PUBLIC TRANSPORT TAX CONCESSIONS
Mr MATT BROWN
(Kiama) [4.00 p.m.]: I move:
That this House calls on the Federal Government to investigate new tax concessions for public transport users similar to those afforded to private motor vehicle buyers.
This is an important issue in promoting public transport in this State. A range of salary-packaging ideas is available to people who buy new cars and drive them to work, but no similar incentives exist for people who catch buses and trains. Under the Federal Government's fringe benefits tax system one can get generous tax breaks for buying or leasing a new car and paying for it from one's pre-tax salary. This can be used to pay a whole range of things, such as parking, insurance and fuel. The more one drives, the better the tax concessions. There does not seem to be that incentive for public transport. Why should regular public transport commuters not get similar benefits from their purchase of bus, train or ferry tickets? When the GST was introduced, many car prices decreased but the cost of tickets for public transport increased by 10 per cent.
Recently the Minister for Transport addressed this issue with the Federal transport Minister, asking that this be argued at the next Australian Transport Council Meeting. It is about time we addressed the imbalance between people using cars, especially single occupant travellers in peak hours, and people using public transport. This is not a brand-new idea. It has occurred in other jurisdictions. The United States of America has allowed public transport users to access certain tax benefits. Although the Federal Government follows the United States on many policies, it does not seem to be moving quickly on this one. It has adopted, as our Minister for Transport says, a "cars are us" attitude. This proposal would help a lot of people. I will use the Illawarra as an example of how this proposal might help. In the Illawarra and on the South Coast more than 100,000 trips are made on public transport on any average week day. The average number of trips made by people using trains is 55,000 and by buses is 49,000. Why should these people be disadvantaged by the Commonwealth Government's tax arrangements when compared to people using cars?
Mr Thomas George:
They are lucky to have trains!
Mr MATT BROWN:
The honourable member for Lismore is right—they are lucky to have trains. I would not begrudge them that, as the honourable member seems to be doing. On any measure of fairness, it is simply inequitable to offer a concession to car users that is not offered to public transport users. Restoring fairness is reason enough to act on this issue. There are other equally compelling reasons as well. It will remove a barrier to increasing public transport usage as well as provide the environmental benefit of reduced greenhouse emissions. Increasing the level of public transport usage is a good goal that we should all be working towards, but the tax arrangements do not provide that incentive. In fact, they do the opposite and create a significant barrier.
In the Illawarra, more than three-quarters of all passenger trips are made by cars—that is, 76.5 per cent are made in private vehicles. It is a big challenge to try to stop this number from increasing and eventually to reduce it. Under Commonwealth laws fringe benefits tax incentives can be offered to public transport users if they were given the same system that is used for cars. The Commonwealth Government's review on tax indicated this. The 1999 Ralph review recommended that fringe benefits tax rules relating to transport be reformed. It found that under the current arrangements there is a perverse incentive to drive extra kilometres to get even bigger tax breaks. In other words, the fringe benefits tax arrangements make it beneficial to drive a car more and use public transport less—which is no good for the environment—to get bigger tax breaks.
It is also a big expense to the environment. Everybody knows that increasing the use of public transport removes cars from our already congested roads and means the air we breathe is cleaner. Based on advice from the New South Wales Greenhouse Office, each year the average car emits around four tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. When that is multiplied across the State that is a startling figure—it is about 77 kilograms a week or around 11 kilograms a day. I am referring to an average car travelling approximately 15,000 kilometres over a 12-month period, burning an average 11 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres travelled. In the Illawarra there are hundreds of thousands of car trips every day—in fact, 750,000 private vehicle passenger trips every single day. Reducing our dependency on cars is a big goal, and an important one.
It is interesting to read that the Opposition has described this issue as a joke. The honourable member for Vaucluse, who was rudely interjecting earlier, has gone on radio across Sydney and regional New South Wales describing this issue as a joke. The honourable member for Vaucluse might be laughing on the other side of his face when he looks into the facts of the issue and makes a more significant contribution to the debate. It may not be a joke to people living in the inner city and eastern Sydney, where the honourable member's electorate is, and where more than 300,000 passenger trips a day are made on public transport. Those areas are well serviced by public transport. People might not see the funny side of this issue being described as a joke by the State Opposition. Perhaps the Opposition shares its Federal Government counterpart's view on this matter. Is the Federal Government's "cars are us" approach supported by the State Opposition? I ask honourable members to contrast this with the recent record funding allocated to public transport in the Carr Government's State budget. It is a stark comparison. The State Labor Government gives a damn about public transport and has introduced record funding on this significant infrastructure project.
Mrs Karyn Paluzzano:
What is the funding?
