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AMENDMENT – car toll rates for privately registered utes and cab chassis

Mar 20, 2019 | Parliament


Mr BARTON: I move:

48. Clause 33, after line 17 insert—

“(4) On an application under subsection (2), the relevant West Gate Tunnel Corporation must, in accordance with this Part, register a vehicle that is a cab chassis vehicle used for private purposes as a passenger vehicle.”.

This amendment is about making our toll roads fairer for families. Modern utes are the new Commodore and Falcon station wagons. They are vehicles Victorian families drive and love; charging them a commercial rate just is not fair. We can separate them from commercial vehicles because they are registered differently. This amendment means properly registered utes will travel on our toll roads at a car rate.

As I said before, we have put in place a funding structure that places a mortgage on Melbourne. It is time to show some good faith to road users and give them a fair go. It baffles me that we hand a $37 billion pay cheque to one toll operator and we are not taking the opportunity to cut a deal for Victorian families. We all want to reduce congestion. We all want to get people off the residential streets. We do not want them taking the rat runs through suburbia to avoid commercial toll charges. This amendment will encourage people to use the toll roads more. A minibus carrying 12 passengers along a toll road pays a car rate. The Toorak tractor—the Range Rover—pays a car rate. Yet single, dual and king cab chassis which make up seven of the top 10 sellers in the private sector are charged like commercials.

Minister, will you make tolling fairer for families whose car of choice is the good old Aussie ute?

Mr JENNINGS: Thank you, Mr Barton. I like the way that you structured that question. I like the way that you created the challenge for me and what is going to be read into it if I say no. Good on you for setting me up nicely. I have got some material that I am going to read to you, but halfway through I am going to check something in the box with my advisers, because you have said something in your contribution that I do not want to refute on the basis of what is written here until I go and have a talk to them. I will read the first part. It says that generally speaking cab chassis vehicles are classified under the existing tollways as light commercial vehicles (LCVs) and that the West Gate Tunnel agreement reflects a similar position. It then says that this reflects the fact that cab chassis vehicles are designed for use as work vehicles—that is what it says—and are often used primarily for business or commercial purposes.

I have heard what you said, and I am aware of the point that you have made, but regarding the classification of vehicles, cab chassis vehicles also have a larger impact on the road infrastructure than smaller cars, which attracts greater expenditure and maintenance costs for road operators. If the bill were to require toll road operators to register LCVs as private vehicles—that is, cars for the purpose of vehicle classification under the road toll contracts—the state would face the prospect of having to compensate the toll road operators. Again, this is something that I imagine you are not overly sympathetic towards, but that is what I have to put to you. Tolling classification in Victoria is based on certain vehicle characteristics—weight, length and construction type et cetera—and not on the purpose of use. Transurban does not receive a significant volume of complaints in relation to the tolling classification for four-wheel drive vehicles types. It is believed the majority of four-wheel drive vehicles travelling on CityLink are already classified as cars. Currently the toll road operators do not have data on four-wheel drives as these are not a vehicle type. I am now going to go over to the box and will come back to you.

The reason why I went over to have a conversation is that Mr Barton in his contribution asserted that we do register vehicles on the basis of whether they are commercial or passenger vehicles or for family or private use. The material that is written here before me is that VicRoads do not keep a database on that basis, and that is what I went to check. I have been advised that to the best of the knowledge of the people who are advising me, VicRoads do not have the capability to be able to make that differentiation on the basis of use of these vehicles. If you are able to furnish me with advice on that information, then I will happily recant, but at the moment I am advised that VicRoads does not have the capability to reliably provide that data and then furnish the operator with that data. By design our system would be incapable of delivering the result that you are suggesting.

Mr BARTON: There are two things. We are getting a little bogged down about four-wheel drives—not all four-wheel drives either. A lot of these vehicles—and I must admit, I do not know what the split is and whether it is 60-40 or something—are actually two-wheel drive vehicles. That is one thing. Separately, in terms of VicRoads, we have had much experience with VicRoads, and it has not always been good. Regarding their data information, there is a capability of registering cars privately—obviously I have bought one or two cars over the last 25 years—and we can register them commercially. I do not know why VicRoads cannot come up with that information. There are two categories there.

Mr JENNINGS: The advice that came to me is that VicRoads do not have data on the basis of the use of a vehicle. I will go back and have a conversation with the adviser, and presumably they are checking with VicRoads as you and I speak—

Mr BARTON: Sorry, Minister, I will just say one thing. VicRoads knows how to send us an invoice for a commercially registered car. They know how to send an invoice for a privately registered car too.

