of accidents on our highways, reduce our carbon emissions from land freight and reduce our dependence on oil. One of the great environmental crimes of the past decade has been the running into the ground of rail infrastructure in New South Wales.
The Hon. Michael Costa:
They are not electrified, they run on diesel.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
I acknowledge that the Treasurer has again shown his ignorance. We know trains use diesel but they move a greater quantity of freight for the units of energy used.
The Hon. Michael Costa:
There is nobody living in the areas you are talking about.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
People live in western New South Wales—
Order! The member with the call will speak through the Chair, and the Minister should refrain from interjecting.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
I apologise. A great many people live in western New South Wales. Again the Treasurer has insulted another community in New South Wales. As has been observed in numerous recent reports, the state of the track linking Australia's three largest cities is substandard. Those reports include the Prime Minister's Task Force 1998 report on revitalising rail, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Transport and Regional Services 1998 report entitled "Tracking Australia", the Productivity Commission's 1999 report on rail reform, and more recently the Engineers Australia infrastructure report cards.
Trains travelling from Melbourne to Sydney turn 36 circles to the left and 36 circles to the right, 72 circles in all, as they traverse the steam age aligned track with excessive curvature and extra length. Rural branch lines in New South Wales are a disgrace, having been systematically run-down by the Labor Government. The current state of rail track in New South Wales is a huge barrier to moving freight from road to rail, and it must now receive urgent investment if we are going to effectively respond to the dual threats of climate change and peak oil.
The Hon. Duncan Gay:
You want to keep the rail line but you want to get rid of the industries.
Ms LEE RHIANNON:
Here we go; it is late night, after midnight, and things are going pear-shaped. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has shown just how out of touch with reality he is. We need a freight charge for greenhouse gas emissions, the proceeds of which are spent on upgrading rail transport infrastructure to reduce our dependence on oil and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Treasurer has made a number of unfortunate interjections that show his ignorance in relation to the number of people who live in western New South Wales and that if freight were carried on trains less fuel would be used. Trains use about one-third the fuel used by trucks per net tonne kilometre and emit much less than half as much carbon dioxide, making rail the obvious freight transport of choice. The Greens will support this bill to give much-needed funds to local councils to repair their roads, but we urge the Government to get serious about the urgent task of shifting the bulk of New South Wales freight onto rail, and investing in a long term project of upgrading our rail infrastructure so that New South Wales can remain competitive and productive in the era of climate change and peak oil.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[12.05 a.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party supports the Road Transport (General) Amendment (Heavy Vehicle User Charges) Bill 2007 and the Road Transport (Breath Testing and Analysis) Bill 2007. It is pleased to support breath testing and analysis because they maintain the approach of reducing road accidents by testing a driver's alcohol level. Put simply, the Road Transport (Breath Testing and Analysis) Bill 2007 will allow the reporting concentrations of alcohol in a person's blood and/or breath so that breath analysis in New South Wales meets new national standards. The Road Transport (General) Amendment (Heavy Vehicle User Charges) Bill 2007 will establish the legislative power to introduce incremental pricing involving direct user charging as a voluntary productivity initiative for heavy vehicles, and amend the evidentiary provisions under the Intelligent Access Program to achieve the same standard as other road transport legislation. The Christian Democratic Party is pleased to support the bills.
The Hon. TONY KELLY
(Minister for Lands, Minister for Rural Affairs, Minister for Regional Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council) [12.06 p.m.], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions, and I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That these bills be now read a second time—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bills read a second time.
Leave granted to proceed to the third reading of the bills forthwith.
Motion by The Hon. Tony Kelly agreed to:
Bills read a third time and transmitted to the Legislative Assembly with a message seeking its concurrence in the bills.
That these bills be now read a third time.