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Tuesday, 4 October 1983
Page: 1292


Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(8.52) —I would like first to thank those honourable members who participated in the debate, particularly the Chairman of the Caucus Transport Sub-Committee, the honourable member for Ballarat (Mr Mildren), the very competent and very able Chairman that he is, the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) and the honourable member for the Northern Territory, the hardworking John Reeves. I would also like to take the opportunity to commend the honourable member for Lilley (Mrs Darling), although she did not speak in the debate, for her work to date in revitalising the activities of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Road Safety. It is a very important committee. It is a committee from whose activities we can get a great deal of social benefit as well as financial benefit for a relatively small outlay.

We should remember that the estimates before us and the Budget of which they form part have been drawn up against a background of an economic shambles that this Government inherited. I think it says a great deal for the Treasurer (Mr Keating), the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) and the Cabinet that in the seven short months almost since the change in government we have been able to draw together the priorities that are needed to put this economy back on a stable and growth basis and, at the same time, attend to the pressing priorities across the range of responsibilities that the Government has taken on. This Budget stimulates economic activity. The funding in the Estimates creates jobs and provides a basis for a return to economic prosperity and a return of business confidence. The Estimates are fair and they help the people in greatest need and, more than anything else, the programs that we have undertaken are designed to help the unemployed. The Government's objective in these Estimates is not just economic recovery, but sustained economic growth. The real incomes of Australians cannot improve until we manage to increase the size of our national income by using our resources effectively. It is in this area that the Budget provisions and the Budget estimates of the Department of Transport make an important contribution.

As far as transport is concerned, we will be spending some $1,433m this financial year, a boost of 21 per cent on last financial year. Our main priorities will be road building, firstly to improve our infrastructure and, at the same time, to create more jobs. Some 19,000 additional jobs will be created this year as a result of the funding being provided in the Estimates for road works. Another priority is road safety, which I have already adverted to, and which for so long was neglected by the previous Government. We believe that by investing in road safety not only do we save more Australian lives, but we also make a contribution to a reduction in health expenditure and to improved transport efficiency.

I will not go through the details of the provisions of each of the estimates as they are already covered in the documents before the chamber. I want to make mention first of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme which I thought may have been mentioned this evening. It has been a matter of some controversy. With the proclamation of the Inter-State Commission Act of 1975 on 26 September last, it is the intention of the Government to establish the Commission later this year. The first task that the Commission will have to undertake will be a review of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. Before that can commence, in honouring the undertakings that I have given to industry, interest groups in Tasmania and to the Tasmanian Government, there will need to be consultations with the Tasmanian Government and with interest groups and industry groups such as the Tasmanian Chamber of Industries-Mr Frank Palmer and his fellow executive- so that there is an understanding in the terms of reference that what we are about will best meet the needs of Tasmania.

In commenting on the remarks of the various speakers, I must say that frankly I was astounded at the statement made by the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume, that the $5m being provided in the Estimates for completion of the route identification, preliminary design and planning of the Alice Springs-Darwin railway, should not be spent. He went further to say that the $5m ought to be held up. This was a dramatic contradiction of the remarks he made later when he complained that the project was not going ahead and that we had offered immediate construction to the Northern Territory Government on the basis that we could afford to pay for 60 per cent of the cost of the project if the Northern Territory Government could find the other 40 per cent. It is simply a matter of what this country can afford. We inherited a Budget deficit at least 50 per cent greater than that which all of Australia had been led to believe by the former Prime Minister and by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) .

It is very interesting that, in the period since we announced our decision in respect of the railway, there has not been one word from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. In fact, his contribution to debate on the economy has been that the deficit in this Budget is too high. I ask the chamber whether anyone seriously believes that if the Opposition had been returned to government that, facing the $10,000m deficit that it had created in its seven years of office, it would have started work on the Alice Springs-Darwin railway. No one believes that, least of all the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Really, we have had a token protest about our Government's decision. But the economic rationalists sitting on the benches opposite now know very well that had they been returned to government they would not have commenced that project. We have not said we will not commence it. We have said that we can afford 60 per cent of the cost of the project. If it is the top financial priority of the Northern Territory Government, we ask it to assist. Can it find the other 40 per cent because certainly if it is its top political priority it is its lowest financial priority.

