John Menadue. Increasing the petrol tax is good policy.

It may not be good short-term politics for the Abbott Government but it will be of long-term benefit to Australia if we lift the excise on petrol which has been frozen since 2001.

The motor industry will protest. It should be faced down, just as we should have faced down the mining lobby when it was being asked to make a fair return to the public for its depletion of our national endowments.

Our petrol prices are amongst the lowest in the world. That results in less revenue for the government, reduced fuel efficiency, increased congestion in our cities and more carbon pollution. I have reposted below a blog that I posted on November 20 last year ‘Cars are killing our cities’.

In the December quarter 2013 our petrol prices were the fourth lowest amongst the 28 OECD countries. Only Canada, US and Mexico had lower prices. Our diesel prices were the sixth lowest amongst OECD countries.

The action of John Howard in 2001 in freezing the indexation of fuel excise has cost us about $24 billion in cumulative losses of revenue. It has also been a contributor to the long term structural budget deficit we face. The IMF has made it clear that the Howard Governments were the major contributors to the structural deficit and not the Rudd/Gillard Governments. The Howard Government decision to freeze the indexation of the fuel excise and more importantly the income tax reductions year after year during the mining boom, were the major contributors to the structural deficit we now face. Unfortunately the Rudd/Gillard Governments didn’t act quickly enough. For example the Henry Tax Review recommended an end to the freezing of the fuel excise but the Rudd/Gillard Governments took no action.

The increase in fuel prices does make good budgetary sense. As Dr Paul Burke from the ANU has pointed out, allowing the excise to rise with inflation could generate enough revenue to fund Gonski.

Higher fuel prices will also encourage people to purchase smaller and more fuel efficient cars. As Dr Burke has pointed out ‘Higher fuel prices lead to consumers using less petrol and also consumers deciding to purchase cars that are more fuel-efficient’. He added that we are probably using about 3% more petrol as a result of the Howard Government’s decision in 2001.

It would be a mistake if Tony Abbott decides to try to placate the motor lobby by building more roads. That will just increase the damage. We need more and better public transport rather than more roads and cars. We need to break free from the addiction we all have to the car and the power of the motor lobby. Cars are destroying our cities and damaging our planet.

The Abbott Government decision on fuel excise looks like being a sensible and good start for a whole range of reasons. Can road congestion taxes be next!

Repost: Cars are killing our cities.

Congestion and pollution are killing our cities. The automobile is so convenient for all of us that we put aside the enormous problems that the automobile is creating. This is not just a problem for the industrialised and wealthy western countries. It is a problem for developing countries as they upgrade from bicycles to motor cycles and then to cars.

A constant message that we all generally endorse is that public transport, particularly trains in various forms, are the answer. But it is likely to be only a partial answer. Cities like London and Paris have excellent metros or underground public transport systems, but road congestion is still horrific and it is getting worse.

Some hard-headed political decisions will have to be made about automobile congestion and that will involve decisions to curb the use of cars in our cities. This will not please the very powerful motoring lobby. It won’t please Tony Abbott who wants to build more roads as a major plank in upgrading infra-structure.

One inevitable decision would be severely restrict any more new freeways… Such an approach would have to be accompanied by a congestion tax with the revenue hypothecated to public transport. With a congestion tax system the higher the level of congestion the higher the rate of tax. It would provide a clear incentive/penalty for motorists not to travel at peak times.

I just cannot see our cities surviving without congestion taxes to limit the number of cars. With such congestion taxes, we will all be forced to make decisions whether our use of the car/van is worth it, whether for private or business purposes.

We will also need to address other options to reduce the number of cars on the road including increased sales taxes, registration fees and the fuel excise. In almost every respect these imposts are much lower in Australia. In Denmark the sales tax on motor vehicles is 143%, in Finland 53%, the Netherlands 48% and Sweden 30%.  In Australia it is 10%

One feature of most European cities is that their cars are much smaller than ours. That reduces both congestion and pollution. To take a local example, a Toyota Hilux 4×4 emits on average 4.6 tonnes of CO2 each year compared with a Toyota Corolla of 2.3 tonnes of CO2 each year. These larger cars not only pollute more and congest our roads, but also dominate parking facilities.

We can’t keep putting off the debate about limiting the growth of cars in our cities. They are making city life more and more difficult and unsustainable. Public transport is only part of the solution. We have to limit cars on the road. Only in quite exceptional reasons should any more freeways be built. It is a vicious circle with more freeways encouraging more car use and really only shifting the bottlenecks.

We need to break free from our own addiction to the car and the power of the vested interests in the motor lobby.

We need to limit cars on the roads at peak times as well as building public metro systems. Paris and London show us that we need to do both

When the Mayor of London directly tackled the gridlock on London’s roads many years ago he gained wide support.

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