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Thursday, 3 December 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [9.23].- I move-

That the bill be now read a second time.

The need for the amendment of the Commonwealth Railways Act has become apparent in order to clarify the position of the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner in relation to railway lands, and to meet conditions as they exist to-day in regard to competition from motor traffic. The bill now before the Senate contains amendments dealing with those subjects, and also several other amendments relating to staff and general railway matters. The bill is mainly of a machinery character; but a few observations on the various clauses will give to honorable senators an idea of the reasons which prompted the Government to submit the measure for the approval of Parliament.

Clause 2 is designed to ensure that all Commonwealth railways and rolling stock shall be vested in the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, and, in respect of the lands, provision is made for an estate in fee simple. This is actually the position at the present time with respect to Commonwealth railways, except for a small portion of the railway between Katherine and Pine Creek, in the Northern Territory. The object of clause 2 is, therefore, to ensure that the property rights in respect of that portion will be similar to other sections of the Commonwealth railways.

The next clause deals with the competition between the railways and motor transport. For some time, the Commonwealth railways, in common with other railway systems, have been subjected to motor competition, particularly on the Trans-Australian Railway. The object of clause 3 is to enable the Commissioner to combat that competition. It will enable special rates to be quoted to customers who use the railways for the whole of their traffic as against those who patronize the road-motor services also. The proposed amendment of the act is on the lines of an amendment recently made to the New South Wales Railways Act.

The other amendments to which I shall refer at this stage are contained inclauses 4. 5, 6, 8, 10 and 11. The amendment proposed by clause 4 will provide that continuity of employment shall not be broken unless more than twelve dayselapse between the termination of the prior permanent employment of an employee and the commencement of his employment with the Commonwealth Rail ways. The present provision allows only three days for a new appointee to take up his position.

Clause 5 and paragraph a of clause 6 provide that the plant and stores suspense account established by section 55 of the Commonwealth Railways Act and the railway accident and insurance fund, established by section 56, shall be trust accounts within the meaning of section 62a of the Audit Act. Section 56 also provides that the railway accident and insurance fund shall he kept at the Treasury. In each case, however, the transactions of these special funds are dealt with in the Treasury accounts in the same manner as if they had been trust accounts established under section 62a of the Audit Act, and, in effect, the balances remaining to the credit of the funds have been dealt with as if they formed part of the trust fund referred to in section 62a (3) of the Audit Act. This procedure, whilst in conformity with the general practice in dealing with trust accounts and funds of this nature, is not strictly correct in a legal sense, and the amendments proposed by clause 5 and paragraph a of clause 6 have been designed to place the matter on a proper legal footing.

The object of paragraph b of clause 6 is to provide for a greater sum being set aside from Consolidated Revenue for the purposes of the railway accident and insurance fund, the present amount of 5s. for every £100 of the revenue of the railways not being sufficient to maintain the fund in a financial condition.

The purpose of paragraph b of clause S is as follows: - Under section 63 of the act in its present form, the Commissioner may acquire private lands, Crown lands of a State, and lands which have been dedicated, reserved, or set apart for any public or other purpose. There is no power, however, for the Commissioner to acquire lands vested in the Commonwealth. It is not considered desirable to give to the Commissioner power "to acquire any Commonwealth lands, other than lands which have been reserved for the purposes of a railway. Accordingly, the proposed new sub-section provides for that to be done. Every acquisition under the sub-section is to be subject to any law of the Commonwealth or of a territory governing the disposal of lands.

Under the existing act persons offending against the provisions of the act can be brought before a police, stipendiary or special magistrate. The purpose of clause 10 is to provide that offenders may, under certain conditions, be brought before a justice of the peace. The reason for the amendment is that, in a vast area like the Northern Territory, persons who are charged with offences against the act have to wait for long periods before they can be brought before an appropriate court. Clause 11 provides for the termination of the application of the Commonwealth -Workmen's Compensation Act 1912 to employees. I propose to move in committee for the substitution of a new clause in place of clause 11. Consequently, I shall postpone any further remarks on that clause until the committee stage is reached.

Honorable senators will observe that, for the most part, the amendments contained in this bill are of a formal nature. I commend the measure to the favorable consideration of the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 to 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 (Application of Commonwealth Workmens' Compensation Act 1912 to employees).

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE (Western Australia - Minister for External Affairs) [9.32]. - I move-

That clause 11 be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following new clause: -

11.   Section eighty-five of the principal act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - " 85. The Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act 1030 shall apply to employees of the commissioner as if they were employees within the meaning of that act ".

The object of this clause is to bring employees of the -Commonwealth Railways Commissioner under the provisions of the Commonwealth Employees Compensation Act 1930. The provisions of the 1912 act originally applied to them, but, as that measure was repealed by the act of 1930, it i3 proposed that Commonwealth Railways employees, in common with employees of the Commonwealth generally, shall come within the purview of the 1930 act.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported with an amendment; report adopted.

Bill read a third time.

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