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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2567

Mr HOLLIS(11.27) —Madam Deputy Speaker, at the outset might I say that this is the first time I have spoken in the House while you have occupied the chair. It is a pleasure for me to see you in that position. I listened very carefully to what the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) has said. I am pleased that he does not want to sell everything off as he did last week when we were debating the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill. He raised the matter of ad hoc bodies holding various inquiries. From my point of view, as important as some of these ad hoc bodies are, it is essential that we have some consistency and rationality in the transport field. We need an overview and I believe that that is what the Inter-State Commission will be doing.

I am pleased to make a contribution to this debate on the Inter-State Commission Amendment Bill. Australia, because of its size, has considerable transport problems. The Australian Labor Party has long recognised this and for this reason it has been a long standing commitment of the Australian Labor Party to establish the Inter-State Commission. Naturally as a member of that political party I am proud to be playing a small part in the implementation of yet another part of Labor Party policy. Many honourable members will be aware that the Inter -State Commission Act was passed with bipartisan support in 1975, but it was not proclaimed by our predecessors. We might ask why. The only reason I can find is that our predecessors did not care about interstate transport and so today, after eight years of neglect-I might add shameful neglect by our predecessors- finally the Bill now being debated will enable this Hawke Labor Government to establish the Inter-State Commission. Proclamation of the Act passed in 1975 was arranged by this Government and it came into operation on 27 September 1983.

The Hawke Labor Government sees the Inter-State Commission as an important vehicle for promoting the national development of national transport policies. The Government's action today fulfils an important election promise in the transport field. The purpose of the Bill is to update a number of provisions in the Inter-State Commission. This Government, unlike the previous Government, has a consistent national transport policy which has been developed through the democratic processes of the Australian Labor Party. The Government's national transport policy aims to develop a national transport system which encourages national development that is equitable, safe, reliable and convenient and pursues these aims in the most socially effective way. This stands in stark contrast to the dogma of deregulation and unfettered market forces mindlessly regurgitated by the Opposition. This is because our conservative opponents have no transport policy. 'Leave it all to the market', their favourite catchcry of total deregulation, is as irrelevant to the transport problems facing Australia today as are those sitting opposite.

The Commission the Government shall establish will in fact investigate and advise the Government on allegations of discriminatory practices, inequalities, inefficiencies and anomalies in interstate transport. The Inter-State Commission will be a major vehicle for getting the facts out in the open when it examines and recommends on interstate transport problems. The Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) has said it will operate like a transport users tribunal in conducting its investigations. It will be an important channel through which the views of interested parties can be expressed, such as those of the community, transport users, unions and governments.

The Australian Constitution in sections 101 to 104 deals with the establishment of an Inter-State Commission. When it is established the Commission will have complete constitutional coverage of interstate transport. It will assist in the clarification of other sections of the Constitution which are currently ambiguous; it will reduce administrative ad hockery, inefficiency and conflict and it will also develop a permanent fund of knowledge which will assist interpretation in the High Court of Australia on transport matters. During its investigations the Commission will probably examine transport regulations. Clearly, it is important that an ongoing process of regulatory reform takes into account changing circumstances and assists the development of the transport industry for the benefit of users.

Honourable members opposite would leave it all to what is often a very imperfect market. This market often makes an inefficient, partial and private calculation of profit and loss, not a national calculation of full costs and benefits. Often the market disadvantages many smaller suppliers and users by unfettered deregulation espoused by the conservatives opposite who avoid the truth of unfettered deregulation. An economy with less government regulation is still regulated, but by powerful private interests. The Commission provided for in the Act is an investigatory and advisory body with royal commission-type powers. Its reports and recommendations will be tabled in the Parliament. It has no regulatory or judicial powers and will investigate only those interstate transport matters referred to it by the Minister for Transport.

The ISC will be required to carry out wide-ranging investigations covering economic, social, institutional and legal-constitutional issues affecting interstate transport. No other existing organisation is equipped or empowered to carry out such inquiries. The ISC meets the need for an ongoing independent body that performs these functions. While in certain circumstances there will be a need for ad hoc inquiries to handle matters falling outside the scope of the ISC , in general ad hoc commissions and inquiries are expensive to establish and lose all the expertise gained when they are disbanded. I think that that is a very important matter in the transport field. The ISC will accumulate and retain such expertise. Users of transport have no single entity in Australia to which they can take any problems they encounter with anomalies, discriminations and inequalities that exist in our national transport system. At present they can appeal only to operator controlled organisations, both government and private, whose own interests are generally paramount.

Madam Deputy Speaker, one area in which I am particularly interested is the safety of vehicles involved in interstate transport. I have been told by the police and others that many vehicles, such as trucks and buses, which travel interstate are defective in many safety, or indeed mechanical, respects. The police have told me that some vehicles involved in accidents should never have been on the road. I am not holding New South Wales up as a great model, but I have been told that had some vehicles been inspected in New South Wales they would not have been allowed on the road. The tragedy is that too often such vehicles are inspected after an accident. But these vehicles have been passed as roadworthy in other States and therefore they are free to travel interstate.

I have personal knowledge of an accident involving one bus from another State in which several school-children were killed. I know that this bus would not have passed inspection in New South Wales, but it was passed in another State and it came into New South Wales. Because of certain mechanical deficiencies, which might not have been the whole reason for the accident but most certainly contributed to it, it was involved in an accident in which several school- children were killed. One of the terms of reference for the national road freight industry inquiry is:

The involvement of heavy vehicles in road crashes and the factors involved, especially any relation to the current commercial conditions in the industry.

Depending on the report of this inquiry, and indeed even without it, the Minister can refer this matter to the Commission, and can direct the Commission to investigate safety aspects of vehicles involved in interstate transport. I hope that this will be an early recommendation from the Minister. As the Government broadens its advice-gathering base and incorporates the full economic , environmental, defence, and social costs and benefits of transport projects and services into its decision making processes, it will require a mechanism for evaluating the breadth of that advice.

The approach used by the Hawke Labor Government will be the social audit. This is akin to social cost benefit analysis. The Bureau of Transport Economics is a leading exponent of this approach in the transport field and has produced many such analyses in the past. I understand it is currently engaged in further development of the technique of social audit. Its aim will be to determine the most socially effective method of performing new tasks. Another aim will be to guide policy on cost recovery mechanisms by determining the full cost attributable to each mode and type of transport or service. This will lead to a more socially effective transport system, a system balanced in terms of modal division of tasks, industrial diversity, urban, regional and rural development. Most importantly, it will be a transport system which is nationally based and co -ordinated. The advantage of the social audit is that it will keep the market honest by ensuring that the total cost of providing a service is considered, as well as total benefits. This country is extremely fortunate that in the present Minister it has someone who understands transport. Under the Minister, transport will gain its rightful place in the Australian scheme. I congratulate the Minister on this Bill and take pleasure in commending it to the House.