Mr JENNINGS: Yes, whilst that is the case, in terms of the subsequent level of confidence in the enforceability of that different classification, perhaps that is a different question. That may be at the heart of the compliance regime and the confidence level which people are telling me is the start of what could be a slippery slope in relation to the way that vehicles are registered and the reporting and compliance requirements of that registration. That may be an unintended consequence of your desire in that there may be a lot more rigour applied to decide which side of the divide people should be. There is a potential downside with where we are heading.

So what my inquiries have amply demonstrated is that the way in which the tolling regime integrates with the VicRoads system of registration and the way in which the tolling system works generally, it is unable to differentiate on the basis of the purpose and the use that vehicle is being put to at that point in time. Whilst it may well be that you can demonstrate to me—and in fact further inquiries have been made about the way in which the compliance regime operates regarding registration in isolation of tolling—that it may be able to have a nominal difference in relation to the apportionment of activity that may be for private or commercial use and then that balance in terms of activity would be the basis on which registration occurs, it is beyond the capability of the tolling system to be able to reference in and out of that database to achieve that outcome. As unsatisfactory as that may be to you, it rings true to me because of the experience that I have just had in talking through this issue about the intersection of how the registration system works with the tolling regime.

Intuitively you know that it actually makes sense too, because whilst you are advocating for mums and dads in relation to the family vehicle, you also know that it may actually well be a commercial vehicle for some of its life as well. Whilst you have moral authority in relation to this in terms of compliance, it is pretty much a nightmare to actually deliver, so the government is not supporting your amendment.

Mr RICH-PHILLIPS: The coalition is quite sympathetic to Mr Barton’s proposed amendment. We discussed, in terms of Mr Barton’s earlier amendment in relation to taxis, public transport vehicles and his desire to see an exemption created for public transport vehicles from the toll roads. That was characterised as an attempt to unscramble the egg in the sense of introducing a new exemption where one previously had not been, but in relation to this amendment we see it a bit differently, because what we have seen since the original CityLink agreement was put in place is a very substantial change in the nature of private vehicle use in Victoria. Twenty years ago when CityLink was put in place, most private vehicles were sedans or hatchbacks—private cars—and were typically manufactured in Australia. Obviously we have seen an enormous change in the vehicle market in Australia, the types of vehicles and the range of vehicles which are available in Australia, and consequently we have seen a very substantial change in the types of vehicles which are used for private purposes as family vehicles.

We have seen an enormous growth in SUVs and other four-wheel drives as private family vehicles, when 20 years ago they would have been sedans or hatchbacks, and likewise twin cab or cab chassis vehicles, as described in Mr Barton’s amendment, have become very much mainstream in very broad use as private vehicles. So conceptually we certainly see the intent of Mr Barton’s amendment, and we do not see it as seeking to create a new exemption but rather to reflect what was the intention 20 years ago when private vehicles—family-owned vehicles used for private purposes—were treated differently to commercial vehicles.

I would like to take up a couple of points that the minister made in his response early on. He did make a point about the different impact that commercial vehicles—in this case we are talking about twin cabs—have on the toll roads in terms of increased maintenance and things like that. I must say, having had a chance to have a quick look at the Google machine while the minister was getting various forms of advice, you see that a twin cab vehicle like a Hilux, a twin cab Hilux, is basically the same weight as a Holden Commodore. So in terms of the impact that twin cab vehicle has on the road, it is not going to be materially different to a Holden Commodore on the road as a family vehicle. We do not accept that these twin cab vehicles on the roads are going to be any more onerous in terms of increasing maintenance impact on the toll road, so we do not accept that as an argument not to do this.

The minister makes a good point around the definition of ‘private vehicle’—private use—and the difficulties in separating that for the purpose of tolling, but that is equally true for sedans now. So a sedan which is privately owned by a family and driven as a private vehicle is, for the reason the minister outlined, no different to a sedan that is owned by a corporation and driven for corporate purposes or commercial purposes. So to the extent that Mr Barton’s amendment will unintentionally bring in some commercial vehicles that are twin cabs, those sedans which are used commercially are also brought within the passenger vehicle classification now. So again we do not see that as an argument not to support Mr Barton’s amendment. This is an issue which, particularly in recent years as the use of twin cab vehicles has increased as private vehicles, as family vehicles, has been of great concern to a number of Victorians who unknowingly on buying a twin cab vehicle to replace a Commodore or other sedan have found themselves being levied at a commercial rate on the toll roads rather than at a private rate. So we see this not as changing the regime but merely restoring the regime to its original form from 20 years ago to reflect vehicles which are used in a household context, notwithstanding the difficulties in the definition, which the minister has outlined, but which is currently also the case for sedans. So for that reason and notwithstanding that issue, we will support Mr Barton’s amendment.

