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Road User Charges Bill

In Committee

Wednesday 5 October 2011 (advance copy) Hansard source (external site)

Debate resumed from 4 October.

Part 2 Road user charges (continued)

HipkinsCHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) Link to this

Part 2 is the guts of this bill and it deals particularly with an issue that I have some concern about, which is the moving from calculating road-user charges based on nominated weights to one based on maximum gross weights. To put that in a nutshell, at the moment if somebody owns a fairly heavy truck, then basically they estimate what they are going to be carrying—let us say any sort of truck—and they might carry 3 tonnes one day and 5 tonnes another day. They will pay the road-user charges for the number of kilometres they are expected to do at a certain weight. This change means they will pay road-user charges for the maximum weight of the vehicle, regardless of the load that they are carrying. This is a significant departure in practice from what we currently have, and it is one that I am concerned about. Some trucking operators who have large vehicles that travel one way with a full load and return empty will end up paying significantly more. Under the present system they can travel one way with one set of road-user charges for the laden weight, carrying the full load, and they can return empty or with a lighter weight, and they can pay less. If we are talking about a truck travelling from, say, Wellington to Auckland, that is not an insubstantial distance—700 or 800 kilometres—and therefore they will buy their road-user charges at the different price for the different weights to reflect that. Under this rule change, if they take a big truck from Wellington to Auckland with a full load and they bring it back to Wellington empty, they will pay the same road-user charges, regardless, even though clearly the wear and tear on the road will be significantly less from an empty truck than from a very full one.

It will also mean that companies that have trucks that are used for a variety of different carrying purposes—some days they will be carrying a very large load and some days they will be carrying a smaller load—can accommodate that at the moment with the existing road-user charges regime. Under this regime they will not be able to do that. So we will see companies having to change the make-up of their fleets, which is potentially quite a significant cost for some trucking companies. I think we will see a move to more smaller trucks on the road, rather than a greater number of larger trucks on the road, and more distance being travelled by those smaller trucks, simply because if they are having to pay the full cost even when the truck is partially empty, many of the operators will decide that it is better to increase the number of journeys with a smaller truck rather than have a large truck that will end up being empty part of the time. So I am concerned about this particular change. Although I am concerned about the number of very heavy trucks that we have on the road—and I would like to see a reduction, potentially, in that number—goods have to get from A to B somehow, and this change potentially increases costs significantly for a large number of industries in our country that we rely on. I will give members an example of a cattle truck. A cattle truck fully loaded with cattle will weigh more than an empty cattle truck. Under the current road-user charges regime, that is allowed for; under this one it will not be. Operators of those trucks will be paying the maximum cost of the load for a full load of cattle, even if they are not carrying a full load of cattle.

BennettDavid Bennett Link to this

They have to pay anyway.

HipkinsCHRIS HIPKINS Link to this

No, under the current regime there is provision that if they wanted to, they could prepay road-user charges for different weights for that truck. It is quite possible, under this law, that a number of trucking companies will end up—

BennettDavid Bennett Link to this

Book every truck one way, then the other way? Yeah, right!

HipkinsCHRIS HIPKINS Link to this

I am looking forward to David Bennett’s contribution to this debate. He obviously was not paying any attention to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee when we discussed it, even though he was chairing the meeting, but that would not be particularly unusual in the case of David Bennett, the member for wherever he is from.

FentonDarien Fenton Link to this

Not for much longer.

HipkinsCHRIS HIPKINS Link to this

Not for much longer, no. That is right. I think the Government needs to explain and to justify in greater detail why it wants to potentially increase significantly the costs for a number of our trucking operators. The Government has not made the case for why it wants to make this change. Government members argue that it will be more administratively efficient; I am not entirely sure that it will be.

In fact, one of the other changes in this bill introduces an electronic system for booking road-user charges. That is a really welcome move, and we certainly support that. One of the reasons we support it is that it will make it more user-friendly and flexible for trucking companies, so that they will be able to more easily book the required number of road-user charges that they need to pay for the different weights that the vehicles may be carrying. It seems that on the one hand we are moving to a system that offers more flexibility, and, on the other hand, by moving the basis on which road-user charges are calculated from one that is quite sensible, in my view, based on estimated weights, to one based on maximum weights, we are actually taking that flexibility away again. That does not seem to make an awful lot of sense to me, and that is the main change in this particular part that Labour members have significant concern about.

The second aspect that we have significant concern about is the process by which these regulations will result in road-user charges rates being set. Road-user charges are, of course, a form of taxation. In the Labour members’ view, that should be set by a bill through the House, not by a regulation. The old saying, in our view, applies: no taxation without representation. Under this particular legislation, taxation can be applied by the Government without going through this House—the people’s House—as all other Budget taxation measures need to. So we are opposed to that particular provision.

There are many things in this bill that Labour members support. We want to see a crackdown on those who avoid paying their fair share of road-user charges. Trucking does result in significant wear and tear on our roads—possibly billions of dollars’ worth of wear and tear on our roads. It is only fair that those who are doing that pay their fair share. There is avoidance at the moment, and we want to see that cracked down on. In fact, I acknowledge that the Government wants to see that cracked down on. There are measures in this bill to do that, and we wholeheartedly support those. There are many measures in the bill that we support.

I mentioned briefly earlier the issue of electronic booking of road-user charges. I would like to see us, in time, get to the point where there is an online system, which is much more flexible for companies, where they can manage their own accounts online. That is where we could get to. I have a couple of trucking companies in my electorate, and I have had a little bit to do with them over the period of time that I have been a member of Parliament. I know that they would like to have much more control over this area of their business. They have struggled with some of the regulatory framework, and I think that many of the concerns that they have—

BennettDavid Bennett Link to this

You’re the mascot for the Irish rugby team.

HipkinsCHRIS HIPKINS Link to this

—are being addressed by this bill. David Bennett would be well advised to calm down a little bit rather than interjecting and insulting me while I am speaking and giving credit to the Government for many of the provisions in this bill that I think are really good ones. He has gone all red, and I know he gets very excited when people are talking about him, because they do not talk about him where he comes from, so he likes coming to Parliament, where other people talk about him.

Lees-GallowayIain Lees-Galloway Link to this

The top of his head lights up.

HipkinsCHRIS HIPKINS Link to this

He literally lights up when we are talking about him, and I know that he thoroughly enjoys that.

I hope that the Minister will outline the Government’s case for why it wants to make this change from a system of calculating charges based on estimated weight to one based on maximum weight. I think it would be good if the Minister in the chair engaged in this particular part of the debate, because that change is fundamentally the main point of contention in this bill. Most of the other provisions in the bill are ones that we support, and as for the ones that we have some reservations about, we would probably be willing to let them go if we could get some reasonable debate on this issue, which is the most fundamental issue in the bill. I certainly hope that the Minister in due course, as the debate progresses, will take a call or two on this issue and set out the Government’s case on why it wants to do this. Thank you.

Lees-GallowayIAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) Link to this

The first comment I make about road-user charges in general is that earlier in the day I talked about the fact that the Manawatū Gorge has been closed for a great length of time and is likely to be closed all the way through to December, and that has resulted in significant additional costs to some businesses, and in lost productivity. One of the sources of those additional costs is the road-user charge, simply by way of the fact that vehicles have to travel a longer distance to take one of the two alternative routes to get round the Manawatū Gorge. Thus their road-user charges increase as a result of that extra distance travelled, mostly in getting between distribution points in Palmerston North over to the Port of Napier, or distribution points over in Hawke’s Bay. Another one of the effects is that these two roads are not really built for the type of traffic that is travelling on them currently. The normal traffic volumes are about 600 vehicles a day on those two roads; currently they are carrying 7,000 vehicles per day, and many of those vehicles are heavy diesel trucks carrying freight and goods between Palmerston North and Napier. The effect on both of those roads is now quite significant, and with that will come, obviously, additional costs in maintaining those roads. I just thought that was an important point to make about road-user charges.

