Asciano loses tax fight

Pacific National.

Pacific National.

Asciano should pay duty on the lease of rail lines in NSW as the lease gave it the right to use the land surrounding railways, the High Court of Australia has unanimously ruled.

The court upheld the ruling of the NSW Court of Appeal in “Asciano v Chief Commissioner of State Revenue”, which found a rail access agreement fell under the Duties Act and therefore should be subject to stamp duty.

The legal battle started when Asciano’s rail business Pacific National refused to pay the State Rail Authority (SRA) duty of $0.6 million plus interest for the SRA’s land on which the company’s rail lines and infrastructure sit.

In 1996, Pacific National entered a rail access agreement with the Rail Access Corporation (RAC) and was granted access rights to railway lines and related infrastructure, which formed part of the RAC’s rail network in NSW. 

The chief commissioner of state revenue requested the amount, based on $162 million the company paid under the lease between 2000 and 2003.

The company argued that the agreement only conferred the right to use the physical items that comprise the NSW rail network, not the land itself. The chief commissioner, however, contended that the facilities including rail track, drainage works, tunnels, bridges, crossings and buildings were all land.

The High Court dismissed Pacific National’s arguments, saying the agreement provided for access to and consequential use of land by others.

Meanwhile, Pacific National has launched a new east-west rail service as part of its express business.

The new service will depart Melbourne late on Thursday night for arrival into Perth Sunday morning.

The company said the new Melbourne to Perth express service will compete directly with road on one of Australia’s most critical freight corridors.

“The need to create more rail capacity for freight customers is a sign for things to come. With fuel prices increasing and the continuing focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rail mode share will only increase in the future,” Pacific National division general manager Paul Garaty said.

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