Victorian EV road charge system compared to Robodebt

Victoria’s Ombudsman has found a litany of failures in the state government’s implementation of its electric vehicles levy, and compared the road charge system to Robodebt.

Deborah Glass

The report looks at the application of the state’s Zero and Low Emission Vehicle Distance-Based Charge legislation which applies to electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Owners of zero and low emissions vehicles aren’t subject to the Commonwealth fuel excise, which goes towards roads maintenance, so the legislation was introduced in 2021 to make sure the drivers of the state’s 19,2000 registered EVs are paying their share.

It does so by charging them for each kilometre they travel on public roads, including outside Victoria.

The legislation is already controversial and is currently the subject of a High Court challenge on a constitutional point.

Thousands affected

In a report tabled this week, Ombudsman Deborah Glass found that thousands of Victorians have been affected by the charge since it came into force.

Ms Glass says her office has received more than 30 complaints and the transport department, which administers the levy, has received 180 complaints, of which 67 per cent were about unsatisfactory process or policy.

The report says the charges are being unfairly administered and compares them to Robodebt.

“As the Robodebt inquiry showed us, there are dangers in making assumptions and using average calculations to charge people,” she says.

“We found an unreasonable lack of policy guidance to those administering the legislation, inflexible handling of complaints, and an unwillingness to exercise discretion.

We found an unreasonable lack of policy guidance to those administering the legislation, inflexible handling of complaints, and an unwillingness to exercise discretion.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass

“While this report focuses on the actions of the Department of Transport and Planning, there are broader lessons for the public sector about the dangers of making policy on the run (or not making it at all), and the importance of exercising discretion.” Ms Glass said.

Ms Glass found while the department has the discretion to waive charges where they are inappropriate, it’s been reluctant to exercise this discretion, and there’s no guiding policy on how it should be used.

And when EV owners questioned or complained about charges, the response from the department was ‘unhelpful and evasive’.

The department also unfairly suspended and cancelled registrations, and imposed ’penalty’ charges, even though it had no authority to do so, the report says.

‘Smoke screen for inaction’

The report makes a range of recommendations including that each existing complaint should be reviewed and addressed.

Ms Glass also criticised the logic of imposing a charge on electric vehicles when the government has adopted a net-zero emissions roadmap by 2050.

She accused the department of using the High Court challenge, which argues that the State of Victoria lacks the constitutional authority to impose such a charge, as a smokescreen for inaction.

“Whether or not its validity is successfully challenged, this legislation is being administered unfairly. This needs to change,” she said.

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One thought on “Victorian EV road charge system compared to Robodebt

  1. More appropriate recover cost of damage caused per Mega watt hour from brown coal power? For same revenue, tiny $, distributed whole population, disincentive use coal power and incentive renewables?

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