Mr ONDARCHIE: I rise to support the comments of Mr Rich-Phillips and those of Mr Barton about supporting this amendment. There were many times when people would go out and buy a family station wagon for transport. Well, you cannot get a station wagon anymore, and they moved to a thing like a Ford Territory, which is no longer made in this country. So more and more we are seeing twin cab utes travelling around with families in them. I pulled up behind something called a Great Wall the other day. Now, I am not sure you can see that from the moon, but nonetheless it has become a family type vehicle, and what Mr Barton’s amendment correctly does is look to support working Victorians and the cost to families. So I strongly encourage the government to take that into due consideration and understand that not supporting this will penalise and add a cost burden to Victorian families.

Mr JENNINGS: Ultimately, at the end of the day, the way in which the combination of the registration system, the tolling system and the policy intention of the tolling regime works is to actually take account of the impact on the road system of various vehicles. Mr Rich-Phillips actually says that a Commodore falls within the category. I just checked, and it does not because light commercial vehicles actually fall within the category of 1.5 tonnes to 4.5 tonnes, and it falls short by weight.

Mr Rich-Phillips interjected.

Mr JENNINGS: They are not exactly commensurate.

Mr Rich-Phillips interjected.

Mr JENNINGS: Yes, and what is covered by this is 1.5 to 4.5.

Mr Rich-Phillips: A Commodore is 1.3.

Mr JENNINGS: What is covered by this provision is 1.5 to 4.5. So anything that is lighter than 1.5 does not actually fall within the category we are talking about. The thing about it is a lot of people do not walk around in the knowledge of what the weight of their vehicle is, but in fact under these circumstances, where people are being pretty vigilant and determined about it and actually want a more advantageous position for themselves, they may be more vigilant than they might have been before and they may be able to exempt themselves on the basis of the vehicle weight, even if Mr Barton’s proposition does not get up.

The government is not in a position to be able to support Mr Barton, but we do actually understand that there is a change of use with vehicles. Ultimately the combination of the registration system, the tolling system and the policy intent is to actually cover heavier vehicles and the maintenance load that comes onto our roadway systems. It is not to adversely impact upon families. In fact we are quite sympathetic to the circumstances of families.

Mr BOURMAN: I might just point out that a lot of what we do in this place is as a response to society changing. Hopefully we do not just come in here to change laws from time to time because we need something to do. This is a golden opportunity for us as a chamber to recognise that there are changes in the way people buy cars, to recognise that now more families than ever are buying these twin-cab utes and cab chassis cars. In fact if I recall correctly, the Toyota HiLux is Australia’s highest selling car at the moment—

Mr Finn: Oh, what a feeling!

Mr BOURMAN: Yes, Mr Finn, what a feeling! But basically, to get to the bottom line, the way I see it now is this is the time we should be supporting this, because it is not Victorian families’ fault they cannot buy another vehicle they would like, and it is also not their fault that VicRoads has inefficiencies and that there is a tolling problem. The policy intentions I can understand—they are a fairly clear thing—but I am going to support Mr Barton’s amendment.

Committee divided on amendment:

Ayes, 18
Atkinson, Mr
Finn, Mr
O’Donohue, Mr
Barton, Mr
Hayes, Mr
Ondarchie, Mr
Bath, Ms
Limbrick, Mr
Patten, Ms (Teller)
Bourman, Mr (Teller)
Lovell, Ms
Quilty, Mr
Crozier, Ms
McArthur, Mrs
Rich-Phillips, Mr
Davis, Mr
Meddick, Mr
Wooldridge, Ms

Noes, 22
Cumming, Dr
Leane, Mr
Somyurek, Mr
Dalidakis, Mr
Maxwell, Ms
Stitt, Ms
Elasmar, Mr
Melhem, Mr
Symes, Ms
Garrett, Ms
Mikakos, Ms
Taylor, Ms
Gepp, Mr (Teller)
Pulford, Ms
Terpstra, Ms
Grimley, Mr (Teller)
Ratnam, Dr
Tierney, Ms
Jennings, Mr
Shing, Ms
Vaghela, Ms
Kieu, Dr

Amendment negatived.

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