Let us look at the record of the Liberal-National parties on railways. It is a very, very shabby and abysmal record. They have been in office for 30 years since World War II. Their main feat was to tear up the Darwin-Larrimah railway in 1976, the only railway the Northern Territory ever had. It was a narrow-gauge railway. That was their contribution. The Tarcoola-Alice Springs line was commenced by the Labor Government in April 1975. The commencement of that line and its completion in 1980 led to the circumstance that it was worth then considering constructing a railway line from Alice Springs to Darwin. Let us look at the expenditure for the Alice Springs-Darwin line. In 1980 the former Government promised $10m to be spent on route identification, survey, design and planning. When it lost office it had underspent that amount by almost half. In these Estimates we provide, in one year, an amount equal to all of its efforts from 1980 onwards. So let us get the facts in place. What has confused the picture even more, recently, has been the decision by the Northern Territory Government to share with the Queensland Government the cost of half a million dollars for the feasibility study into a railway from Mount Isa to Tennant Creek to Alice Springs to Darwin. The point that is being raised, properly, is: What is the Northern Territory Government's preference? It does not have one miserable dollar that it can put towards building the Alice Springs-Darwin railway. Not one positive proposal has come forward from that Government. There has been a lot of politicking, a lot of posturing and a lot of cheap rhetoric but not one miserable dollar. It is very quickly able to enter into an agreement with the Queensland Government to share the cost of a half-million dollar feasibility study into a railway from Mount Isa to Tennant Creek to Darwin and Alice Springs. The other thing that is most confusing in all this debate is the insistence of the Northern Territory Government that the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin is perfectly adequate; that it does not need any upgrading carried out on it. That is something that the Northern Territory Government will have to explain to the people of the Territory.

The point we have reached in respect of the railway is that an independent economic inquiry has been set up under the chairmanship of Mr David Hill from the State Rail Authority of New South Wales-a man who is highly respected and highly regarded in this country. He is the administrator of the largest railway system in this country. When his name was put forward to the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory his first telex response, along with some other comments, was that he would accept it; that he would go along with it. He had a weekend to think about it and he came back with another response. He came to the conclusion that Mr Hill was an appointee of a Labor colleague government and, therefore, most unsuitable to carry out an independent inquiry into the proposed railway. For that reason he would not agree to Mr Hill's appointment. The Chief Minister of the Northern Territory did not say that the person he recommended was none other than Mr Clem Jones, the former Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane and a well- known Labor identity. So on the one hand, Mr Hill, a skilled railway administrator, is unsuitable because he is an appointee of a Labor government, and, on the other hand, a former leading Labor personality and Labor Lord Mayor of Brisbane is acceptable. I leave people to draw their own conclusions about that. The position at this stage is that the inquiry will proceed under the chairmanship of Mr David Hill.

The shadow Minister for Transport adverted also to the $5m. He did not seem to understand what the $5m was about. It seems to me that he just has not read the estimates. The matter is clearly explained on page 46 of the explanatory notes for my Department. I just recommend that for his perusal. In respect of the financial performance of the Australian National Railways I remind the House that the accounts and financial results at which we are looking for the past year are all the result of seven years of bungling mismanagement of the economy of this nation by Liberal-National Party governments. Those honourable members who sit opposite are the guilty men. They produced these results; they mismanaged the economy. The point was made by the shadow Minister for Transport that the lost subsidy to ANR last year was $106m. These etsimates provide $85m. He said that these figures seemed to have gone askew from the objctives of the corporate plan intended for ANR by the previous Government. I remind him that it is all his doing. His comments are really a condemnation of his and his colleagues' mismanagement.

The next matter that was raised concerned the Australian National Line. The records will show, as the annual reports come in, that over a period of seven years the four public authority transport enterprises-ANR, ANL, Trans Australia Airlines and Qantas Airways Ltd-were all denied adequate capital, leadership and support by the previous Government and were subjected to a vendetta by members of the then Government and those who now sit opposite. The effect of that vendetta was devastating on the performance of those enterprises. The demoralisation, the lack of interest, the lack of policy directives from the Government, all contributed to the results we see coming forth in public transport enterprises. One of the very first actions we took was to place ANL on a sound financial footing. The capital injection of $90m was to put it on a sounder financial basis. A concord was reached between the sea-going unions, the management of the Line and this Government to improve the productivity of the organisation, to improve efficiency and to give the Line a chance to improve its performance. As a trading nation we rank about seventeenth in the world. As a maritime nation we have an abysmal rate of participation. About 3 per cent of all cargoes go out on Australian flag ships. We should have a fairer share of international trade in Australian flag ships, but to do that we have to make vessels more competitive and more efficient. we are doing that, something the previous Government--


Mr Moore —Go talk to the unions.