What we are concerned about in Part 2 of the Road User Charges Bill is that the argument in favour of shifting from a system of nominated weights to gross weights for the setting of road-user charges has not really been set out. We have not heard it articulated by the Government why this change is necessary, and how it will improve the system of road-user charges. All we are clear on is the fact that for many operators this will increase costs. Again, going back to the example of goods that would ordinarily be carried through the Manawatū Gorge, should a vehicle have to go from one point to the other carrying those goods, then have to travel back empty, this change will significantly increase those costs. Yes, we could argue that it is an incentive for trucking firms to organise their logistics in a way that tries to ensure those trucks are not travelling without any cargo on board, but often that is simply not possible. Often the nature of the cargo and the nature of the points between which they are travelling means—especially when a vehicle is specifically designed to carry a particular cargo, particularly liquids and gases—it is not possible to ensure that a vehicle travels from point A to point B, and can then pick up more load at point B and travel back to point A or on to another point. It might be logistically possible for some firms to arrange their affairs in a way that is more efficient, but for many products, many loads, that is simply not possible.

One of the other arguments that I recall from one of the submitters—I do not remember which submitter it was—at the select committee was that the change to gross weights for setting road-user charges might be an incentive for transportation firms, trucking firms, to ensure that their vehicles are fit for purpose—that is, that they do not have a large vehicle carrying a small weight, a weight much less than that vehicle is capable of carrying. That again, I suppose, on the surface of it, sounds like a reasonably sensible argument, but for many trucking firms that would require a significant investment in capital, and it actually reduces flexibility for those firms. They have vehicles that are capable of carrying a range of weights so that those vehicles can be flexible in the goods they carry, and to require firms to have a range of different vehicles to be specific to the weight and volume of goods they need to carry would require a heck of a lot of investment. For many operators, I think, it would reduce their ability to be flexible, and to provide a flexible service to their customers. I suppose there needs to be an element of realism here, in terms of what transportation firms will actually be able to do, whether we put those incentives in place, or not. It is not clear in my mind whether that is the goal of this change, because, as I said, I do not think that the Government has particularly articulated the case for making the change. That suggestion, actually, came from one of the submitters.

Chris Hipkins also mentioned EROAD, or the electronic registering of the road-user charge. What I have heard from a number of operators is that specifically because this legislation mandates the change from nominated weights to gross weights, they are less inclined to take up the electronic road-user charge option because it is a cost. It is a cost outlay for them, which would make sense if they were able to reap the rewards of electronically monitoring a change in weight, and their road-user charge could be purchased as they went, according to the weight they were carrying. But it makes no sense to make that investment in those electronic devices if they are not going to get that benefit—if their road-user charge is going to be based on the gross weight of the vehicle. There would be no advantage whatsoever in monitoring the weight of the vehicle, and using an electronic system for doing that. If we are trying to encourage transportation companies to shift into the electronic age and to make use of those sorts of systems, the change to gross weights is precisely the opposite thing to what we should be doing to achieve that—and that is direct feedback from the industry, which is interested in innovation. Industry members are interested in improving their efficiency, but they have to see a reasonable cost benefit from the investment they would have to make.

There is also some concern that driving trucking fleets down to smaller and smaller vehicles will mean we have a greater number of smaller vehicles on the road, and that could have impacts in terms of emissions and also of vehicle congestion on the road. So given all the concerns related to what, perhaps, some of the unintended consequences of this change may be, I think it would be really useful for the Minister to articulate what the purpose is of this change. I think that would be welcomed by members of the Opposition, and then we could have a conversation about that once the Minister has explained it. So I will take my seat and, hopefully, the Minister will get to his feet.

GuyHon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) Link to this

We have had good discussion on Part 2 this evening, on this very important bill. I think it is worthwhile mentioning a few things in terms of what Part 2 covers, which is basically the administration of the road-user charge system: the requirement, of course, to pay road-user charges, which includes obligations on the owner or operator of a vehicle; distance recorders; the issuing of licences; and the management of refunds, which is an important point. It also covers the approval of service providers dealing with electronic methods, and the approval and management of hubodometers, which is included in Subpart 6.

It has been interesting to hear the debate this evening from Opposition members. I think that Chris Hipkins gave an example of a trucking firm that could be operating from Wellington to Auckland. Statistics show us that most of those operators that travel those long distances are indeed licensed for their maximum combined weight, and that example would be 44 tonnes if they were doing a long haul from Wellington to Auckland. Some choose to operate at their tare weight, which some have called the naked weight—that is, not loaded, at all. Then they choose to purchase a supplementary road-user charge licence. Not many operate in that area. Some indeed operate at the tare weight, and then we are left wondering whether they travel with any loading on their axles. Of course, we can all safely presume that they do carry a load from time to time. We do not have a clue as to how much revenue the Government is missing out on. So, in essence, this will tighten that bit of a loophole for those who choose to game the system. That might be a small number of operators; it might, indeed, be a larger number than we are aware of.

I guess, to conclude, the reasons for the change are a reduction in the evasion, and also a reduction in the administration and overall compliance costs of the current system. There was also a comment made in terms of the electronic road-user charge system, from the member for Palmerston North. Indeed, the voluntary use of an electronic system will make it a lot easier to claim back those distances travelled off the road. In essence, it will be a lot easier to claim a refund than it currently is.

FentonDARIEN FENTON (Labour) Link to this

I am happy to take a call on Part 2 of the Road User Charges Bill. I thank the Minister in the chair, the Associate Minister of Transport, for his contribution. Part 2 is about road-user charges, and the first clause, clause 7, which is about the requirement to pay road-user charges, has been an ongoing debate. Thirty years on, key players in the road transport industry still say that we should be looking at charges related to diesel, and that we should be looking at a diesel tax. So I am really pleased that the Minister and the Government seem to have accepted that our road-user charges system is actually very innovative.

One of the interesting things for me during the select committee process, and in meeting some of the players in this industry, was having people report to us that the road-user charges system we have in New Zealand is extremely innovative. It is new and it is different. Even though it has been around for 30 years in New Zealand, in Europe and other countries that are starting to consider how they get people to pay their fair share—particularly for heavy vehicles on roads, with all the damage they do—they are starting to consider New Zealand’s system of road-user charges. They have had a system based on a petrol or diesel tax, and it does not work.

As innovation occurs, as we get more and more electronic use, and as we get more efficiency in the trucking industry, the truth is that the system we have in New Zealand is now a great innovation that is being made available to the world, but not through this Government, of course—not through this Government. That was one of the very, very interesting things from the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, apart from the fact that there are issues around the calculation of road-user charges, which will continue to be a thorn in the side of this Government. Its friends in the heavy transport industry will continue to agitate about this. It will continue through the election and beyond.

I think it is very exciting, actually, that we have an innovative system in New Zealand that we are now starting to see picked up throughout the world. It has been picked up throughout Europe. It has been picked up and is being considered in Australia. People understand that with the increasing freight that now goes from one country to another in Europe, and with what happens in Australia, the charges that have been laid on heavy trucks are not working. New Zealand is an example. It is great that we have an example here.

The other very exciting thing that we heard during the select committee process was the innovation. We heard from innovators such as EROAD and others. In fact, I have visited many of them in this industry. The innovators are determining that there is a market not only in New Zealand but internationally. And they are marketing not only the road-user charges system that we have in New Zealand but actually the innovation we have through things like electronic road-user charges.

This bill touches on that. It is very much a voluntary system, and there was quite a lot of suspicion, I have to say, from what I might call the backward-leaning parts of the industry. But the forward-looking parts of the industry are demonstrating to New Zealand and the world that we can do things in the road transport industry that are saleable to the world. It is about not only our system and not only road-user charges, but also how we monitor them and how we charge for them.

We heard in the select committee from EROAD, and I have to say again that there was a lot of suspicion from the National members. They were suspicious about EROAD’s motives and its opposition to the calculation of gross vehicle weights. But I have been to see EROAD and I have looked at the product it is producing. This is one of the firms—along with others, actually—that we should be celebrating in New Zealand. This is one of the firms that is actually developing things in New Zealand that are saleable to the rest of the world. It is out in Australia, and in Denmark too, selling its product and doing a wonderful job, and I think we need to be encouraging that. It was a bit disappointing to see some of our leading companies like EROAD treated with what I thought was disrespect during the select committee process.

