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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2734


Mr REEVES(10.56) —Whenever a debate on transport legislation comes before this House it has become par for the course for the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher), to propose the closure or scrapping of one of the Northern Territory's transport links. I notice that he is not here this evening while we debate this important piece of transport legislation, the Inter-State Commission Amendment Bill. However, in September this year he came into the chamber and told honourable members that the Labor Government should not spend the $5m we have allocated for the Alice Springs to Darwin railway and that he does not want any more design work done on that railway for the time being. It follows that he does not want the Government to proceed with that project at all.

He also came in here last week and told us proudly that the Liberal-National Party if it ever manages to get back into government would disband the Australian National Line. It follows from that that he and his Party want to scrap the Darwin-east coast shipping service. Having heard two of his proposals about two of the Territory's transport links, I approach transport debates in this House with some degree of concern and curiosity-concern because I just wonder what he proposes for our other two links, road and air, and curiosity as to how it is that the Opposition parties retain him as the shadow Minister for Transport when he obviously wants to close down the whole of the Australian transport system.

Nonetheless, in relation to the Inter-State Commission Amendment Bill-as I said , I notice that the shadow Minister for Transport is not here-I have these comments to make: Australia can lay claim to thousands of miles of highways, railway lines, air routes and sea lanes. Our country is about the same size as the United States of America, yet we have a fraction of the population with which to service this vast network. At the same time most of Australia's population is concentrated in the major mainland capital cities and most of Australia's land mass is very sparsely populated. It is therefore not surprising that the transport sector accounts for $1 for every $10 of gross national expenditure. Freight is a very significant part of our cost of living. For example, estimates suggest that in the Northern Territory freight costs push the cost of living up by between 15 and 20 per cent. Concern about the level of the freight component on goods has led to inquiries being established by both this Federal Government and the Northern Territory Government. I will come back to the national inquiry in a minute.

While I am sure that our founding fathers did not foresee this growth in the size of our transport systems over the past 80 years, nevertheless they did include in the Constitution provisions for the establishment of an Inter-State Commission. The inclusion of these provisions during the 1890s demonstrates how important transport must have been in the economy even then. I must say it surprises me to learn that although the Inter-State Commission Act received bipartisan support in 1975 the former coalition Government neglected to take any action to bring it into effect. This Labor Government in its first year of office has moved to bring the Inter-State Commission Act into effect and to make the amendments covered by this Bill tonight. One of the first tasks of the Commission will be to review the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme, and I am sure that honourable members from Tasmania will be pleased to hear that.

I turn to an unfortunate limitation of the Inter-State Commission, and that limitation is that the Commission will not cover Territory-State transport links , specifically trade between the Northern Territory and a State. The Northern Territory accounts for one-sixth of Australian land mass. It is one of the most sparsely populated areas of this sparsely populated country. The Northern Territory accounts for thousands of kilometres of Australian roads, air routes, sea lanes and a few hundred kilometres of railway line. Section 101 of the Constitution provides:

There shall be an Inter-State Commission, with such powers of adjudication and administration as the Parliament deems necessary-

The operative word is 'State'. I am aware that the consideration of that section has led to its interpretation as being that it does not apply to Territory-State trade. I refer specifically to the case of Morgan v. the Commonwealth in 1947 where it was held:

The other associated sections consist of provisions all of which either define, or limit in some way, the exercise of the power of the Commonwealth Parliament in relation to trade and commerce-a power which, as already stated, is derived from s. 51 (i) of the Constitution and is therefore limited to inter-State and foreign trade and commerce.

It was further held:

In s.101, which prescribes the powers of the Inter-State Commission, the reference to 'the provisions of this Constitution relating to trade and commerce , and of all laws made thereunder' is most obviously a reference to legislation enacted under s.51 (1).

I concede that, on the face of it, that interpretation limits the application of section 101 to powers under section 51 (1) of the Constitution which precludes Territory-State trade. However, section 92 of the Constitution has been interpreted in relation to State and Territory trade. There is an analogy between that section and a proposal I have about making this Inter-State Commission legislation apply to the Northern Territory. Section 122 of the Constitution provides that:

The parliament may make laws for the Government of any territory-

I suggest that it should be possible under section 122 for the Commonwealth Parliament to adopt a law in exactly the same terms as this Inter-State Commission legislation to apply to the Northern Territory. The question is then whether that legislation binds Territory-State trade outside the Territory. I suggest that it does. Section 49 of the Commonwealth Northern Territory (Self- Government) Act provides:

Trade, commerce and intercourse between the Territory and the States, whether by means of internal carriage or ocean navigation shall be absolutely free.

That is in exactly the same terms as the old section 10 of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act and also in the same terms as section 92 of the Constitution. That particular section was considered in a case of Lamshed v. Lake. The question being considered in that case was whether section 10 of the Northern Territory (Administration) Act applied to a journey between the Northern Territory and South Australia so as to overcome South Australian law which prohibited that journey in South Australia without a licence. The Court held that the provisions of section 10 of the Northern Territory (Administration ) Act applied to overcome the South Australian law requiring that journey to be held with a South Australian licence. In other words, applying that to the situation with the Inter-State Commission Amendment Bill, it is my contention that it should be possible to legislate in exactly the same form as this Bill does to apply to the Northern Territory and particularly to trade and transport links between the Northern Territory and the States with that legislation being made under section 122 of the Constitution. I would suggest that the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) give some consideration to that because if the Inter-State Commission is not able to operate on a national basis then it can hardly, I suggest, operate effectively. If one-sixth of the land mass of Australia is excluded from its operation as well as a large part of Australia's transport links, including rail, air and sea, then obviously it is hampered in its operation.

For the enlightenment of the shadow Minister for Transport, who is still absent , I indicate that it was because of this limitation on the operation of section 101 that the national road freight inquiry should have been established independent of the Inter-State Commission. Any person with any knowledge of the limitations of the Inter-State Commission-one would expect the shadow Minister for Transport to have such knowledge-would have known that. The second reason, of course, was the matter of urgency because the Inter-State Commission Act was not in force at the time we decided to set up the national road freight inquiry. It was considered that it was necessary to set up that inquiry urgently. We were pressured by the State to do that. The Minister quite rightly acceded to their request. The limitations that I have mentioned are not of the Minister's making. They are of the making of the people who originally formed the Constitution. Putting that aside, I am very happy to support this Bill because it will do a lot to ensure that Australia has a rational, efficient and-subject to the limitations I have mentioned-national transport system as well as a means of investigating that system when it is found lacking.