Mr MATT BROWN:
It will be around $2.5 billion on investment in our public transport system. The record transport budget delivered $3 billion in funding to support and improve public transport across New South Wales. That represents a massive 12.6 per cent increase over last year's budget. When the borrowings and revenues from the fare box are included, the amount invested in public transport rises to $4.6 billion. That is no small sum and a significant contribution. The money will go towards the rail clearway programs—separating the spaghetti-entangled gridlock of our rail network—so that five separate lines will run independently and more reliably. That initiative will increase efficiency and reduce congestion delays.
Also the Government has invested $1.5 billion in a public-private partnership program to fast-track the replacement of CityRail's 498 non-airconditioned rail carriages in six years, which will make public transport a more comfortable and enjoyable trip forth. State Transit's capital works program is extensive in rail and new buses. The Government supports public transport. We want to make it more affordable and create incentives for more people to use it. I urge the House to support this motion and to support public transport.
Mr PETER DEBNAM
(Vaucluse) [4.10 p.m.]: I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this issue. This motion is a joke that the Government pulls out of the file every two years. It is a Government stunt. The honourable member for Kiama, who moved the motion, is also a joke. What employer would promote public transport in New South Wales while this Government is running the system? No employer in New South Wales would promote public transport for their employees to get to work while the Government is running it. The Government cannot get the trains to run on time; it cannot get the system to work. Except with help from the unions, it cannot get public transport to work. Yet the honourable member for Kiama talks about an initiative to encourage employers to promote public transport to their employees, even though they will not get to work on time.
The Government raises this matter today because it is embarrassed by Treasury comments about public transport in New South Wales. I refer to a memorandum of Treasury about public transport, dated November 2004, and the Government's running of the system. The memorandum reports on a meeting between Treasury and the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Rail Corporation to discuss various issues driving financial aspects of public transport. One of the discussion points relates to the deficit in transport, RailCorp specifically. The memorandum states:
What drives the deficit?
The information provided to support higher funding requirements is grossly inadequate and does not allow an appropriate analysis by Treasury. Other government agencies must provide detailed information to support funding bids. Despite being the purchasing (or contracting) arm of Government, the Ministry of Transport fails to add any worthwhile input in this area.
The Government's own Treasury states that the Department of Transport, specifically RailCorp, is a dog's breakfast. The memorandum continues:
Treasury has been unable to get accurate staffing data from rail agencies. However, Treasury suspects that staff numbers continue to increase rapidly despite reforms.
Treasury wants to know what is going on within Transport. Clearly, it is concerned about the way it is heading. It is concerned about the financial projections—the honourable member for Kiama was talking about the finances of public transport—and about the lack of management activity. The Government Treasury goes on to say:
Corresponding service improvements are lacking.
According to the Government Treasury, no employer in New South Wales in its right mind would promote public transport to get its employees to work on time. When Treasury refers to "service improvements are lacking" it is talking about on-time running. The Government cannot make the system work. Treasury then goes on to say:
Rail has undertaken little or no benchmarking with other rail providers, calling into question the rigour in which organisational reform has been pursued in the past and, in particular, the calibre of negotiations on wage increases
Treasury, referring to the industrial framework, which is the Government's arrangement with unions, states:
The industrial framework supports inflexible work practices
Treasury is referring there to the rorts, such as we saw in this morning's Daily Telegraph
where the Government has paid $600,000 in taxi dockets.
The honourable member for Kiama is the clown who was stupid enough to move this motion this afternoon. I will talk to him. Treasury states, "the industrial framework supports inflexible work practices". They are the rorts reported on in the Daily Telegraph
this morning where the Government paid $600,000 for a few employees of Sydney Ferries to get to and from work. Treasury goes on to say:
The cost of certain performance standards … is not understood; and
Limited responsibility and accountability within the organisation to manage budgets and to identify priorities.
Treasury makes the point that within RailCorp Treasury is seen as a non-demand supplier of funding. The Government believes that anything is possible. Treasury goes on to demand in its memorandum:
Cost reductions must be pursued quickly—stations, driver and cleaning.
Treasury is directing RailCorp to close stations, sack drivers and get rid of the cleaning. Further, Treasury states:
Fare increases must be pursued actively
That is what the motion relates to: financial issues in public transport. In this document Treasury says that public transport in New South Wales is a dog's breakfast and demands the closure of stations, the sacking of drivers and the ceasing of cleaning. I wonder whether the honourable member for Kiama who moved this motion has read this memorandum from Treasury to RailCorp? The honourable member has provided us with an opportunity to debate public transport in New South Wales, which the Government's own Treasury thinks is a dog's breakfast. I refer to the Auditor-General's report that was tabled yesterday—
Pursuant to sessional orders business interrupted.