THE National Transport Commission (NTC) has released a regulatory impact statement which, if approved, will update heavy vehicle registration and fuel charges from July 1, 2006.
NTC chief executive Tony Wilson said the recommended charges allowed trucks and buses to pay their fair share of increased road construction and maintenance costs.
"Setting road prices for heavy vehicles is always a difficult and controversial task," Mr Wilson said.
"We've listened carefully to the industry and taken a cautious and conservative approach.
"This is a solid and robust body of work, which will see heavy vehicles' share of total road costs fall from 28pc to 24pc."
The regulatory impact statement proposals include that registration fees be effectively frozen for 53pc of the vehicle fleet and a small increase (less than $40) in registration fees for 44pc of trucks.
The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) and the Australian Trucking Association (ATA) have rejected the proposals, which they said could put new costs on the transport sector.
NFF farm business and economics committee chairman Charles Burke warned that some of the proposals could increase truck registration costs and net fuel excise by up to 5-8pc.
"As a nation we should be working to find ways to improve the competitiveness of our industries, not hobble them with poorly justified and inefficient charges," Mr Burke said.
"This year the Commonwealth is expecting to reap a $13.6 billion surplus and the states are getting windfall revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars from extra GST on fuel due to higher petrol and diesel prices.
"Due to the inability of farmers to pass fuel costs onto others, we are going to see farm margins increasingly squeezed.
"If anything, governments at this time should be looking at ways to help reduce the impact of high fuel costs on business and consumers, not add further to costs and inflationary pressures."
ATA chief executive Chris Althaus said the charge increases would have a huge impact on the trucking industry and on industries and communities that relied on road transport, particularly in rural and regional Australia.
"Under the proposals the industry will be slugged with a 30-40pc rise in registration fees for the most productive combinations in the national fleet; for example registration on a nine-axle B-Double will increase by 37pc, with a 30-35pc increase for road trains," Mr Althaus said.
Mr Burke said the trucking industry already seemed to pay its fair share for road use to state and territory governments through annual registration charges of more than $500 million per year and through diesel excise that yielded the Federal Government between $1b and $1.3b each year.
"We are concerned that charges are going up without any clear link to improved roads," Mr Burke said.
"Given that farming directly accounts for 3pc of gross domestic product and supports more than 12pc when upstream and downstream industries are taken into account, governments need to carefully weigh up the costs and benefits of this revenue exercise by the NTC."
Mr Althaus said if the changes were passed, governments could expect a strong reaction from trucking operators and customers who depended on efficient road transport for their own viability.
The NTC said an independent survey of transport operators had confirmed the impact of the recommendations on B-Double use would be negligible.
"The safety and efficiency of B-Doubles is proven," Mr Wilson said.
"A cross-subsidy of $5500 per B-Double vehicle combination will ensure the charges continue to promote optimal fleet choices."
The release of the regulatory impact statement follows extensive briefings, workshops and consultation with heavy vehicle operators, peak industry bodies and government agencies, which underpin the conservative approach to cost allocation judgements.
This includes the exclusion of heavy vehicle enforcement costs, a low-range estimate of heavy vehicle local road use, factoring unsealed road use by road-trains into the model for the first time, and excluding community service related road costs in remote areas.
Once the period for comment on the regulatory impact statement closes, the NTC will discuss the proposals with interested stakeholders and make a final recommendation to the Australian Transport Council in December 2005.
For more information visit www.ntc.gov.au