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In a speech to the Committee for Melbourne, the Transport Minister has announced Government policy on air, rail and road transport

MONICA ATTARD: The Federal Government is considering the privatisation of several airports, including Melbourne's Tullamarine, as part of a shake-up of the national air transport system. In Melbourne today, Federal Transport Minister, Laurie Brereton, confirmed his preference for selling Tullamarine to the private sector as part of a drive to get more competition into the management of airports, currently run by the Federal Airports Corporation.

But, Mr Brereton says, any sale of Sydney's Kingsford-Smith Airport would have to be considered by both the Cabinet and the ALP National Conference. But he's announced the start of planning for a new tollway to link Sydney's national highways, incorporating a link between Kingsford-Smith Airport and the new airport at Badgerys Creek. David Burgess reports.

DAVID BURGESS: As Minister for both Transport and Industrial Relations, the Right Honourable Laurie Brereton has lately been spending most of his time selling reforms to the industrial relations system. But today, addressing the Committee of Melbourne, it was planes, trains and automobiles that the Minister was talking about. Firstly planes -something Melbourne's vitally concerned with. The Minister sees competition in the management of airports as a critical way of gaining efficiencies. So he's prepared to sell off Melbourne's Tullamarine to private interests so that the private enterprise methods will get the reform ball rolling.

But, given that competition is the key, who will the privatised Tullamarine compete with, since the Federal Airports Corporation will still run Sydney and the other main airports in Australia. Laurie Brereton.

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I don't wish to nominate any airports; that will be a matter for the Government. I've said today that I think we could well start with Tullamarine, but it will be a matter now to look at the options for Cabinet to make a decision, for that to be properly discussed and finally determined by the ALP National Conference in September of this year. I think greater competition inevitably will mean, at the end of the day, a better deal for the travelling public. Any proposal to introduce an element of competition must have that clearly in mind, and any regulatory structure that would be necessary must guarantee that outcome.

DAVID BURGESS: So the Government has a deal of work to do yet before the airports model is fully worked out. As far as trains go, Mr Brereton insisted today that the formation of the National Rail Corporation has been a great success and that the implementation of a standard-gauge rail track will see the first trains run from Perth to Brisbane via Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in June next year.

With highway development, Mr Brereton is calling for increased co-operation between the Federal Government, the States and the private sector. For immediate projects the private sector is critical. Mr Brereton wants private companies to assist in the construction of a new orbital link road, linking the highways in Sydney's west and providing a link between Mascot Airport and Badgerys Creek; also a tollway for the Lake George section of the Federal Highway between Canberra and Goulburn, and private sector help with Melbourne's Domain tunnel project. So tollways are the key to speed up the construction of national highways.

LAURIE BRERETON: I think that the private sector can be used to a greater extent in the construction work on the national highway system, and certainly I believe that there are a number of opportunities for toll roads to be built that would see work on the national highway system brought forward by as much as a decade. I've indicated, identified a couple of projects today where I'll be interested to see what the private sector can do to advance these works.

DAVID BURGESS: But tollways are the key, are they?

LAURIE BRERETON: Well, I think tollways, in certain circumstances, can see construction much earlier than would otherwise be the case. And I'm anxious to introduce that on the national highway system for the very first time where there is clear evidence that works that would otherwise not be built for a number of years can be commenced in the near future.

DAVID BURGESS: Apart from tollways and privatisation, Laurie Brereton believes that transport reform will go ahead rapidly because, for the first time, the transport ministry stands alone as an entity. Previously the portfolio has been linked to communications or had been split between transport modes. This apparently mitigated against the development of a government transport ethos. But now that we have the ethos we have a Minister who has responsibility for both transport and industrial relations, with IR a controversial and demanding task. But all up, it's not too much for Laurie Brereton.

LAURIE BRERETON: The point I was making was that in the past we've had transport and communications as one portfolio. And because communications was the sexy end of the portfolio, if you like, it received the lion share of the attention. We also had assistant ministers - Minister for Land Transport at stages, Minister for Aviation - so you had a big division within the transport portfolio itself. We've rectified that with a single transport ministry, the DOT now, and I'm anxious to use that organisation in a much more focused fashion than perhaps has been the case in the past.

DAVID BURGESS: But as you've pointed out yourself, it is an area of incredible importance and responsibility, but also industrial relations is going through a critical transformation stage as well, and you have responsibility for both. How can you carry out both jobs adequately?

LAURIE BRERETON: I would think I can do that quite adequately. I'm very fortunate in having Gary Johns as my Assistant Minister in Industrial Relations. He's looking after all the public service matters, and you'll see him playing an increasing role in carrying the weight of the industrial relations debate in Australia. But I'll still be there, and I expect to be there in IR for at least another couple of years, up until about the time of the next election.

MONICA ATTARD: Federal Transport Minister, Laurie Brereton, and from Melbourne David Burgess filed that report.