Friday, August 14, 2009

User Pay Proposal Just Another Attack On Liberty

A proposal has emerged from a submission to the Henry review of taxation which recommends that every vehicle on the road should be fitted with a tracking device in what would be the ultimate “user pays” system of raising revenue. The idea is that the movements of every vehicle could be monitored, and the driver could be charged a road user fee based on distance travelled, the congestion of the road, and the time of day. It is intended as a way of combating congestion and pollution, and supposedly making road use charges more fair. The trouble is that it has been proposed by city based academics who probably have no understanding of the needs of ordinary everyday people, especially in regional Australia.

The argument is flawed for a number of reasons, but the most important is the simple fact that the user has already paid. We all have already paid our taxes, we have already paid our registration, we have already paid our petrol excise, we have even submitted to paying tolls to traverse what should have been public roads. Now apparently we are to be expected to pay on a per kilometre basis, and even then some kilometres will be more expensive than others depending on demand. It is economic rationalism taken to the extreme, and fails to recognize the fact that road ways are supposed to be community infrastructure, owned by all the community, and we all should be entitled to access them.

Paying more to access more heavily populated areas will only discriminate against those who are less able to pay. It is an affront to liberty which cannot be justified by the failure of state governments to provide adequate and efficient public transport in metropolitan areas. The whole idea of having everybody pay the same registration fee is that the cost of the infrastructure is spread across the community. If there must be a user pays component to using the roads, well it already exists in the form of the petrol excise. The more you drive, the more you pay.

There is another even more sinister aspect to this which should be ringing alarm bells. If every motor vehicle is fitted with a tracking device, we take another step closer to becoming an Orwellian Big Brother society. It may not be the intention at first, but the opportunity would arise for the government to track every movement of every vehicle at every moment of the day. Where you go, when you go and how fast you go could all become data at the fingertips of the authorities, and once the ability to collect that data exists it is only a matter of time until somebody abuses it.

We will of course be told that if we do no wrong then we have nothing to fear, but I would hope that nobody would ever fall for that. It is a line which has been wheeled out by authorities around the world as long ago as the inquisition, and it is no protection against injustice. The fundamental principles of a free and democratic society are supposed to be based upon freedom of expression, freedom of faith, and freedom of movement. Under this proposal, our movements would no longer be free, in any sense of the word.

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