Mr PETER MORRIS —We have talked to the unions and reached a concord with them, something the Opposition will never be able to achieve. The only thing it understands is division, confrontation and lack of leadership. That is why each of those public authority enterprises has experienced the difficulties it has. We are changing all that.

Let me turn to the matters raised in respect of Tasmania. I will deal first with the replacement of the Empress of Australia, which was raised by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman). One of the major difficulties here is the constant change in policy of the Tasmanian Government. A committee which the previous Government established in November last year came down with a report, which I understood at the time to be a final report, in favour of an ANL proposal for two combined freight-passenger car ferry vessels to operate across the Bass Strait as a replacement for the Empress. When we came to Government we were advised that the Tasmanian Government's preference was not for that proposal at all. It did not support that; it wanted passenger-cargo ferries only . It did not want a bar of the ANL proposal of last year.

Subsequently it has again changed its policy. It now seems to be interested in the ANL proposal. On 1 July at a meeting in this building with the Tasmanian Minister for Transport I undertook to ask the officials in Victoria, Tasmania and the Commonwealth to hasten the completion of their final report. One would have thought it would have been finished under the previous Government, but it was not. The draft report was sent to the Tasmanian Minister for Transport on 23 August. It sat there until we got a phone call on 23 September. There was a rush and a bustle to try to get some action. Since then views and amendments have been exchanged, and I am expecting to receive in the near future the final report from those officials. When I do, just as quickly as I can I will convene a meeting of the relevant Transport Ministers from Victoria and Tasmania.

I turn now to the matter of the two passenger ferries. There is no specific proposal from the Tasmanian Government to this Government for a passenger car ferry only. The Premier of Tasmania wrote to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) on 5 August seeking advice about financial support for an additional passenger ferry for the summer season. On the same day he also wrote to the Australian National Line. On 12 August the Australian National Line replied to the Premier of Tasmania and made these points. It said that before accepting such a proposal it would be necessary, first, to identify a suitable available vessel which would have to meet the requirements of the Australian Navigation Act. It said it would be necessary to agree to the manning and conditions with the unions. The Australian National Line said it would be necessary to bring the vessel to Australia. It said it would be necessary to determine and agree to ports of call and additional facilities required to service the vessel. It said it would be necessary to provide the extra staff and computer capacity to arrange the bookings. It said it would be necessary to advertise the service and then to determine who pays to subsidise any losses accruing.

That advice went to the Premier of Tasmania on 12 August. My understanding as of a few days ago was that the Australian National Line had had no further response from the Premier of Tasmania. So again the ball is in the court of the Tasmanian Government. I repeat, as I said the other day in Launceston, that the Tasmanian Government on these issues is very long on talk and rhetoric but very short on action. There is no specific proposal for a replacement from the Tasmanian Government before this Government. The Premier telephoned the Prime Minister on Friday. The Prime Minister mentioned the matter to me this morning. My understanding is that the Prime Minister did not tell the Premier that a decision would be made this week but that the matter would be considered this week. Again, more confusion has been brought in from the Tasmanian end.

I have tried to respond to those matters that have been raised by honourable members in the debate. I just want to emphasise that as a government we have acted as quickly as we can in putting transport on a more sound and efficient basis. Whilst surface transport might not have the glamour of some of the other issues in this country, its efficiency and cost are absolutely fundamental to the economic performance of this country. Until we can improve our transport efficiency and make our transport services, particularly those on an international level, more competitive we will have difficulties in expanding our overseas markets.

Proposed expenditures agreed to.

Department of Employment and Industrial Relations

Proposed expenditure, $158,441,000.

Department of Education and Youth Affairs

Proposed expenditure, $730,303,000.