AM - ABC Local Radio Broadcast - Tuesday 15 February 2005

Council proposes 4WD tax

Reporter: Nick Grimm

TONY EASTLEY: A Sydney council is leading the push against the ubiquitous four-wheel-drives on Australian roads, with a plan to charge discriminatory parking rates.

North Sydney Council will charge four-wheel drive owners more for residential parking permits and cut charges for those who own smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Some four-wheel-drivers say it's a matter of the "fun police" taking all the enjoyment out of life.

AM's Nick Grimm reports.

NICK GRIMM: To those who fear them, they come by any number of names - Toorak tractors, Mosman mum-mobiles, Balmoral behemoths. Some even refer to them as urban assault vehicles, or even as weapons of mass destruction, though they're hardly hard to find.

Sure they're handy when you're halfway up a sand dune, or crossing a dry creek bed, but compared to a regular car, they handle badly around the cities where most of them live.

They suck up a lot more fuel too, cost more to register and they are hard to park.

But they are big, roomy, comfortable, and to their growing legions of owners and admirers, four-wheel-drives represent freedom, rugged individualism, and confer the kudos that comes from looking down on all the other drivers who can't mount a curb when they want to.

But now comes the backlash, with one inner Sydney council voting to introduce higher residential parking fees for owners of four-wheel-drives.

North Sydney Council says the plan is revenue neutral, which means that owners of four-wheel-drives will be subsidising residents with smaller, more environmentally friendly vehicles.

Harold Scruby, from the Pedestrian Council of Australia, has been waging a long war against the four-wheel-drive proliferation on our streets, and he feels like he's won a battle.

HAROLD SCRUBY: Well first of all, four-wheel-drives generally pollute far more than your standard passenger vehicle, and therefore councils have an obligation to try and improve the environment, as we all do and as all governments do.

But secondly, four-wheel-drives these very large ones, and that's the ones we're talking about take up an inordinate amount of parking space. So why isn't it fair that councils tax them more than your standard small to medium size vehicle?

NICK GRIMM: Of course, the owners of these vehicles are already paying higher costs in registration and petrol and so on. Aren't they already paying their way?

HAROLD SCRUBY: Definitely not. In fact, they get a special dispensation, which is a hangover from the old days, when these vehicles were actually brought in as farm trucks. So there's a five per cent tariff on your four-wheel-drive and yet a ten per cent tariff on your far safer, far cleaner small to medium size vehicle.

NICK GRIMM: But talk to those who love their four-wheel-drives and you hear a very different view.

GEORGE COTTEE: I think it becomes the fun police are over-active when they start to regulate what people can and can't drive, what people can and can't wear if you like. That'll be the next thing.

NICK GRIMM: George Cottee is from the New South Wales Four-Wheel-Drive Association.

GEORGE COTTEE: Well, first of all, I think it's a bit discriminatory in the sense that a four-wheel-drive basically takes up no more footprint, if you like, than a normal car. And there's certainly different sizes of four-wheel-drives. In fact, some sedan cars are bigger than four-wheel-drives in terms of footprint. Certainly four-wheel-drives are a bit higher, but no more space required.

NICK GRIMM: Well, the council's arguing that it wants to encourage people to use smaller, more efficient vehicles. Is that a legitimate aim?

GEORGE COTTEE: I don't believe so. I think people, if you've got something that road registered, and in good condition, you should be allowed to park it wherever other people park their vehicle. But see, some people buy four-wheel-drives, and we say they don't take them off road. But they might buy them to go for that trip to the remote areas. They might buy them to carry tools, like, for all sorts of reasons.

TONY EASTLEY: George Cottee is from the New South Wales Four-Wheel-Drive Association ending Nick Grimm's report.
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