Hopes of a toll-free introduction for truckies to the controversial NorthConnex tollway in Sydney could rest on a debate in State Parliament this week.
NSW Shadow Minister for Roads John Graham tells Big Rigs today that his Toll-Free Bill is expected to be argued in the Lower House on Thursday.
“Tomorrow the government party room has to decide for or against it. They’ve been caught by surprise on this one. It’s moved a bit quicker than they were expecting.
“We’re racing to get this through in place ahead of NorthConnex. They, for whatever reason didn’t adopt a party position on it. We’ve been hopeful that they might be open-minded and back the bill.
“We’ll see what happens tomorrow. But certainly [Andrew] Constance, as minister, has been opposed to it. He’s for the money and for not having toll-free periods.”
Graham says Labor isn’t opposed to tolls in Sydney but is against ‘tollmania’.
“We’re opposing the fact that it’s gone too far,” he says.
“The fact tolls go up 4% every year but wages and inflation go up by much less. It’s the lack of toll-free periods, the fact truck drivers pay a toll or pay a fine [$191].
“There is no free road alternative for the first time and it’s the new tolls on the old roads. There hasn’t even been a lick of paint on the M5 East, no road improvement but there is a toll on it after it’s been free for 20 years.”
He says the depth of feeling against the charges slugged on truckies was brought home to him when he attended Saturday’s protest rally against the proposed NorthConnex toll of $23.73, organised by the Transport Workers’ Union NSW.
“It really drove home to me how strongly the feeling is across the trucking industry.”
TWU NSW State Secretary Richard Olsen was rapt with the large turnout on Saturday, but disappointed with the lack of response so far from Constance as a result.
“This is urgent and these are real issues that confront the transport industry and as such I expect him to be on top of it and respond in a reasonable time frame,” says Olsen.
“Yet here we are on Monday afternoon and we still haven’t heard a word.”
The TWU is calling on the NSW Government to ensure:
- No New Tolls.
- Compensation for any toll road increases from 2020 and that compensation scheme will remain in place until the pandemic is finished.
- A cap on the tolls commercial vehicles pay.
- In the future the NSW Government and Transurban will help operators of commercial vehicles facing hardship, even though Linkt and Transurban are currently refusing to do so.
- Industry Agreements will include clauses that include compensation for the costs of using toll roads.
- Government will make cost recovery easier by locking fair payment times into legislation. Transport industry businesses and owner-drivers should be paid within 30 days.
- Government can show leadership and share the responsibility for a fairer industry to ensure all Government contracts include enforceable minimum standards and rates.
Olsen says that if the Toll-Free Bill isn’t given the green light this week it won’t be the end of the lobbying from the union on the issue.
“Businesses should be able to make own decision as to whether they want to use the economics, and believe the tunnel is better, or choose to use another route,” he says.
At the moment there’s no real rhyme or reason [for enforcing tunnel use] other than that the State Government has sold us out to Transurban to utilise a private road when a public road is quite readily available to be used.”