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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3588


Senator ELSTOB —My question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport relates to continuing efforts by various State and Federal governments to improve the viability of the rail system. An announcement recently by the Australian Transport Advisory Council tends to confirm widely held community beliefs that rail is still having difficulty in exploiting its full potential, particularly in the transport of freight over long distances between capital cities. Would the Minister care to comment on whether rail in Australia is viable?


Senator GIETZELT —It will be conceded that the Government's overall strategy in response to problems facing public enterprises has been to make them all more efficient and viable. A great deal of effort has been directed to that end by the Hawke Government, not only because we believe that, in the particular case that Senator Elstob has raised, the transport system plays a vital role in the economy, but also because it costs the taxpayers something like $1,400m a year to fund the deficits of our transport system. That is a matter of some concern to taxpayers, as well as to the Government.

It is understandable that the Minister, Mr Peter Morris, would take to the Australian Transport Advisory Council proposals to make endeavours to reduce that deficit and to make our transport system much more efficient and viable. As a consequence, he has announced the establishment of a rail industry council, comprising representatives of rail management, unions and the relevant State governments. Thus, for the first time there will be established in Australia a body of representatives of the rail systems to work on a strategy to improve the efficiency, viability and competitiveness of our rail industry. That is an important initiative and one that I am sure will have the support of all people in Australia because of the need to make our industry competitive and to have regard to both the passenger and freight components of our transport industry.

The Government believes that this initiative, which will be based on co-operation and consultations among the various sectors of the transport industry, will come up with plans to reduce the deficit and make our rail industry much more competitive.