I encourage members in the Committee to support Part 2, “Road user charges”. There are concerns about the calculation of gross vehicle weights. As I said, there will continue to be agitation about that. I talked about that matter in debate on Part 1. I think there is a lot of discontent in the industry about the fact that there has been so little consultation about the change from driver-nominated weights to gross vehicle weights. There have been concerns about what it means in terms of road safety in New Zealand, and also concerns about good firms being penalised for trying to do the right thing and big trucks getting an advantage. As other colleagues have said, the right of no taxation without representation is a considerable concern.

I am also really concerned because, although we support road-user charges, a whole part of this bill does not exist. That is the part that relates to what happens for people who drive through the Manawatū Gorge, who get up at 4 o’clock in the morning, who drive on a 13-hour day as they are able to do at the moment, who buy their vehicles, who mortgage themselves in an unsustainable way, who speed through the gorge, who falsify logbooks, and who breach work-time regulations. I know that the Minister of Police over there is saying that the police are on to that. Yes, they are.

CollinsHon Judith Collins Link to this

No, no, no. They’re blocked at the moment—the Manawatū Gorge. They’re not speeding; no one’s speeding.

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

OK; it is blocked. I am sure there are plenty of other highways that we can talk about.

HipkinsChris Hipkins Link to this

I thought the Government would have cleared that mess by now.

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

That is true. That is right. We would have thought the Government would fix that up, especially that Minister over there because she fixes everything. She takes credit for everything and—

CollinsHon Judith Collins Link to this

No, I don’t. Phil Goff takes credit for stuff that I’ve done.

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

Ha, ha! That is right! Going back to what I was saying about Part 2, there is a problem that this bill does not address, and previous bills brought forward by this Government did not address it either. That problem is in respect of truck drivers in our industry who—OK, they have to pay road-user charges, but all that does is add to the burden that they have of unsustainable contracting. They are required to sign up to agreements with providers that mean that they mortgage their homes and themselves, and they have absolutely no way of making a sustainable living, because they have no rights. So although there are some regulations about speeding, work-time regulations, and so on, we have a trucking industry where we are seeing every week one or two people killed in a truck-related accident. I am disappointed that Part 2 does not deal with that issue.

I am pleased that it deals with some other things about building sustainability and modernising our fleet. I am pleased about that, but I do not think the Government is addressing the fundamental issue of the link between rates of pay and safety in this industry. There is a link between rates of pay and safety in this industry, where truck drivers are not getting full cost recovery, including in respect of things like paid waiting times, fuel reimbursement, and, for that matter, road-user charges. They are being pushed to make a living. We have had a dreadful few weeks on New Zealand roads. I do not want to blame the truck drivers; they are just trying to make a living. They are just trying to get on and do a job and do their best. But I think this Government is letting us down and letting the industry down by not addressing those issues in this bill.

Although we support the provisions in Part 2, we think that the Government continues to not go far enough. Until there is an examination and an understanding of the link between pay and road transport safety, all of the things that are in this bill will not solve the problem.

UpstonLOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) Link to this

I move, That the question be now put.

Link to this

A party vote was called for on the question,

That the question be now put.

Ayes 63

Noes 56

Motion agreed to.

The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 287 in the name of the Hon Steven Joyce to Part 2 be agreed to.

Amendments agreed to.

Part 2 as amended agreed to.

Part 3 Assessment of unpaid road user charges

JonesHon SHANE JONES (Labour) Link to this

Tēnā koe, Mr Chair. First I acknowledge the Minister in the chair, the Associate Minister of Transport. He did something unusual this evening: he stood up and spoke, and much of what he said proved to be lucid. I only hope that that lucidity helps him as he seeks to justify why this inordinately large amount of money is being wasted on an unnecessary extension of the expressway in his area, but that is another matter. That is another matter. No doubt the good burghers and voters of that part of Aotearoa are turning red by the minute, and will see red as he fails to provide a suitable explanation. He is a Minister who has a practical level of experience, having come, a wee bit like me, from an agricultural background—although it has been a long time since the udder of the cow provided me with my direct income.

I want to talk about Part 3, and I want to direct our attention to ensuring we enable people who feel they are being hard done by in the transport industry to enjoy a suitable opportunity when they are pinged to have—figuratively—their day in court. The system will work in a fashion that is not unlike the Inland Revenue Department. The regulator, the road-user charges collector—either the Minister or, through delegated authority, the agency—will be required to pursue the laggards and those characters. I hope they are not to be found in Kaitāia and other such pleasant climes enjoyed by Kelvin Davis and, occasionally but distantly, by me. Those people, from time to time, will find that they have not followed the rules and regulations accurately.

These things happen, because under this Government the rules, regulations, and red tape have just grown like Topsy. I actually imagined that the transport sector would enjoy a purge, a clean out, but not a single bureaucratic prune has been administered by this Government in relation to simplifying the regulatory thicket that afflicts the transport sector. As I said last night, if one is to bring in new regulations—and let us face it, a lot of this stuff will be administered by dint of regulation—then strip two, three, four, and administer a handsome dosage of Epsom salts to the bureaucratic body. Those of us who are the politicians will come and go, but the administrators of the system, by dint of their professional status and the fact that there always has to be a regulator, will continue. The point I am making is that when an operator receives an assessment, let us be very, very loud in insisting that that operator have a decent opportunity to put their side of the story.

I hope that the regulator has the balance between collecting revenue for the Government’s accounts—which are going further and further in the wrong direction, so revenue is needed—and showing a pragmatic and even-handed approach. Many of the operators will own these vehicles, and I think we will see a lot of these vehicles getting smaller, not larger. It is a disappointment that despite the arrival of these road-user charges and the new regime, etc., the larger vehicles are not actually on our roads, because Steven Joyce, the Minister of Transport, has starved local government of improving the roads and the bridges that actually have to bear the weight of these large vehicles. But that too is another issue for the voters. The voters will be busy on 26 November as they find new and fresh ways to punish. It will not be David Bennett, because, unfortunately, he will not register in this debate. I see Sue Moroney and a host of other very talented people circling their wagons around his declining fortunes in the Waikato.

For firms that are operating—and I think of the firms in the provinces, where the margins are slight—the system needs to cut them some slack. Cutting them some slack does not mean degrading the quality of the freight vehicles, of the fleet, but showing when we administer the system—we being the stewards of the State—that we can be pragmatic. It is possible under this particular part for the road-user charges collector to cancel a penalty. Well, that is very unlikely, because from time to time—

RoyThe CHAIRPERSON (Eric Roy) Link to this

The Hon Shane Jones.

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

Thank you, Mr Chair. There is nothing like quality to continue to persist and carry the waka forward.

ParataHon Hekia Parata Link to this

Yes, certainly, let’s have some of it.

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

That was an unfortunate remark from the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources. In another world, she was very appealing, but now her own people quail because she sided with the mining industry. They live in fear that what passes for their environment is about to be turned into a great oil slick. But I am prepared to back her as the new Minister of Education. There are hand gestures—I see hand gestures coming from her. That is private; she should keep it to herself.

I need to come back to the bill at hand. There is a faint connection. After all, these freight fleet vehicles require oil of some description to continue. Of course, we will hear from the Greens that there will be no more oil. We will hear from the Greens shortly an unfortunate observation that, somehow, we will have a fleet that will no longer be able to operate. It is good that they are provocative, and it is good that they make those contributions, but unfortunately it is the investors—it is the owners of the fleet, at the end of the day—who need to make the changes. I hope that this bill enables them to do that when they are struggling through the bureaucratic thicket that comprises this legislation.

There are a host of other provisions we must make note of in the Committee stage. After all, we will be supporting this bill, but such is the hallmark of the Committee stage in this House, which is part of our constitutional process. Thousands of New Zealanders will by this time be watching the Rugby World Cup, or whatever is happening tonight, which is a very, very disappointing feature of their night-time viewing as they are missing the opportunity to learn about having to pay more levies, and being further penalised if they are in the position of being unfortunate enough to own a trucking business. It will be further weighed down, if we are not careful, by excessive levels of red tape.

It is all very good to modernise electronic technology, but one should choose the right type of technology. There is a host of options, and we need to be confident that the Government is putting substance into the rhetoric of productivity, innovation, and a variety of other things and actually improving the options for the owners of the fleet to upgrade.

