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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3196


Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(5.18) —in reply-I thank the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil), the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell), the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis), the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Wells), the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher), the honourable member for McPherson (Mr White) and the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) for their contribution to the debate which has been fairly wide ranging. I noticed some sudden expressed new interest in defence and the Alice Springs-Darwin railway. But in the main the contributions have been of a constructive nature. They have certainly set out the difficulties that face this Government with the shambles that it has inherited from the previous Government in respect of the railway system and of trying to put it together. It does give some encouragement that there is a bipartisan approach to the legislation and there is so much in transport that we can achieve if we can maintain a bipartisan approach to the national integration of the network. I hope that we can develop more along those lines.

I thought that the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil) made a constructive and thoughtful speech and that is in keeping with his record as a great fighter for the people of Grey and for the railway towns in Grey. I say to the honourable member for Grey that Port Augusta has a very great future as a major centre for the Australian National Railways Commission. It is rather difficult that from time to time, even under the previous Government, there were those who for reasons of, I think, only public mischief, seemed to get some pleasure from destabilising people in that region and workers of the Commission with arguments and rumors that some degradation was in mind for Port Augusta. Port Augusta has a great future. I heard the honourable member for McPherson (Mr White), who represents the colonels, make what can be described only as a tongue in cheek contribution to the debate. Really, it is not a debate about defence; it is a debate about the future of the Australian National Railways Commission, about improving its efficiency and accountability.

I will take a moment to state again that the plight of the railways around this country today is evidence of the failure of conservative governments over the years since World War II to give a priority to financial investment in railways. The railways suffered under Liberal-conservative managements. The achievement of the Liberal Country Party Government in the Northern Territory was to close down the Darwin-Larrimah railway line. That was the first thing it did in 1976. It is rather ironical that the honourable member for McPherson made these comments when in his electorate it was the Queensland Government which tore up the railway from Surfers Paradise to Brisbane in the mid-1960s. It is now looking for Federal funds to try to rebuild that railway. It is the arch irony of all Liberal party utterances on this issue.

In respect of the Alice Springs-Darwin railway line, it is simply a matter of what the Government and this country can afford. We have said that it is an important development. It is something that a lot of us would like to see go ahead. I do not resile from the statements I made earlier this year or from the commitments I made during the election campaign. However the simple fact is that it is what the taxpayers of this country can afford that is important. We can afford 60 per cent of the cost of that project. Unfortunately, the Northern Territory Government can afford only rhetoric. It is the top political priority of that Government. This project is its bottom financial priority. The Northern Teritory has not been able to put forward one dollar in support of the project. History will show that, as far as the Northern Territory Liberal Country Party Government is concerned, its exercise has been one of cynicism, point-scoring and rhetoric.


Mr Groom —Who is going to win?


Mr PETER MORRIS —I am not concerned about winning; I am concerned about what is best for the people of this country, what is best for the people of the Territory and what we can afford. Honourable members opposite have put to us today that there is no limit to what we can afford. They want us to return to their squandering days, seven years of squandering which virtually bankrupted this country. Nobody on the Opposition side of the House seriously believes that , if the Opposition had been returned to government, it would be proceeding with the construction of the Alice Springs-Darwin railway. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) is mute; he has not uttered a word. He would be the Treasurer if the Liberal Party were still in government. He has made the point, though, that the Budget of this Government ought to be several billion dollars lower this year. That effectively screens out any commitment that the former Government might have had. I have rasied this question before, and I have raised it in the Territory, and no one has responded. They know in their hearts that, if there were a conservative government in office today, that project would not be going ahead. As far as we are concerned, we have no intention to carry on the same irresponsible approach to financial management in this country or the same rifling of taxpayers' pockets that occurred under the previous Government. We are doing what we can afford to do in a responsible and sensible fashion.

I want to read into the Hansard the points the honourable member for Denison raised. First he raised the question of the transfer of the Tasmanian Government railways to the Federal Government. He first called it a confidence trick. Then he made what I thought was a rather incredible contribution. He said that the railways should not have been transferred. I noticed that the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) said on several occasions: 'We will get it back'. I interpret that contribution from the honourable member for Braddon to mean that the Tasmanian Government is interested in the Tasmanian Government railway system being transferred back to the State Government. If that is the case and the five Liberal members are speaking as one on this issue, as I was told by the honourable member for Denison they were, then I suggest he ought to put a proposal to the Government. This guilty gang of five from Tasmania now want a passenger service restored to Tasmania. They closed this service down, as they ripped up the railway in the electorate of McPherson. Now they say: 'Please, Mr Hawke's Government, give us back a passenger service'. They are the guilty gang of five.


