Industry concerns over the ramifications that Victoria’s controversial electric vehicle charge would have on the uptake of electric trucks have been quashed after the landmark High Court ruling yesterday that found the “tax grab” unconstitutional.
The state government charge on zero and low emission vehicles (ZLEV) had been applied at a rate of about two cents per kilometre and was designed to match the contribution drivers of fuel-powered vehicles already make to road maintenance through a commonwealth fuel excise.
Most other states already had similar charges in place, or in the works, but it’s expected that they will now have to fall in line with a federal government decree on how electric vehicle owners will pay their fair share.
Although the proposed Victorian tax excluded heavy vehicles, if the High Court ruling had gone the other way, the Australian Trucking Association argued that there would be no constitutional obstacle to Victoria, or any other state and territory, extending the charge to trucks.
“An extension of the ZLEV charge to heavy vehicles would have a significant financial impact on the ATA’s members,” the ATA said in a 19-page submission to the High Court in support of the plaintiffs, electric car owners Christopher Vanderstock and Kathleen Davies who mounted the High Court challenge.
The motorists argued the tax was an illegal “tax grab” because it was an excise, which only the commonwealth could impose, a point that the ATA also strongly agreed with.
“The commonwealth parliament’s exclusive power to levy distance-based taxes on the use of vehicles on Australian roads ensures that the revenue raised from those taxes is available to be spent on the entire national road network,” the ATA wrote.
“The commonwealth is the polity best placed to ensure that the revenue raised from the use of the Australian road network is deployed on the construction and maintenance of that network in a way that aid[s] the national growth and progress of the people for whom [the Constitution] has been made.”
Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari said the High Court ruling would pave the way to better policy across the nation.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with road user charges, but they should never be calibrated to discourage the take up of electric vehicles,” Jafari said.
“The electric vehicle industry warned the Victorian Government this policy was muddleheaded years ago, and the offer has always been on the table to work with the state on a more sensible approach.
“Any road user charge scheme should be national and we now look forward to working with the federal government on sensible road funding reform, without singling out drivers who are trying to do the right thing.”
Opposition transport spokeswoman Bridget McKenzie said the High Court’s ruling meant the responsibility for collecting road user charges fell squarely on the commonwealth.
Senator McKenzie now called on the Albanese government to immediately convene a meeting of state and territory governments to discuss the future of petrol tax and road user charges.
“(Transport Minister) Catherine King can’t hide behind emissions standards or state governments but has to show leadership on how we are going to pay for our roads in a low-emissions transport sector future, instead of explicitly ruling it out of her considerations,” Senator McKenzie told The Australian.