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Road User Charges Amendment Bill — First Reading

[Volume:655;Page:4789]

Road User Charges Amendment Bill

First Reading

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : I move, That the Road User Charges Amendment Bill be now read a first time. It is my intention to move at the appropriate time that the Road User Charges Amendment Bill be referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for consideration; that the committee report to the House by 27 July 2009; and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time the House is sitting except during oral questions, during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday of a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, and outside the Wellington area during a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187, 189(a), and 190(1)(b) and (c).

The road-user charges system has been reviewed recently, and I am currently considering the 32 recommendations made to me by the independent Road User Charges Review Group. A separate bill to accommodate any changes that arise from the recommendations of that group is scheduled for introduction later. This short bill before the House tonight deals with two immediate matters that need to be dealt with in a timely manner.

International opinion is now in agreement that the world faces a climate change problem. The problem of increasing global temperatures is caused by excessive emissions of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. Although technology has revolutionised transport and given us the opportunity to grow our economies, it has come with a cost: carbon dioxide emissions.

Technology continues to revolutionise the transport sector. In an effort to stem greenhouse gas emissions, Governments are channelling billions of dollars into the development of low-carbon vehicle technology, which includes efficient vehicles that run either partly or wholly on electricity. Electric vehicles are cheaper to run, use little or no conventional fuel, and are more efficient at converting stored energy into motive power. Significant sales of electric vehicles will reduce our reliance on imported fossil fuels, and increase the energy security of our transport and electricity systems. Electric vehicles emit little or no toxic substances, such as particulate matter and oxides of sulphur and nitrogen.

In the normal course of events, owners of electric vehicles have to pay road-user charges. Although it is an important principle that all road users pay for the costs they impose on the roading network, providing an exemption from road-user charges is a way to encourage the change to electric vehicles. This bill gives the Government the ability to create regulations to exempt owners of light electric vehicles from paying between 3.6c and 4c per kilometre in road-user charges. Regulations to bring about an exemption that continues until 2013 are anticipated as soon as the bill is passed. This incentive is consistent with the Government’s intention to support fuels that assist climate change and energy security objectives. The Government has already announced that New Zealand producers and importers of bio-diesel will receive an advantage of up to 42c per litre over petrol and diesel until 2012.

The second matter in this bill is the issue of giving notice of increases to road-user charges. In July 2008 each of the main centres of this country was brought to a standstill by truckdrivers protesting against increases to road-user charges that were made with no notice. It is reasonable to give notice of road-user charge increases that impose a significant cost on commercial transport operators. This bill proposes that the Road User Charges Act be amended so that operators are given 6 weeks’ notice of any increase to road-user charges. The proposal is supported by the Road User Charges Review Group in its report to me on the road-user charges system.

This bill also contains a measure to minimise the potential loss of revenue through large-scale pre-purchasing of road-user charges once the notice of an increase is given.

Hon Darren Hughes: More bureaucrats!

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Good on you! The bill provides that road-user licences for heavy vehicles expire 1 month after an increase comes into effect. Heavy vehicle operators would be required to purchase a new road-user licence at the new rate within the month, and would be able to seek a refund for any unused portion of their previous licence.

The licence expiry provision is a reinstatement of a similar provision in the Road User Charges Act that was repealed by the previous Government in 2002. Its repeal was in response to administrative difficulties caused to 400,000 or so light vehicle owners who had the inconvenience of having to relicense their vehicles 1 month after an increase in road-user charges. The licence expiry provision in this bill avoids that administrative burden of relicensing a light vehicle fleet, because it applies only to heavy vehicles. Owners of light vehicles under 3.5 tonnes, including sport utility vehicles and vans, will be able to pre-purchase road-user charges at the lower rate—because this is a very practical Government—but they are unlikely to do so on a large scale.

This bill deals with two specific issues on road-user charges. The proposed amendments are straightforward and I would like them to be dealt with speedily by this House, particularly so that the statutory requirement to give notice of road-user charges increases can be in force before the next scheduled increase to road-user charges on 1 October 2009, which is in regard to the smaller national increases in road taxes to replace the regional fuel tax system. I commend this bill to the House.

Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) : I rise to speak to the Road User Charges Amendment Bill moved by the Minister of Transport, who also subtly made reference to the fact that he intends to move an instruction to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee that it report the bill back by 27 July. That date is not too far from today, but we heard no explanation or justification from the Minister as to why the bill has to be dealt with as quickly as he intends. That is a constant theme of this Government. The few bills that are sent to a select committee are sent with a cut-off time for referrals. We are not seeing the proper scrutiny of legislation that one would expect to see from our Parliament, because we are constantly being told that bills have to be reported back faster than would ordinarily be the case. However, that is how the Minister wants to run it.

In the one minute that remains before the House rises for the night, I say it concerns me enormously that we have had no explanation from the Minister about how the system he is proposing will be administered. We are now told that when an increase is announced, people who buy road-user charges will be able to apply for a refund after the point has come for that increase to take place. One can only imagine the bureaucracy involved in giving those refunds. Moving staff from the front line to the pump line seems to be the National Government’s new theory when it comes to this bill. I look forward to addressing more issues of substance.

  • Debate interrupted.