I come back to the importance of keeping vehicle inspection records, etc., which are mentioned in this part. If we have the right kind of technology—the application of electronic technology—then the owners of the firms and the owners of the vehicles will not be cursed or blighted by maintaining mountains of paperwork, etc., in relation to the inspection of records and other sources of information that may, unfortunately, be used in the future to hammer them. I send not a siren call but a warning from those of us who have had experience in the private sector and who know that it is not all beer and skittles to own a transport firm. Not only are the compliance costs quite onerous but also one has to find skilled staff and maintain their wages at a competitive level. An element of parity has to be maintained so that we do not lose everyone to Australia. Unfortunately, that is happening and not much that the Government has done passes muster in relation to stopping people from disappearing in that area.

Part 3 provides for rights of appeal. Those rights are very important, because during the implementation and the transition from the current regime to the new system there will be hiccups.

FentonDarien Fenton Link to this

There will be.

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

There most certainly will be hiccups. They are happening as we speak.

FentonDarien Fenton Link to this

Maybe a truckers strike.

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

I am not entirely sure whether the trucking fraternity is a little bit more French in their approach, and they might visit their displeasure on the current Government. The only thing French about truck drivers that I know of does not bear repeating in this House, so we will just taihoa and I might find another ethnic analogy in that regard.

As I said, there is an option for appeals and reviews, but I sound a warning about anyone thinking that the option contained in clause 64 is usable. One would have to have an enormous amount at stake before one would want to go to the High Court to appeal on a matter of law. When one is confronted with an egregious level of wrongdoing by the State, one can go one of two ways. One could go to a politician, to the Minister, and work up through the bureaucracy, or, if that fails, one could hire a Queen’s Counsel and trot off to the High Court. Thank you very much.

Lees-GallowayIAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) Link to this

It is a pleasure to speak on Part 3 of the Road User Charges Bill, the topic of which is the assessment of unpaid road-user charges. It is absolutely right and correct that the Crown should have a method for assessing what it deems to be unpaid road-user charges. It is a belief on our side of the Chamber that everybody should get a fair go and a fair chance, and that they should pay their fair share, and the same goes for people and firms who are liable to pay road-user charges.

We have to have a method for assessing those road-user charges. Part 3 also deals with the associated penalties for non-payment and the avenues through which those who are, I suppose, charged with non-payment can appeal their being assessed for unpaid road-user charges.

It is excellent to see the Government putting through legislation that tries to tidy up the issue of unpaid road-user charges, because before the last election there was a massive protest by trucking firms, led by former National MP Tony Friedlander, against the Labour Government. The Labour Government was trying to ensure that people who were liable for road-user charges did not try to game the system, especially when the road-user charges were changed. The charges were changed without notice, to ensure that no one shirked their responsibility for paying road-user charges.

There was an outcry. In fact, the truckers did exactly what Shane Jones suggested they did, and they clogged up a number of our roads. I remember John Banks being in huge support of them. He was very excited about them expressing their right to protest and the right to free enterprise by clogging up the main streets of a number of our cities—and absolutely; I support anybody’s right to protest. That protest was about the method that was used to ensure that road-user charges were paid.

I think it is right and proper that we ensure that unpaid road-user charges can be assessed, as allowed for in Part 3. The provisions are not ones that Labour has any concerns with. There were some minor adjustments made at the select committee, particularly on what information could be collected from electronic system providers.

I know that some concern was expressed by some submitters that the power to collect information through an electronic system could be used to collect information that perhaps had less to do with road-user charges and more to do with some other aspects of safe driving. I know that, for instance, information on the distance travelled over a certain period of time could be collected, and it was suggested that that might be used to determine whether vehicles had been speeding during that time. There was also concern about a number of other bits of information that could be collected.

But this bill is about collecting information for the purposes of assessing what road-user charges are liable to be paid. That is specifically what it is about. To be honest, I do not know why a trucking operator who was operating within all the laws they could be assessed on, using that other information, would be concerned about it being gathered. If they are operating in a lawful way and a safe manner on the road, they will have nothing to fear from that information being collected. But I did note the concerns that were raised.

The bill states: “any distance recorder information reported to the RUC collector by a vehicle inspector following an inspection of the RUC vehicle under section 58(1) or provided by an enforcement officer;”.

NashSTUART NASH (Labour) Link to this

There are a couple of points that I would like to make. First of all, members heard Mr Jones say that if people had doubt about an assessment, there are a number of routes to take, and one of those routes is to go to see their local MP. I suggest to everyone out there who has an issue with their assessment that they book an appointment with Mr Jones and go to see him. He will no doubt organise a solution—or did I hear wrongly? Mr Jones also mentioned that people could get a Queen’s Counsel. But a fine for an individual is only $3,000, and I think Queen’s Counsel charge about $1,000 an hour, so I do not know about that course of action. But it was not a bad legal point.

There are a couple of questions I would like to ask. They are pretty standard, I suppose. I am looking at clauses 45 and 46. Clause 45 is with regard to the removal and retention of—

TischThe CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch) Link to this

We are not on clause 45; we are on Part 3.

NashSTUART NASH Link to this

Yes, OK, well, the same applies. The same applies, because what we are talking about here is the—

FaafoiKris Faafoi Link to this

Similar issues.

NashSTUART NASH Link to this

They are similar issues. It is about what is reasonable. I notice that if someone has reasonable cause to assume that an offence has been committed, then they may take action. The reasonable person test is one of the very first tests one learns in Legal Systems 101. What does the reasonable person expect? And how is that reasonable test met? Often in law—the bush lawyers over on the other side will not tell us; there are no lawyers on that side. Simon Bridges would tell us. Mind you, Simon Bridges may get it wrong, because he was the first to admit that he had won only about half his cases.

Talking of lawyers, goodness me, I very much enjoyed Simon Power’s valedictory speech.

Lees-GallowayIain Lees-Galloway Link to this

It was a very good speech.

NashSTUART NASH Link to this

It was a very good speech. He is a very hard-working Minister. I do not know whether I am the only one, but I thought there were a couple of digs at a lot of his colleagues. He is a hard-working Minister—

Hon Members

No, you’re the only one.

NashSTUART NASH Link to this

OK, there were maybe one or two digs.

The reasonable person test is often one that is left to the courts to determine. It is left to the courts to determine. Therefore, it opens up a gap. Whenever I see the words “reasonable person” or “reasonable grounds”, I often wonder whether that leaves a little bit of a hole in the system for someone to challenge in court. Because these bills go from one part to the other and they all have to be interlinked, I suppose what this comes down to when I look at penalties is that someone may well challenge the imposition of a penalty because they think that an inspector has not acted in a reasonable manner. I cannot think of grounds, off the top of my head.

I have a fire engine. It has a monitor on it, and I pay my road-user charges. I pay my road-user charges before they expire. They are not very cheap. They are not very cheap, with the price of diesel these days, which under this Government is more expensive than petrol was a couple of years ago. I am astounded at how much the prices have increased, but anyway that is a discussion for another day about the cost of living, I suppose.

I will talk about the imposition of penalties in Part 3. We come to clause 54, “RUC collector may cancel penalty”. I am wondering whether the road-user charges collector may cancel a penalty because they are challenged around that reasonable grounds test by someone who has been pulled up under this law. There are a number of reasons why a road-user charges collector may cancel a penalty. Mr Jones has talked about those; Mr Lees-Galloway has as well. Basically, if the road-user charges collector thinks that it is appropriate in the circumstances of the case, he may cancel the whole lot or a part of it, or refund it. When I read clause 54 I think it is actually not 100 percent clear under which circumstances they may do that.

Hon Member

Not really; I think that needs to be explained.

NashSTUART NASH Link to this

The road-user charges collector might think “Is it a mate?”, “Is it worth a dozen beers?”, or “I know that guy. He works really hard. I think I’m going to cancel that penalty.” and might say “Just pay a little bit; that’ll be fine.” It is not as clear as a lot of laws can be. I am not saying it is bad law, at all. I am not saying it is bad law, at all, and I am not saying we disagree with it; it is just slightly unclear—

FentonDARIEN FENTON (Labour) Link to this

I think that was a very, very useful, positive, and helpful contribution from my colleague Stuart Nash. Actually, I am very, very disappointed that the outgoing chair of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, David Bennett—never to be returned after 26 November—has not bothered to take a call. We spent quite a lot of time in the select committee on Part 3.

