Hon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: I move, That the Road User Charges Bill be now read a second time. I thank members of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for their hard work on this bill. I acknowledge the chair, David Bennett, and his team.
Road-user charges are paid by users of diesel vehicles as their contribution to the development and maintenance of New Zealand’s road network. This bill brings about the most significant reform of the road-user charges system since it was introduced in 1978. The bill aims to simplify and modernise the system, provide the opportunity for lower compliance costs, and reduce the level of road-user charge evasion.
The bill was referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee in February. The committee considered 41 submissions and heard 20 submitters, and has recommended a number of technical changes to the bill. I believe that the bill is better for these changes. A focus for submitters was the provisions of the bill that move the road-user charges system from one based on a vehicle’s actual gross weight, as nominated by a vehicle’s operator, to one based on a vehicle’s maximum permissible on-road weight. Operators will now be charged according to the capacity of their vehicle rather than an estimate of its total weight. The costs being recovered will effectively be averaged across similarly sized vehicles. I do appreciate that some submitters are concerned about what this means for the road-user charge that they pay. Overall the change will be revenue-neutral, but invariably there will be some winners and losers.
Road-user charge rates will be set in regulations issued under the new legislation, and the Ministry of Transport will consult with those affected on the content of these regulations.
Assigning each vehicle a fixed road-user charge weight will make purchasing road-user charge licences easier and reduce operating compliance costs. It will also eliminate weight-based error and fraud in the purchase of road-user charge licences. The committee has recommended a change to clause 12 of the bill, to provide greater flexibility for individuals operating vehicles at weights above their normal maximum limit to pay their additional road-user charge. A redrafted clause 12 provides two options for purchasing a road-user charge for vehicles operating overweight. This flexibility reflects the variation in circumstances under which vehicles may operate with overweight or high-productivity permits.
The committee also recommended changes to the record-keeping requirements in the bill, to ensure a balance is struck between retaining records that are needed to make an assessment of a person’s road-user charge obligations and the cost of holding those records. The committee has limited the scope of records to be kept and the duration for which they must be retained, ensuring that the bill creates no unreasonable compliance costs.
A number of submitters interpreted provisions in the bill as making electronic distance recorders mandatory for heavy vehicles. This is not the case. The bill provides an improved regulatory framework that will enable—not mandate—the use of technology. Operators will continue to have the choice of using an electronic system or continuing with the paper road-user charge licences and hubodometers.
The reformed road-user charge system will be supported by new regulations made under the bill. As I mentioned previously, the Ministry of Transport intends to consult with those affected on the content of the regulations.
Finally, I would like to ask the House to consider at the appropriate time a Supplementary Order Paper that will make minor improvements and correct a number of minor errors and omissions.
In conclusion, I say this bill will simplify and modernise the road-user charge system. It will reduce compliance costs for operators, eliminate the scope for error and fraud in the purchase of road-user charge licences, and simplify enforcement and administration requirements. I commend this bill to the House.