The Tax Forum: transport industry out in force

The Federal Government’s Tax Forum was held in Parliament on 4-5 October, bringing together representatives from business associations, unions and community groups.

The transport industry was very well represented, with the Australian Logistics Council, the Australian Trucking Association, our Association and Toll Holdings in the room for the entire two days.

Continuing the very tight teamwork that the industry’s brought to its work on the National Regulator, we swapped notes on the key issues we wanted to push in our speeches at the microphone, in questions from the floor and (perhaps most importantly) during the tea and lunch breaks.

The ALC pushed back against the idea of a congestion tax, the ATA delivered the message about fixing the charging system and moving to fuel based charging, and ALRTA pushed the need for better access to the road network, and better funding and investment – part of what we call ‘the supply side issues’.

(As a telling reminder of how little the media understands road network ‘access’ issues, one journalist summarised everything ALRTA had to say as “… and the Australian Livestock and Rural Transport Association called for more and better roads”)

…outstanding performance by Small Business Council

For me, the surprise standout performer was Peter Strong from the Small Business Council.

Several times Peter grabbed everyone’s attention with statements such as a declaration that ‘the only people who can understand a big tax act are big business.’

Even more attention-grabbing were his declarations that ‘small business isn’t that worried about cutting the corporate tax rate. It doesn’t matter what rate is set when you barely even make a profit.’

By the end of the two days, it was clear that other people had been listening too. In his closing speech, Treasurer Swan specifically mentioned some of his conversations with Peter and then had this to say:

We’ve heard – loud and clear – small business concerns about complexity

The instant write-off will simplify and cut tax for small business from next year. We introduced it, we increased it to $6,500 and we will take any opportunity to take it further.

“Standard business reporting and the superannuation clearing house also reduce some of the burden

“But I’ve asked Treasury and the ATO to put their heads together with the Council for Small Business to identify the best ways to reduce complexity, in the coming months.”

… ATA declares the charging system ‘broken’

ATA Chairman David Simon delivered the strongest public statement that I recall hearing from the ATA in many years on what industry thinks of the current heavy vehicle charging system:

 “Under the current system, a B-double costs $15,708 a year to register. A single trailer, which carries about two-thirds of that, is about a third of the cost to register, so we have more vehicles providing less safe, less productive, and less environmentally friendly outcomes.

“That system is broken. We have to move to a variable charge system, but fuel based,” he said.

… long way to go with Treasuries on fuel based charging

The Tax Forum was an excellent opportunity to speak with State Treasurers, the key people from the State Treasuries as well as, obviously, their Federal equivalents.

An interesting discovery was, not so much that any of these people are opposed to fuel based charging, but rather that it’s not strongly on their radar as an issue to be thinking about.

Changing the charging system isn’t likely to happen without engaging with the Treasuries.

Australia’s Constitution does not allow States to levy a fuel tax, so moving to fuel based charging would require the States to surrender something like $700m in annual revenue to the Commonwealth. They’re not likely to do that unless they are sure that they’ll get it back, and the Commonwealth Treasury will be concerned that, after a couple of years, the States will start demanding more money from the fuel tax than they actually gave up in registration.

Industry faces a whole series of new lobbying challenges to make sure we’re getting to the right people, and winning their attention and support.

This week, the ATA’s begun discussing with members some its priorities for lobbying in the year ahead. That’s going to be an important discussion.

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