Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 3893

Mr RUDDOCK —On behalf of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, I present the 261st report of the Committee, relating to the review of the Auditor-General's efficiency audit of the Department of Territories-Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network, ACTION, and I seek leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr RUDDOCK —I thank the House for the opportunity to address this report briefly. This report is about the Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network, ACTION. I must admit that, when I saw the name ACTION on buses, I wondered what it was. The report's findings show that ACTION conducts a reliable, comfortable service which is generally of a high standard, but that there are significant problems which prevent it from maximising efficiency and accountability. This report addresses these problems. The Committee believes that ACTION's lack of suitable information systems and its administrative location within the Department of Territories are fundamental to many of its difficulties. ACTION does not appear to have full control and responsibility for its operations. While the Committee believes that ACTION should be given greater autonomy, it is firmly of the view that it should remain accountable to the Minister for Territories, the Parliament and the community it serves. As a consequence, the Committee has recommended that steps be taken to form ACTION into a ministerially accountable authority to serve the public transport needs of Canberra.

The Committee is somewhat reluctant to accept that ACTION should become a statutory authority in order to improve efficiency. Honourable members will no doubt appreciate that there has been increasing concern over recent years at the proliferation of statutory authorities, many of which appear to be somewhat unaccountable. However, in the Australian Capital Territory a number of authorities operate which are now ministerially accountable and have that greater independence that the Committee believes is necessary if ACTION is to be accountable and efficient. The Committee also notes that, as Canberra's population continues to grow, this independence will become more vital to ensure an efficient bus service. The granting of greater independence to ACTION should not be, however, at the cost of accountability.

The Committee became aware of several sensitive issues associated with ACTION and matters that might very well go to its efficiency. They include matters relating to the way in which industrial relations questions are addressed. The Committee agreed with Audit that, in the interest of achieving greater efficiency in ACTION's operations, a thorough examination should be made of alternative shift arrangements and it hoped that a joint study that is in the process of being undertaken at the moment might provide some information to assist in such an examination. The Committee noted that the Department had commented that the issue of shift arrangements is sensitive and regretted that the Transport Workers Union did not respond to two invitations to comment on evidence given by the Department. The Committee was persuaded by its inspection of facilities for another transport operator, Transperth, and other comparative information that the use of split shifts and part time drivers can lead to substantial reductions in public transport running costs. Given predictions of increased demand for peak services and the continuing requirement to improve ACTION's efficiency, the Committee recommended that ACTION conduct a detailed evaluation of split shifts and part time drivers in consultation with the Transport Workers Union. Mr Deputy Speaker, you can see from those comments the direction of the Committee's thinking in relation to this very important question.

The Committee was also concerned to find that ACTION had no bus acquisitions policy. ACTION now has five brands of buses in its fleet of 400. This variety of buses contrasts markedly with other transport operators and appears to lead to significantly higher costs in the number of spare parts needed, the training that mechanics have to undergo, the facilities for maintaining the buses and the like. If there is a multiplicity of brands, those costs are correspondingly increased. The Committee therefore recommended that ACTION develop a methodology for estimating the economic life of its bus fleet and then proceed to establish the expected bus life of the various types of buses in the ACTION fleet, to formulate a bus acquisitions policy and to review that policy annually.

The Committee's report also addresses several other important issues connected with, firstly, ACTION's performance standards; secondly, inadequate information systems; thirdly, limited annual reporting; fourthly, problems of fare collection; and, fifthly, provision of bus services. While the implementation of the recommendations in this report will assist ACTION to overcome many of its problems, a joint study is currently being conducted by the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of Territories which should provide ACTION with much needed information on which to base its future operations. The problems identified by the Auditor-General in the operation of ACTION and the necessity for further recommendations in this report confirm the importance of such audits and their review by this Committee and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure which shares the responsibility to review efficiency audits.

As this is the last opportunity I will have this year to speak in relation to the activities of the Public Accounts Committee, I simply add my thanks to the secretariat of the Committee, particularly those of its members associated with this report. I thank them very much for their involvement and for the outstanding work they did in its preparation at the end of a very busy session.