Labour supports most of this part, albeit with the questions that have been raised by my colleagues. The first question is why the compliance with road-user charges needs to be improved. I welcome the fact that the Government is trying to address the fact that we have road-user charges evasion, which is conservatively estimated at around $30 million a year $30 million a year for heavy vehicles alone, let alone any other vehicles. What that means is that the honest people, the honest players, the people who are trying to do business and do it in an honest way in this industry, are subsidising those who evade payment. The Government is not able to collect that revenue to invest back into the transport system.

We support Part 3, which strengthens the whole system around collecting road-user charges. There was quite a lot of suspicion on the select committee about nominated weights versus gross vehicle weights, and there was suspicion about electronic systems, but there was particularly suspicion about the ability in Part 3 of the regulator to get information and enforce road-user charges. Quite a lot of suspicion came through from the industry, and I am a bit sympathetic with that; with a National Government in power I would be suspicious, as well. However, Part 3 proposes some changes, and I think the select committee took those changes on board.

We can see from the report that there are some recommendations from the select committee to amend Part 3. There is a suggestion from the select committee of an amendment to clause 57(b) around the information that is obtained from the road-user charges collector, how that information is retained, and how it is used. There was quite a lot of unease from the industry about the ability of the Government to collect information on road-user charges that, it may use for other purposes. There was a lot of suspicion, actually. I am pleased that the select committee listened to that and has recommended an amendment that the road-user charges collector may retain only information taken from the vehicle management system regarding the distance travelled by the vehicle. The other information cannot be used for other purposes.

The other debate was on how far the information went back and how extended the records were. There was quite a lot of discussion and debate on that. So, in terms of the select committee report, we support the amendments to clause 59 to remove any retrospective effect. There we go. There is that phrase “retrospective effect”, and have we not been talking about that quite a lot recently? Will we not be talking about it tomorrow? Have we not had acceptance from this Parliament, and actually from the Government, that retrospective effects are not a good thing? They are not a good thing. So there is an amendment to clause 59 recommended by the select committee to remove that retrospective effect and reduce the time that records need to be retained for the purpose of assessing a person’s road-user charges payment obligations. There was concern, as I said, from submitters, and the select committee discussed that. There was discussion with the officials about the scale of the records to be kept and the time for which they should be retained.

We have also recommended an amendment to, clause 60 that requires the road-user charges collectors to provide a receipt for records or other information removed from an operator—

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) Link to this

I came down to the Chamber not intending to speak on the Road User Charges Bill, but I have been listening in my office to the debate and thought that if the opportunity arose, I would just ask a few questions. We are on Part 3 and I was somewhat surprised, when listening in my office to the debate, because it seems that it is quite a complex bill. From a Government that has stood on a mandate and promises—empty as they may be—of reducing compliance and reducing regulations, this is bizarre legislation. Anyone who reads through this—

CarterHon David Carter Link to this

Is the member going to vote for it?

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O’CONNOR Link to this

In fact, the farmers, I say to the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, will be absolutely flabbergasted to read this bill. There might be some who are watching this debate on Parliament TV and there may be some who are on the internet. They will not be able to download the bill, because it is quite thick and they will not have broadband that is capable of it, but, anyway, the farmers who were told that this Government would come in and reduce compliance costs will be shocked.

Just picking up Part 3, I see that clause 48(1) states that the road-user charges collector may issue an assessment for unpaid road user charges “If the RUC collector forms the opinion …”, which is obviously somewhat subjective, and in subclause (2) there are the qualifications to forming the opinion. But none the less we have handed to an individual a quite significant power, which we hope is never abused, but there is an ability to step in here and make assessments.

There will be many farmers up and down the country, I suggest to Mr Carter, who are running 3-tonne trucks, 5-tonne trucks, or bigger ones perhaps. They use them from time to time, and on occasions they may forget that the road-user charges they have purchased have expired, or they may have gone a few kilometres over and they are in the middle of the harvest season, and for some reason they have not been able to get to the post office. Maybe there is not an agency close by that is open. They may be forced inadvertently to go over their road-user charges limit.

The penalties in the bill are quite harsh. Let us be quite honest about this. This complex legislation, designed to streamline the system, we are told—and we are certainly supporting it on the basis of streamlining the system—is none the less a whole lot of regulation of bureaucracy and compliance costs. Although we as a Government were criticised for being the nanny State and for imposing unnecessary costs on industry, this Government is no better.

Let us get that on the record. This Government is no better at all, because the reality is that we do need some regulations and we do need to have some guidance through legislation. There are double standards, I guess. There is a word beginning with “h” that I am not allowed to use; yes, I am allowed to use it. The hypocrisy of the situation is that a Government that claimed it would do no more in terms of regulations and compliance costs is having to do exactly the same things that the Labour Government had to do when it was in office and was unfairly criticised for. The difference is that the Labour Opposition, when it understands the need for sensible regulation and guidance and sound legislation, will support the Government from time to time, and this is one of those occasions. But let us not kid ourselves that this legislation will not impose greater compliance costs, greater obligations, and a higher level of scrutiny on anyone using a heavy vehicle in this country. The National Government will say that is necessary. When we were in office, of course, National members said that it was unnecessary.

I can see all the members over there are shaking their heads; well, they should be, anyway, because they understand that. But here we have legislation that has been considered by the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, altered and improved drastically, and it is designed to ensure that we have a fair system of road-user charges whereby owners of heavier vehicles pay more. I understand that some vehicle owners will pay considerably more, and that, for them, will be an additional cost on their business that has been brought in by the National Government. The National Government is imposing greater costs on business. That is the reality of the situation that this legislation will lead to. Let us not kid ourselves otherwise.

UpstonLOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) Link to this

I move, That the question be now put.

Link to this

A party vote was called for on the question,

That the question be now put.

Ayes 63

Noes 56

Motion agreed to.

The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 287 in the name of the Hon Steven Joyce to Part 3 be agreed to.

Amendments agreed to.

Part 3 as amended agreed to.

Part 4 Enforcement and other matters

TischThe CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch) Link to this

The question is that Part 4, clauses 67B to 89, and schedules 2 and 3 stand part.

GuyHon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) Link to this

Part 4 is all about enforcement and other matters. I draw the Committee’s attention to clause 79, which will enable regulations on road-user charges to be specified. An important point here is that this clause empowers the making of regulations that set the road-user charges rates. The regulations must be published in the Gazette at least 6 weeks before the rates come into force. Also, there are administration regulations that need to be set for road-user charges licences; the payment of road-user charges; refunds of road-user charges; regulating the use of information held by electronic service providers; regulating the fitting, maintenance, and replacement of distance recorders; regulating the management of information downloaded and retained by the road-user charges collector for the vehicle management system; and setting infringement fees.

Finally, yesterday I alluded to the exemption in Supplementary Order Paper 287. The paragraph, which has several subparagraphs, contains the regulation-making powers for the new exemption mechanism for light road-user charges vehicles—that is, vehicles that are under 3.5 tonnes and that the owner-operator chooses to operate off the road. Officials will have to consult, as they will do on those other parts I have mentioned, very widely in terms of exemption. The Ministry of Transport officials advise me that they will be consulting not only through their website but also the stakeholders who have shown an interest through the select committee process: obviously the agriculture and transport sector, the likes of the Automobile Association and the Motor Trade Association, and also the electronic service providers. So wide consultation is due to occur very soon on the important regulations.

FentonDARIEN FENTON (Labour) Link to this

Part 4 of the Road User Charges Bill is where we get into some disagreement with the Government, and there are also concerns from those in the industry who made submissions to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, particularly around the issue of regulations—regulations that will set the bands of the costs for road-user charges. It gets back to that argument we have been putting all the way through this debate about taxation without representation. It is a fundamental part of our Parliament that there should not be imposition of tax, which is essentially what road-user charges are, without representation. It should not go through our parliamentary system through a regulations process. So I think what we will find is that, apart from the calculation of gross vehicle rates in the new calculation and the nominated weights, this is the part of the bill that the industry most objects to, and I do not blame it, actually.