Mr Groom —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. The term 'the guilty gang of five' is offensive. I ask for it to be withdrawn.


Mr Goodluck —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) — Order! I am dealing with a point of order . I would not have thought that the term was offensive, but if the honourable member really insists I ask the Minister to withdraw it.


Mr PETER MORRIS —Mr Deputy Speaker, I withdraw. I was describing how the five Liberal members for Tasmania were those guilty of agreeing to the closure of the Tasman Limited passenger service during the term of the previous Government.


Mr Hodgman —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. Unfortunately, the Minister is misleading the House, as he so often does. The decision was taken by the Australian National Railways Commission and was opposed by all five members.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr PETER MORRIS —The statements I have made are absolutely accurate. They can be vouched for from Hansard and from public records. I say no more. I am just repeating the record. This can all be read in the parliamentary record and in the records of the Commission. Honourable members opposite are really asking me to undo the great damage and the great wrongs they have done to the people whom they were elected to represent. Be that as it may, the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman), who has remained silent throughout this episode, raised with me earlier in the day-


Mr Groom —What about Wynyard Airport?


Mr PETER MORRIS —Can the honourable member not tell the difference between a train and an aeroplane? One runs on rails and the other flies in the air. Earlier in the day the honourable member for Bass raised with me the question of statistics and information on the performance of the Tasmanian section of the Australian National Railways. This matter was raised on his behalf by the honourable member for Denison. In response to both honourable members, I do not accept that we should be disaggregating the financial results of the Commission in their published form across regions that are not really relevant now that equipment is moved between sections and the operations are exchanged.


Mr Hodgman —That is a disgraceful way to describe Tasmania-'a region that is no longer relevant'.


Mr PETER MORRIS —That is the honourable member's comment. I do not agree with him. Tasmania is absolutely relevant. Tasmania is vital to this country. If the honourable member sees it as irrelevant, that is his statement. He made a statement that Tasmania is irrelevant. I do not agree with him.


Mr Goodluck —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order. In a calm, organised fashion we, the Tasmanians, want to be part of Australia. We want to make absolutely certain that the Minister gives us a fair go. He does not.


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr PETER MORRIS —Mr Deputy Speaker, I was responding to the request made of me earlier in the day by the honourable member for Bass. As I explained, I am not prepared to see those figures presented in that disaggregated form.


Mr Hodgman —You hate Tasmania. You are a disgrace and you ought to be dismissed from office.


Mr PETER MORRIS —If the honourable member does not mind I would like to continue . If the honourable member for Bass wants information on the separate financial results of a particular section, I would be quite happy to make that information available at a later stage. There were two matters raised by the honourable member for Bass. He presented a letter to me from Mr Partridge which dealt with the financial results, and that is what I am responding to. The second matter he raised concerned accident statistics. No one is more concerned than the Government that Australian National should operate in a safe manner, that it should have the best safety record in railways. There are provisions in the legislation with which we are dealing to ensure that I must be informed of all significant accidents involving Autralian National. Given those provisions, I see no difficulty in providing to this House, possibly on an annual basis-we can discuss that later and decide upon it-a statistical summary of the accidents reported to me. We could then summarise that report on a regional basis to show where the accidents occur and the nature of those accidents.

This concern and the number of recent accidents involving Australian National have prompted me to write to the Chairman of Australian National suggesting that a review of level crossing safety in Tasmania be undertaken. I expect that the results of the review will be available early next year. In addition, I have received representations from the Tasmanian Minister for Transport on the issue and I have proposed to him and the Chairman of Australian National that the Tasmanian level crossing committee be reconvened. So we are very conscious of the issue that has been raised. We have acted upon it. We are prepared to look at the other matters raised at a later stage. I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate. Let me say in conclusion that when we look at the performance of AN its achievements ought to be seen in the perspective of what is happening to the rest of the private sector in transport service. There have been difficult times and AN, along with other major transport operators, has experienced those times.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.