Q: You seem to have hit the ground running with the publication of the “Getting Regional Australia Back on the Road” document.
A: It was a good opportunity with a new person at the helm to have an open forum about what it is that we want to do for the next twelve months. We gave every one of our State members an opportunity to say what their top priorities were and they are articulated in that document, being access, charging, and regional safety/productivity.
Q: What degree of achievement of each of those points would you see as satisfactory over the next twelve months?
A: When we look at access, we’ve had both sides of politics talk about development of Australia’s north. Having some form of recognition of the role that heavy vehicles will play in the development of the north, particularly in an agricultural capacity, I think would be a very good thing.
The success of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is going to be crucial in terms of access. So step one is for the regulator to operate effectively and efficiently and for some of the new components of the centralised access system to work properly.
There are many improvements that will come from that system such as one central access point. There will be tools for local councils to use to hopefully improve their decision-making capacity. There will also be ministerial guidelines about how to make those access decisions so we need to make sure those guidelines are robust and actually applied. Finally, we need to look at the relationship between states and councils in terms of the way decisions are made and who has the final say in those decisions.
Q: What about charging for road use?
A: Our eyes are on the National Transport Commission’s (NTC) determination as a priority at the moment. We’d like to see at least an incremental move towards fuel based charging and we have some issues with the over-charging of road trains within the current system. One possible solution is to reduce registration down as far as possible to a nominal amount and go all the way to fuel based charging. The principle is ‘user pay’ – those who use the road and consume the road as a resource should be the ones who pay for it.
Some of our members do reasonably long kilometres, but they do it on roads that are less expensive to maintain – and we do comparatively few kilometres compared to some operations that are going 24-7, such as line-haul between capital cities on some of the best and most expensive roads.
Any change is going to produce winners and losers and we are going to have to look at who those individuals and companies will be and of course make a decision about what is best for the industry overall.
Q: What are your thoughts on the concept of Mass-Distance-Location charging?
A: We are not sold on the MDL concept at this stage. In principle, if all of the issues can be ironed out and technology is to take a great leap forward, then there is some potential there.
With telematics, we have concerns about what the government might do with the data that is collected in terms of not just using it for charging, but also for enforcement. We believe that fuel-based charging is the way to go in the future. Even if we don’t go all the way, taking a step in that direction will be a measure of success, simply because it forces us to deal with the revenue distribution issue between governments and the long term sustainability of the collection mechanism.
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