What we heard through the select committee was that there was a weak consultation process more than 2 years ago, which arose after the truckies’ strike before the last election, which people have alluded to, that I must say was quite politically motivated. Annette King, the then Minister of Transport, handled it extremely well and set up a committee to look at the whole issue of road-user charges. So part of this bill does come back from the report-back of that committee. It was very, very interesting for me, after all of that politically charged issue before the last election, to have a bill from this Government that now proposes to impose new road-user charges on truckies but without proper parliamentary scrutiny. There was no one who came to the select committee, apart from National’s friends, who was convinced about this process. They said: “How can we support this bill when we have no idea what the costs will be? We have no idea, other than that it is some sort of broad band calculation that was done 2 years ago. We do not know what the costs will be for our industry. We want to have a say in that.”

I think that is fair enough, because we are talking here about big business and also about small business, which I thought National supported. This change will have a significant impact on them and I think they have a right to a genuine say on that, through a select committee process. But as we know, with a regulations process there is a way of dodging around that. So what the industry is calling for is genuine parliamentary scrutiny on these charges. They are saying they do not want these charges imposed through regulation. They want them in the bill, as they have been in the past. They want this Government to honour the commitments its members made when they lined up when the truckies went rolling past in the strike in 2008, which as I say was politically motivated—

CarterHon David Carter Link to this

They didn’t like that Government.

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

No, well, they do not like this Government either, actually. I have to tell that member that they do not like this Government. They are let down by this Government; they have been let down by this Government. They are saying that this part of the bill is one of the things they are completely opposed to. It is appalling that there will be charges imposed on this industry and the people who actually have to do the work and run their businesses will have very little say. At the end of the day, there will not be proper parliamentary scrutiny.

These charges should be in the bill; they should not be done through the process of regulations that are proposed by the bill. Actually I think there will be quite a few protests when this bill goes through. I certainly know that the truckies are organising themselves not only around the calculation of nominated weights versus gross weights but also about the fact that they will have charges imposed on them when they do not get to have a proper say on it.

So that is the major objection we have to Part 4. This is why, when we came to select committee, we reserved our position on this. We reserved our position on this and we will vote against Part 4. There are good things in this bill—

FaafoiKRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) Link to this

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to Part 4 of the Road User Charges Bill. This part of the bill sets out the infringements that can be imposed on anyone who transgresses in terms of the new regime for road-user charges. I am looking at clause 67B where, in the case of an individual, it is a fine of $15,000 or more, and in the case of a body corporate, it is in the area of $75,000 or more. In terms of whatever fine is imposed upon a person or a body corporate, the accuracy and the fairness of the regime will be paramount.

I guess, in terms of that, we have some reservations, especially given that part of the evidence that can be used, which we saw in Part 3, is the electronic monitoring system that can be used to track road-user charges, especially when last month that electronic system essentially packed up. We think that, maybe, in terms of the law and the practicality of the bill as it stands now, there may be some way to go, and we may be slightly ahead of ourselves in terms of being able to have an accurate measure of how some of these road-user charges will be calculated in terms of the infringement fines in Part 4 that may be imposed upon some people.

In terms of that electronic management system, last month vehicle owners were not able to renew their registrations or update their road-user charges or change of ownership details at New Zealand Post shops, so some serious questions need to be asked about the reliability of that system in terms of being able to use that as evidence to put infringement notices upon a company or individual. This goes back to the fairness and accuracy of the new system, moving from gross weights to nominated weights. There are some major concerns from some people and some companies within the industry as to whether the accuracy will actually be accurate. Instead of being accurate and fair, the provisions within this bill are basically another muddle through to make sure that we can catch everyone.

I have an honest question for the Associate Minister of Transport, who I understand is leaving the chair at the moment, about the level of evasion that occurs within the industry—the percentage of just how much of a problem there is at the moment.

I turn to an issue that my colleague Darien Fenton was talking about in terms of setting out the levels of road-user charges, and the fact that that will no longer have any public scrutiny but will now be done by regulation. As my colleague said, this breaks with the principle that there should be no taxation without representation. There is major concern on this side of the Chamber that there will be no scrutiny of that. I believe that in the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, in terms of the final numbers being available for scrutiny to make sure that the bill could proceed, I understand that they were not available and that the actual charges will be set by officials at some later date. That is what my colleague Darien Fenton was getting to: how can we scrutinise this part of the bill in relation to the setting of the levels of road-user charges when, in fact, we do not know what they are? Those are two major concerns, around infringement and the fact that these new charges will be set by regulations, which we have issue with in Part 4.

Going back to my original point about infringement fines of $15,000 and $75,000, I do not think we will have any major problem about that. But, again, I just reiterate the fact that we need to have an accurate measure of the evasion within the industry, because if we do not have that we may be fixing a problem that does not actually exist. In that respect, we ask whether there was actually a problem that needed to be fixed in a manner that will massively increase the amount of road-user charges that some of our truckers will have to pay. In terms of that, there is serious concern within the industry, and those concerned made their voices heard in the select committee. I have glanced over a number of the submissions made at the select committee, and there is real concern about the level of road-user charges that some companies will have to pay.

Lees-GallowayIAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) Link to this

I will make a little extra contribution particularly about clause 81 of the Road User Charges Bill. But before I do that, there have been some almost inaudible interjections from David Bennett about making sure we read the bill, and our putting up members who were not on the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. Well, David Bennett was on the select committee, and he has not taken a call. Mike Woodhouse was on the select committee, and he has not made a contribution either. Jackie Blue was on the select committee, and she has not made a contribution either. I would have thought, given that this part of the bill was one of the more controversial areas where submitters had quite a bit to say on it, it would be good to hear from the Government. It would be good to hear from Government members about why they think these provisions are so good, and why they are an improvement. I commend the Minister Nathan Guy for taking a couple of calls on the bill so far, but if Government members are going to chip in so much whilst Opposition members are on their feet, it would be nice if they could take a call and explain their position themselves.

The principal concern that submitters had about the fact that so many of these provisions and regulations can be made under Order in Council is related to their ability to plan ahead. If regulations can be changed with regard to road-user charges vehicle types, road-user charges weight bands, road-user charges licences, the display of road-user charges licences, and payments and electronic system providers—all of which potentially have significant cost to trucking firms and transport firms—then those affected want to have some certainty around what those costs will be. The concern of submitters was that if these regulations are being made by Order in Council, rather than any changes being made through legislation, then things could change quickly and without an awful lot of notice, and that would ultimately have an effect on their bottom line. It just makes it difficult to do business. I would have thought a National-led Government would have sought every possible avenue to make it easier to do business—that is their mantra, anyway.

WoodhouseMichael Woodhouse Link to this

A Labour Government wouldn’t—is that what you’re saying?

Lees-GallowayIAIN LEES-GALLOWAY Link to this

Well, actually, Mike—

WoodhouseMichael Woodhouse Link to this

Are you saying a Labour Government wouldn’t do that?

Lees-GallowayIAIN LEES-GALLOWAY Link to this

Well, what I am trying to say is that that is the rhetoric we hear from the National Government, but then we see in legislation like this that the facts do not necessarily back up the rhetoric. One would think that a Government that prides itself on being so business-friendly would do everything it could to make it easier to do business and to make it easier to plan. On this side of the Chamber we share those concerns, and we are not convinced that using the Order in Council process is the right way to set some of these regulations—for instance, in respect of clause 81(n), “ Electronic system providers”, which states: “regulating the collection, storage, use, or disclosure of information relating to road user charges that is held by an electronic system provider in addition to the provisions specified in this Act:”. This goes back to what I was talking about in the last part, about some of the concerns that many of the submitters had about what information would be collected, what that information would be used for, and their fear, I suppose, that the goalposts could be shifted rather quickly by the Government. The consultation processes would not be robust enough to give them an opportunity to have their say in any changes that might occur.

