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Tuesday, 17 September 1996
Page: 4417

Mr SAWFORD(3.47 p.m.) —Mr Deputy Speaker, you could take the arguments of the Minister for Transport and Regional Development (Mr Sharp) as somewhat plausible if he would make available the full Brew report, but of course he will not. You just cannot take anything that he has said with any seriousness at all. This debate focuses quite clearly on the absolute incompetence and impotence of the 16 federal Liberals from South Australia and on the perfunctory state Liberal leadership in South Australia and Tasmania. This debate focuses quite clearly on the failure of the federal government to recognise the vulnerability of the economies of South Australia and Tasmania.

This matter of public importance gives ample evidence of the abandonment of any policies to retain jobs in regional Australia. The regional centre of Port Augusta is to lose 550 jobs and $20 million out of its economy. It has been abandoned by this government. The loss of up to 2,500 jobs is a clear indicator of the government's total ignorance of what is necessary to develop viable employment policies in this country.

This debate signals the government's abrogation of any semblance of the fair distribution of resources to all parts of Australia. This matter of public importance displays ample evidence of the government's cowardice in dealing effectively with any matter on transport or infrastructure in this country. This is the beginning of leadership with referred responsibility to be taken by the authors of reports, in this case the Brew report.

Government has proved too tough for the 16 Liberals from South Australia. Opposition for the last 13 years has put them onto a cushion of comfortableness and lethargy. They cannot raise themselves. They do not have the courage and the guts to get up and defend South Australia. Why are Senators Hill, Vanstone, Minchin, Chapman, Ferguson and Ferris so silent on the junking of South Australian jobs by this government? Where is the defence of South Australia and Tasmania from the members of this House? The member for Adelaide, who is here, and the member for Grey (Mr Wakelin), on whose electorates this will mostly impact, have been done over.

What about the other eight members? Where is the leadership from the member for Mayo (Mr Downer)? Where is the so-called tough negotiator, the member for Barker (Mr McLachlan)? There are four members in the cabinet and not a result for South Australia. The members for Hindmarsh (Mrs Gallus), Wakefield (Mr Andrew) and Sturt (Mr Pyne) have been around long enough. Why are they all so silent? And what about the new member for Boothby (Dr Southcott)? How does it feel to be completely overruled on any defence of South Australia that you may have meekly offered?

The real crunch comes on the new members for Kingston (Ms Jeanes) and Makin (Mrs Draper). They are surplus to requirements and they are to be sacrificed because this government has no employment policy. It must be said to the members for Grey, Adelaide and Hindmarsh that they are obviously on the use-by list as well, which is just as well because one particular Liberal state government, led by Premier Dean Brown, has led South Australia to fewer jobs now than when he took over the mantle in 1993, and has just received from this federal government the big battering ram.

It is blatantly obvious that Liberals from South Australia, whether state or federal, simply do not grasp the vulnerability of the South Australian and Tasmanian economies. Under Labor, South Australia was always paid special attention. Its vulnerable economy was recognised. There are probably up to 20,000 defence jobs in South Australia courtesy of the former Labor government. We have the submarine contract and the expansion of British Aerospace and all the spin-offs that that encouraged. What about the car industry? Under the Liberals there would have been no expansion whatsoever at Mitsubishi or General Motors.

Mr Tanner —Zero tariffs.

Mr SAWFORD —Zero tariffs. The third point I wish to make is: what is the message for regional Australia from the Minister for Transport and Regional Development? Is he really saying to the people and the community of Port Augusta, `Sorry, you're not in the game plan. Hang up your mantle and head off'? This matter of public importance exposes for all to see the total absence of any semblance of an employment policy. It appears that whenever this government comes across the words `employment' or `unemployment' the old word processor simply goes blip.

This government totally abrogates its responsibility for national leadership in its response to the Brew report. It is a fascinating report. The South Australian government is so on top of protecting South Australian jobs that you could have knocked me over with a feather when I found out that it did not even put in a submission. The Labor Party did, the unions did, the City of Port Augusta did, everybody else did, but not the Premier. The Premier did not care.

What about the Brew report? Actually, a very doctored version is the only document available. In relation to collection of evidence, substantive arguments, rational analysis and looking after the national interest, it is not available.

What a strange way this government operates. Senator Tambling tables the Brew report one day, apparently explaining that no decisions are being made by the government. He says that any proposals are yet to be decided. The transport minister, the member for Hume, says the same—`Don't panic, the government will make the decisions, not the Brew report.' But the following day, 24 hours later, Australian National puts out press releases seeking expressions of interest for four out of eight key businesses, which included workshops and infrastructure services—maintenance. They explicitly said that there would be no sale of the track corridor.

Hang on a minute, pass that over me again. This mirrors exactly, Transport Minister, the Brew report. What a remarkable coincidence! Transport minister creates coincidence, bettering the odds of a cross lotto win! The member for Adelaide then asked the transport minister a question in question time, and the minister predictably blamed the former Labor government for the failed corporate plan. Hang on a minute! Isn't there an obvious contradiction in the minister's spin-doctored line? On day one of the tabling of the report Labor is blamed for doing nothing, but on day two it is a different story—Australian National is taking drastic action. The question needs to be asked: who gave approval for the drastic action by AN? Was it the letter to AN on 15 August, Transport Minister? AN's press release is pretty explicit. The transport minister may wish to reflect on the fact that, by omission, he may have misled the parliament. In fact, he basically acknowledged that in question time today.

This government plans to privatise Australian National, kill rail in South Australia and 2,500 jobs in the process. This is a sell-off of South Australian jobs and industry. Is there no appreciation whatsoever in this government of what tariff reductions and the restructuring of Australian industry have done to the South Australian economy? I say to the member for Adelaide and the member for Grey that we have fewer jobs now than we had three years ago. The Liberal's plan, for which the transport minister wants to rely on the Brew report, is simply a suicide note for AN—a suicide note for their workers and a suicide note for their families. It is telling them to get up and get out of Port Augusta.

The state Premier refused to make a submission to the Brew report. The Labor Party did, the unions did and the City of Port Augusta did. The Premier will not even meet AN workers. Will the South Australian Premier, Dean Brown, guarantee to use his legal powers under the railways transfer agreement to try to save the jobs? Will any Liberal on that side stand up and fight for South Australia?

South Australia and Tasmania are to get one big kick in the guts by this government. Port Augusta could lose up to 550 jobs and $20 million out of the economy. The closure of Islington will see hundreds more jobs go. The recommendations in the Brew report, just released, provide no access to information on which decisions and recommendations will be based. Rational debate on this issue is impossible.

This report, which threatens thousands of South Australian and Tasmanian jobs, cannot properly be examined. This lack of information prevents the capacity of workers, unions and local government, even that dopey state government in South Australia, to participate in a proper debate. Is this the Liberal's view, Transport Minister, of transparent, honest, fair government?

Given the enormity of what the government plans for AN and its serious impact on South Australia's economy, is there one Liberal on that side of the House who will stand up and ask for a full copy of the Brew report so that there can be open and honest discussion about its findings and recommendations? All we want is one Liberal with some courage, integrity and honesty to stand up for South Australia. Are there any takers on that side of the House? What about the member for Makin, the member for Kingston or the member for Grey? No. What about the member for Adelaide? No. The member for Hindmarsh? No. The member for Boothby? No. The member for Sturt? No. The member for Wakefield? No. The member for Mayo? No. The member for Barker? No. There you have it. South Australia will be sold out by the federal Liberals here in this House, supported by their six impotent senators in that other place.

I have an interesting quote which the member for Grey made on radio the other day, but I will keep it for later. (Time expired)