Congestion charges for motorists could be one of the items on the agenda for micro-economic reform in WA, according to the head of the State's economic regulator, amid warnings WA political leaders needed to foster a "mature" discussion of the reform agenda if the State was to make progress.
Speaking at an American Chamber of Commerce in Australia business lunch yesterday, Economic Regulation Authority chairman Lyndon Rowe said the ERA's micro-economic reform inquiry, launched with an issues paper last month, had already attracted a wide range of submissions. It closes on Friday. Mr Rowe said issues included waste management, forest products and retail trading hours.
With public transport infrastructure and traffic congestion the hottest topics at the last State election, the ERA asked for comment on user charges for roads, public-private road-building partnerships and means of "encouraging off-peak use of infrastructure" including roads and public transport.
Mr Rowe said the ERA did not have a preconceived agenda, but he expected congestion charges "in some form" to be considered, given the importance of the issue.
The use of congestion charges to reduce traffic in the Perth CBD was last suggested in a March 2012 paper released by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia. It attracted widespread public criticism and Transport Minister Troy Buswell quickly distanced the State Government from it.
But Mr Rowe warned that political leaders had previously been too quick to ditch unpopular reforms from the political agenda, saying a "mature" discussion was needed to push the State's economy forward.
"The hardest bit for us will be to explain in simple terms why micro-economic reform is important," Mr Rowe said. "The problem with all micro-economic reform discussions is that it's very easy to identify losers out of the process, and the winners are often very obvious but they're often . . . not very vocal."I would hope that we could do this in a way in which there's enough maturity that we can have the debate before we decide whether it's off the agenda."