The same goes with payment methods: “prescribing the methods of payment of road user charges, including different methods of payment for different types or forms of licence:”. That could have a significant impact on how trucking firms do their business, what systems they have to have in place, maybe what information technology systems they have to have in place, and what payment systems they have to have in place. Again, it could be done with significant haste, without the full legislative process, and could see them having to change their business operation rather drastically. So we think that the track record on consultation is not good, and that firms have every right to be concerned about which changes might occur.

GoodhewJO GOODHEW (Junior Whip—National) Link to this

I move, That the question be now put.

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) Link to this

Sitting down here and reading through a bit more of this Road User Charges Bill I am again scratching my head. Part 4, as the Associate Minister of Transport pointed out and tried to explain, relates to enforcement and other matters, and I am going through it and looking at the provisions relating to search warrants. Search warrants was a very emotive issue when it was raised a few years ago by farmers in proposals that were originally on carbon tax and then on emissions trading, as I understand it, around the ability of people to come in and search farms, I think. The Minister in the chair, David Carter, could maybe take a call and explain what the emotion was about. I think it was related to the principle of the police being able to come in and search someone’s private property for things that were related to legal matters but were maybe not of such import that they could get a warrant to bust into a person’s home.

This is one such situation, dare I suggest, because clause 72(2) says that a warrant will be given “even though the offence is not punishable by imprisonment.” Many people in New Zealand think that search warrants are justified if the potential offence is a serious one—that is, where the police have to bust into a property to get evidence for something like serious drug offending, fraud, or major crimes such as murder and serious sexual offences, all of those things. But what are we talking about here? Road-user charges. The Minister might explain why the police should have a warrant—and quite a complex piece of drafting here relating to search warrants—for offences relating to road-user charges.

I have to say off the top of my head that reading through some of this complexity begs the question of why we do not just have a tax on diesel and be done with it—

Hon Members

Oh!

O'ConnorHon DAMIEN O’CONNOR Link to this

—and then not have people trying to avoid it. Well, it does beg the question. I am not sure whether it has been considered by the Government. I think it was considered by us and we rejected it. But if we have to end up with legislation like this—highly complex and quite a burden on anyone driving a diesel vehicle—to make sure that we get our road-user charges, then it begs the question of whether there is a simpler process.

The members over there are feeling quite uneasy because they know that they preached on the hustings at the last election—they will not be able to do it this time—that they would slash Government bureaucracy and they would slash the costs of compliance for businesses, and they have done nothing. In fact, in the second to last day of Parliament of National’s first and last term in Government it has passed legislation here relating to the payment of road-user charges, which, quite frankly, will bamboozle most people using diesel vehicles in this country. It does beg the question that I go back to of whether there is a better, simpler way of doing this.

I go back to the part that we are referring to here. There is another question relating to when a warrant is carried out and a person knowingly discloses information acquired during the inspection or the search. So if the police get a search warrant and bust into a farmhouse to get some information because they think that the farmer might be getting up in the morning to drive his truck down the road, it might be just over the limit, and he may not have paid road-user charges, so he has knowingly gone out there and offended, and the farmer’s wife is there and discloses some information—knowingly discloses it, because she tells the police—she is liable to a fine not exceeding $25,000.

There may be an explanation that the Minister in the chair can get up and tell the Committee, but dare I suggest that this part is so complex and has so many provisions in it that this compliance legislation—

UpstonLOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) Link to this

I move, That the question be now put.

NashSTUART NASH (Labour) Link to this

Mr O’Connor, the previous speaker on the Road User Charges Bill, brings up a very good point, and I would like to reiterate it a little bit more. He was talking about Part 4, “Enforcement and other matters”, and particularly clause 73, “Offence relating to disclosing information acquired during inspection of records or search”. Clause 73(1) says: “A person commits an offence if the person, except in the performance of the person’s duties, knowingly discloses any information acquired during—(a) an inspection of records …” or an authorised search.

There are two things here that strike me. First of all, the fine for an individual is $25,000. That is a lot of money; of that there is no doubt. For a corporate, it is $100,000. But to take Mr O’Connor’s point a step further, I would have thought that a clause like this may in fact stop people from coming forward and saying: “Shivers! Look, OK, I admit I have done wrong here”—

NashSTUART NASH Link to this

—shivers—“I have committed an offence under this Act. I am really sorry. Let me cough up, pay the charges, and let us get on with it.” With that sort of regime, there is a bit of scope, and we talked about it in Part 2, I think it was, where the road-user charges inspector had the ability to waive the fee. But what it is saying here is that if a person knowingly discloses information during the course of an authorised search or an inspection, then he or she is liable for a fine of $25,000, and I would have thought that that is a very good incentive to actually keep quiet—zip up, shut up. I would have thought that having this provision in place would discourage people from owning up.

There are a couple of other points I would like to make. Clause 71 lays out a defence for a person caught avoiding these road-user charges. I agree with subclauses (1) and (2), but subclause (3) is quite interesting. It says: “It is a defence in proceedings for an offence of operating a RUC vehicle without a properly working distance recorder … if a defendant proves that—… (c) a properly working distance recorder was fitted to the RUC vehicle, or the distance recorder fitted to the RUC vehicle was repaired, as soon as practicable after the commission of an alleged offence.” Again, “as soon as practicable” is one of these very subjective tests that is hard to measure.

I am wondering whether the Associate Minister of Transport will be answering these questions, because I can see he is busy reading about Auckland manufacturing and that it is probably slowing down. Many of us who work in the provinces and the rural sector know that these trucks are on the road 24/7. The drivers, of course, change, but these trucks—

FentonDarien Fenton Link to this

They work long hours.

NashSTUART NASH Link to this

Yes, the truck drivers work long hours, but these trucks are a piece of machinery and people have to get a return on their investment. So what does “as soon as practicable” mean? I suspect that those words may end up being defined by the court if there is a fine of $25,000 for an individual or $100,000 for a corporation. If a logging truck is coming out of Wairoa and Napier Road, it is going 24/7, so is “as soon as practicable” the next time the driver stops for petrol, or the Sunday after the offence is committed, or is it the 20th of the month when people stop to pay their bills? I am not sure what “as soon as practicable” means in that context. I am sure that smart lawyers will probably be able to wheedle their way through that.

My other point relates to clause 72, “Power to issue search warrant in respect of alleged offence”. That is pretty wide. It relates to when an offence has been committed, and that provision makes sense. It relates to when an offence is suspected to have been committed. If there is good suspicion, then a warrant will be issued. I understand that. But it also relates to when an offence “is believed to be intended to be committed.” So road-user charges collectors could get a search warrant if they believe that an offence is intended to be committed.

That is a pretty wide definition, I would have thought. I would say that it puts a lot of pressure on a defendant, and it is a wide scope for any collectors of road-user charges. All they have to say is: “I believe that an offence is intended to be committed.”, and if asked: “How can you prove that, Mr RUC Inspector?”, they need only say: “I believe that an offence is intended to be committed, because I saw him driving and I thought that the truck had been on the road too many times, and the driver could not have stopped because it was not practically possible for him to have done this.”

MacindoeTIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) Link to this

I move, That the question be now put.

Link to this

A party vote was called for on the question,

That the question be now put.

Ayes 63

Noes 56

Motion agreed to.

The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 287 in the name of the Hon Steven Joyce to Part 4 be agreed to.

Amendments agreed to.

Link to this

A party vote was called for on the question,

That Part 4 as amended be agreed to.

Ayes 63

Noes 56

Part 4 as amended agreed to.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3

The question was put that the following amendment in the name of the Hon Nathan Guy to the amendment set out on Supplementary Order Paper 287 in the name of the Hon Steven Joyce to schedule 3 be agreed to:

to omit the amendment relating to the Sentencing Act 2002 (2002 No 9) and substitute:

Sentencing Amendment Act 2011 (2011 No 47)

Section 27(4): new section 137(3)(fb) of the Sentencing Act 2002: omit “section 9 of the Road User Charges Act 1977” and substitute “the Road User Charges Act 2010”.

Amendment to the amendment agreed to.

The question was put that the amendment as amended set out on Supplementary Order Paper 287 in the name of the Hon Steven Joyce to schedule 3 be agreed to.

Amendment as amended agreed to.

