Any move away from fuel excise to a road user charge would require a public information campaign because many motorists have no idea they even pay petrol tax, says urban infrastructure minister Paul Fletcher.

Mr Fletcher, who is in New Zealand to examine its heavy vehicle user charge, re-emphasised that any move to a user charge for light vehicles was at least a decade away and would need the approval of all the states.

The government will soon commission a study into replacing fuel excise and registration fees with a system in which motorists would be charged for every kilometre they drive.

The inquiry, a key element of the government’s 15-year infrastructure blueprint released in November, will examine the change the government and the industry believes is inevitable as the use of petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles declines. The industry has urged the government to start preparing the population for the change, such as itemising the 39¢-per-litre excise separately on receipts.

Mr Fletcher told The Australia Financial Review that about one- third of motorists “don’t even know there’s a fuel excise” while another third have no idea what the rate is.

If motorists were going to accept a road user charge, “we need to explain the current system”.

In Australia, heavy vehicle users pay a road user charge but the system is complicated and inefficient and the government wants to streamline it, using the New Zealand system as a model in which drivers are charged per kilometre travelled.

Once the Australian heavy vehicle user charge is reformed, it could serve as a model for a charge on cars and other lighter vehicles.

In Australia, heavy vehicles are defined as 4.5 tonnes and above and make up about 3 per cent of vehicles on the roads.

The government is in a relative hurry to implement the new heavy movement charge with a discussion paper planned for the first half of this year.

Mr Fletcher noted that in NZ the revenue generated from the charges is put into a dedicated fund that can be spent only on roads and which is administered by an agency independent of government.

“Successive reviews, including Infrastructure Australia’s Australian Infrastructure Plan and the Harper Competition Policy Review, have advocated for reform of heavy vehicle user charging in Australia to include elements similar to the New Zealand system,” he said.

Extracted from AFR.