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Farmers slam hike in heavy vehicle charges

29 February 2008

TODAY’S decision by the Australian Transport Council to increase heavy vehicle charges only adds to the growing list of escalating costs that slug farmers, according to the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF).

“The obvious lack of any transparent link between the new pricing determination and productivity gains is alarming,” NFF Vice-President Charles Burke declared.

“Surely if we are to wear higher costs, we have every right to expect to see increases in productivity to offset those costs. Today’s $70 million Road Safety and Productivity Package is only the first leg of a long-distance journey.

“While we, naturally, support the notion of user-pays and understand charges increase from time to time, there must be recognition that there will be a significant impact on domestic food prices.

“By arbitrarily increasing the cost of transporting food to local stores, consumers must realise that, ultimately, this means higher prices at the check-out. Farmers – as price-takers in the supply-chain – simply do not have the capacity to absorb these additional costs.

“It will also adversely effective our global competitiveness. Exporting around 70% of everything we produce, Australian farmers rely on an efficient and low-cost supply chain to be competitive when selling to world markets.

“It is only through consistent improvement in on-farm productivity – averaging growth of 3.8% a year over the past 20 years – that Australian farmers have been able to remain globally competitive. We’ve done our bit and expect the inefficient kinks in our freight transport network to be ironed out.

“As the NFF has repeatedly stated, our supply chain is only as strong as our weakest link. Real productivity gains must be made by unlocking capacity constraints and building efficiency gains in Australia’s infrastructure – across road, rail and ports.

“We expect that as a result of today’s decision, productivity measures to offset the additional costs will be expedited. This should include giving greater access for higher productivity vehicles, such as B-Doubles and B-Triples, to our road network and streamlining cross-border regulatory restrictions, which significantly add to the cost of transport.

“The new enforcement costs announced today are a double-whammy. While enforcement is obviously necessary, the new regime is a blatant revenue-raiser for State Governments – allowing them to ‘double-dip’ through both upfront hikes in registrations and, then, again, through fines.

“Just as concerning, the data that underpins the new changes is flawed and lacks any transparency. This must be addressed as a priority to provide accountability to heavy vehicle users.

“Farmers are desperately looking to 2008 as the year of the rebound from drought. This is yet another dampener on business.”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250

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