Schedule 3 as amended agreed to

Clauses 1 and 2

JonesHon SHANE JONES (Labour) Link to this

Tēnā tātou, Mr Chairperson Tisch. You are moving at a trot, and, given the connection that is enjoyed by yourself and a host of others with that pedigree stock, I should not be surprised. I draw our attention, in clause 1, to “the Road User Charges Act 2010”. For the sake of the large numbers of Kiwis who have wondered what on earth we have been talking about, as a consequence of the Government promoting this legislation being thunderously silent and being unwilling to explain what is behind the name of this Act, I say that behind the title lies, unfortunately, creeping red tape. This could have been changed, but I draw our attention to “the Road User Charges Act” and remind us that the income derived as a consequence of this bill—that is, from those users on our roads, and in particular the owners of fleets of heavy-freight vehicles, or, if we were in the UK, lorries—[ Interruption] It does actually remind me of some of the pronunciation on the other side of the Chamber; it is not Māori but “Morries”. But it is one of those terms of the English language that fortunately did not make a full transition to the Land of the Long White Cloud, so we tend to regard them as heavy vehicles or trucks.

But the title reminds us that it is important that as the revenue is collected and paid to the New Zealand Transport Agency—and the agency is responsible for allocating this revenue to meet the costs not only of capital development but of the maintenance of our roading infrastructure—I remain hopeful that the current Minister and the board of the agency will see fit to allocate a proportion of the road-user charges gathered under the new regime to the transport system beyond heavy-freight vehicles. I have no doubt that over time we will hear an announcement of that nature from the current Minister. I have no doubt that the current Minister will show that the road-user charge moneys—the levy that is collected, perhaps more electronically, as a consequence of the passage of this bill—will no longer be confined to roads and bridges.

It is unfortunate that I use the word “bridge”, because vast numbers of our bridges have been starved and are in an anaemic fiscal state as a consequence of the funding priorities, yet the funds are being taken from the users of the heavy vehicle fleet. It is about time that these funds were deployed in such a way that all modes of the transport system can be supported. I am confident that we will have an announcement from the Minister that he will head in exactly that direction. I imagine that that is the only place where the Minister will be able to find—that is, in road-user charges and related moneys—funds to meet the costs of the debt. That man—or the Minister; I must not personalise this and say “man” or “woman”, because it is the position of the Minister; it is just unfortunate that it is occupied by that unworthy character. However, such are the vagaries of the National Government that it has promoted him above my friends—and they are my friends—on the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. I see a great opportunity for Mr David Bennett. He does share certain similarities with the current Minister, even if it is only in the anatomy, starting with the top of the head, but I think there is a great opportunity for him to be promoted. Unfortunately, that power does not lie with this side of the Chamber. It does, however, lie with the voters, and, hopefully, down in his neck of the woods they will see great virtue in the candidates on this side of the Chamber. They are already causing him to sweat. They are causing him to expire—well, I will not say expire, but perspire—and it is quite a sight to behold when someone follicly challenged like him perspires, but that is another matter.

I want to come back to the fact that without a doubt the current Minister will be showing New Zealanders how easy it has been—or will be, for him—to dip into the New Zealand Transport Agency fund and use it to meet the costs that he has imposed upon himself by taking this very parsimonious approach. Without a doubt the current Minister will be sort of accessing the hypothecated fund, which derives a lot of the underlying revenue from road-user charges, registration charges, and petrol tax. Only one of those three things is really covered by this bill—that is, road-user charges. I am quite confident that we will see an announcement come from the Minister that these road-user charges revenues will be dedicated to meeting the Crown’s costs associated with the loan required to upgrade the rail transport system in Tāmaki-makau-rau/Auckland. I am predicting that not with my usual unerring accuracy, but I am making a political prediction.

When this takes place, he will have demonstrated that the funds being taken from the heavy trucking vehicle fleet are being deployed and used for another category of transport. That is not necessarily a bad or a good thing, but it is a disappointment that the Minister has not risen, in the context of the Road User Charges Act, and elaborated on or shared that with the Committee. But it will happen in the usual circuitous fashion. It will happen without a suitable level of debate, as is one of the problems with this bill, and will happen in the circuitous and somewhat furtive manner in which regulations will be brought into the legislative sphere, imposing under the Road User Charges Act another level of red tape and another level of burden.

It is a problem that the Act does not fully capture what will happen here. People who own firms will be used as a consequence of this legislation. They will not find the task of owning a trucking firm or a transport firm made any easier, they will not find that the transition is blight-free, and they will not find that modernisation and electronic technology, which ought to be the hallmark and foundation influence of this legislation, will actually come to pass. So the term “user” will have both a negative and a positive connotation.

But it is important we bear in mind that these funds were originally dedicated for bridges, roads, and vehicles. They were not dedicated for purposes beyond that. I look forward to hearing the Minister of Transport demonstrate why he is justified in dipping into those funds to meet the costs—and I predict it will be the interest-related costs—of the $500 million that has been imposed on the transport division of the super-city, Auckland. That did not happen in Wellington, so Wellington was treated differently, and, given that I have such esteemed colleagues from Wellington, I imagine that it reflects their advocacy. But given the disdain with which senior Ministers of the current Government have treated Aucklanders, it does not surprise me. It does not surprise me that the Minister of Transport, having failed to dislodge Mayor Brown, and having demonstrated that he shows nothing but belligerence, that he shows nothing but hostility, and that on occasions he even deploys my fellow Northlander, a fellow member of the Golden Oldies rugby team, Mr McCully, to show bellicosity, anger, and a level of militarism whereby they declared martial law over the Viaduct—

TischThe CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch) Link to this

Order!

JonesHon SHANE JONES Link to this

Let me come back. Let me move away from the Viaduct Basin and let me come back to the title of the Road User Charges Bill.

I remind everyone that the funds associated with this regime are meant to be dedicated to the maintenance and capital development of our bridges, our roading system, and our associated assets. I predict that these funds will be broadened and used in ways that may not be unenlightened, but that ought to be the subject of a public policy debate. Their use ought to be the subject of a statutory disclosure. This man, Steven Joyce, has demonstrated that disclosure is not something that is in his political lexicon, as we learnt through his association with MediaWorks, etc. But the Government has made its decision, and it does not seem to bother the Minister at all, so let us see what the voters feel about that. But I predict that the moneys gathered and revenue levied will be used for rail purposes.

FentonDARIEN FENTON (Labour) Link to this

Can I say in my opening comments about the title of this bill how disappointed I am with the outgoing chair and other members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee who sat and listened to submissions from the industry on the Road User Charges Bill, yet have said nothing in this debate. I think they have demonstrated their contempt for the industry by not making any contribution. I would have thought that in the last stages of the debate on this bill, on the title, at least we could have a contribution from David Bennett. But, of course, we all know that his parliamentary career is a bit limited, and he certainly will not be the chair of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. We know that there will be issues after the election.

BennettDavid Bennett Link to this

Me and the Mad Butcher; we’ll get you!

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

Now the member has woken up.

I want to address the issue of the title, because clause 1 says: “This Act is the Road User Charges Act 2010.” I ask the Minister in the chair, the Acting Minister for Economic Development—I know he is looking at his magazine, reading stuff, and not really paying attention—whether that is intentional or whether he has not quite caught up with the fact that it is now 2011. It is not 2010 any more; it is now 2011.

BennettDavid Bennett Link to this

Darien Fenton lost 1 percent of the Labour Party vote.

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

The member can have his joke, but we will talk about that after the election. I have a serious question for the Minister in the chair, and he is not answering. I would like him to take a call. Is it 2011 or is it 2010? I do not hear the “ex-chair” of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee pay any attention to—

Hon Member

Say something useful.

FentonDARIEN FENTON Link to this

That is right. The chair does not even know it is 2011. He has not even worked out that there is an election this year. He is still living in the past, as this bill shows—

TischThe CHAIRPERSON (Lindsay Tisch) Link to this

I am sorry to interrupt the member. The time has come for me to report progress.

Progress to be reported presently.

House resumed.

The Chairperson reported progress on the Road User Charges Bill and no progress on the National Animal Identification and Tracing Bill.

Report adopted.

Speeches