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has tabled her investigation into the Department of Transport and Planning’s implementation of the zero and low-emission vehicle charge. The report details a range of failures in the State Government’s implementation of the road-user charge for electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (ZLEVs) under the Zero and Low Emission Vehicles Act 2021 (Vic). The Ombudsman received more than 30 complaints about the application of the ZLEV Act. These complaints concerned two main issues – whether the charges were unreasonably applied, considering how owners used their vehicles, and whether additional charges imposed after submitting a late odometer declaration were wrong. One driver of a plug-in electric hybrid, a vehicle that can use either fuel or electric power, reported travelling thousands of kilometres in remote parts of Australia using fuel, as there were no charging stations. Despite the driver paying fuel excise on those kilometres, the Department did not waive the additional hundreds of dollars payable under the ZLEV charge. “We found an unreasonable lack of policy guidance to those administering the legislation, inflexible handling of complaints, and an unwillingness to exercise discretion. It is also wrong to charge penalties not provided for in legislation, and the money collected under this ‘penalty’ should be repaid.” Ms Glass said. Drivers must generally provide photographic evidence of kilometres travelled at the start and end of each registration period. One case in the report highlighted the unfairness faced by a driver who was late providing the required photo of their vehicle’s odometer because they were overseas. Instead of responding flexibly, the Department cancelled her registration. If an odometer declaration becomes overdue, the Department estimated a charge based on the ‘average travel’ of Victorian vehicles. This occurred even where people told the Department this estimate exceeded the distance the ZLEV had travelled in its lifetime, as a ‘penalty’ charge. In five complaints made to the Ombudsman, the Department initially refused to amend invoices where the estimated kilometres exceeded the total distance the vehicle had travelled, describing it as a 'penalty' for lateness. There is no provision in the ZLEV Act for the Department to impose a penalty charge. “As the Robodebt inquiry showed us, there are dangers in making assumptions and using average calculations to charge people. Assumptions have been made about how people will use their electric vehicles, which plainly disadvantage people with older vehicles or those who have less access to charging stations. “And 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. RURAL TECH ENTREPRENEUR BAGS 2023 AGRIFUTURES RURAL WOMEN’S NATIONAL AWARD Glenmore-based flower farmer, tech entrepreneur and co-founder of Grown Not Flown, Nikki Davey has officially been named the 2023 AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award winner for her work in creating a digital platform and app connecting flower farmers and consumers, globally. NSW resident and artistic director Michelle Leonard was awarded the National Runner Up title, for her work in creating and founding regional choir, Moorambilla Voices, Ms Davey and Ms Leonard were joined by their fellow national finalists, who were recognised for their outstanding contribution to rural communities and industries during a recent ceremony. Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Murray Watt, made the announcement during a black-tie gala dinner at Canberra’s Parliament House recently in front of over 500 government officials, industry representatives, members of the award’s alumni, other state finalists and their families. The AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award is Australia’s leading award in acknowledging and supporting the critical role women play in rural and regional businesses, industries and communities. With the ongoing support of sponsors, Westpac Agribusiness, the program provides opportunities to showcase and inspire the next generation of female leaders across Australia. In addition to the $15,000 Westpac grant already awarded to the seven state and territory winners, Ms Davey and Ms Leonard will receive a further $20,000 and $15,000 respectively to progress the development of their winning projects. FARM RELIEF TOOL TO CONNECT FARMERS WITH GOVERNMENT HELP Australian Government farm business lender, Regional Investment Corporation (RIC) has launched the Farm Relief Tool, a new directory to connect farmers affected by drought, natural disaster or biosecurity events with Australian Government financial and mental health support. A collaboration between RIC, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Farm Relief Tool provides important resources for farmers seeking to prepare and recover when faced with challenging times. RIC Chief Executive Officer John Howard said the Farm Relief Tool has been developed in response to agriculture industry calls for simple and easily accessible resources and RIC is pleased to collaborate with DAFF and NEMA to produce it. “Just like other useful tools farmers have in their shed, the Farm Relief Tool is a simple directory for farmers hit by NEWS NOVEMBER - DECEMBER 2023 | POWER EQUIPMENT AUSTRALASIA | 7