Yet again, people from outside the trucking industry looking in have decided that the trucking industry needs to pay more to use Australia’s roads, but, in fact, they are picking the wrong target, if they want to improve the situation on our roads, and with our climate.
An article published in the guardian by Richard Denniss, Chief Economist at independent think tank the Australia Institute, went to town on the trucking industry in response to the decision by some states to start charging electric vehicles for the right to use their roads.
What has been done here is a bit of a lazy thinking, the road funding is not adequate to maintain a high quality road network for all Australians, so have a go at the trucking industry, they have little public affection, they are easy to pick on and will not fight back.
It’s the same old story for the trucking industry over and over again. Those commentating on our industry, and subjects important to our industry, use the fact that the car driving road user feels intimidated by large trucks on the roads and feels a certain amount of animosity towards them because of their size and the way that they can be perceived to be causing congestion.
Essentially, and this is a topic to which this opinion column returns to on a regular basis, the trucking industry is an easy target, which will not fight back and do not have a powerful voice or a great deal of affection from the general Australian public.
Just because we are easy to kick, does not mean that we should be kicked. If someone has a job title like chief economist, we should expect that they will use some rational argument with genuine certified figures which demonstrate the strength of their argument. That’s not what we see here. It seems this is a knee-jerk reaction to a proposal by the state governments, which is demonstrably counter-productive.
Increasing the costs for road freight will either put up prices for consumers, because everything comes on a truck. Or, if prices don’t go up, trucking operators will have to cut costs at the expense of safety.
There is no doubt that it would be a mistake to start charging electric cars for the right be on our roads. There are other priorities, and one of those is climate change, and incentivising people to buy into technologies like electric cars to improve Australia’s carbon emissions is a priority worth working towards.
Richard Denniss was picking the wrong target in choosing the trucking industry as the source of any more funding. He quotes a number of figures which could be disputed about how the trucking industry does not pay its way in terms of road charging. In the article he chooses to say that, “The road user charge paid by heavy vehicles has actually been reduced”. I think there would be more than a few people in the trucking industry who would dispute that.
He even blames under charging trucks for the damage they do to our roads as the reason behind freight movement in Australia moving from rail to road. The suggestion is that the only reason freight is on trucks, is that it is being subsidised by the government at the expense of the poor railway industry. Where is the rational argument in that situation? The poor man must have been traumatised by a truck at a young age.