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Thursday, 10 November 1983
Page: 2569

Mr GROOM(11.39) —I wish to commend the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis) for some of the comments he made in his speech on the Inter-State Commission Amendment Bill. I thought his point about the safety aspect of vehicles travelling interstate was very valuable. I certainly hope that the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) will take that issue on board. Of course, the problem with that kind of suggestion is that the Inter-State Commission could consider only points of view put to it and could then provide advice to this Government. Most of the matters to be considered are the ultimate responsibility of State governments, and it would be a matter of convincing the State governments that what the Commonwealth is suggesting is in the interests of road safety.

I have had the opportunity of examining this Bill. I must say that initially I was somewhat concerned about what it might or might not do and about the powers which the Commission might have. My recollection is that we had a very vigorous debate back in 1975 when the earlier Inter-State Commission Bill was introduced in the Parliament. The Bill we are now considering, which amends the principal Act which was actually passed through the Parliament in 1975 but not proclaimed, is different from the original Bill introduced by the then Whitlam Government in 1975. That Bill gave the Commission very broad powers which were of great concern to the community at large. I wish to refer briefly to some comments made about that original Bill by Senator Withers, the senator from Western Australia. At page 1681 of Senate Hansard of 21 May 1975 he said:

The Government claims that the Commission will deal only with transport. If so, we would not object to the broad principle involved. But this Bill does not deal only with transport; it deals with a much wider area. It provides the Government with incredible powers which can be used through the Commission, and at the same time it denies parliamentary control of the Commission's activities. Such measures must be regarded with a great deal of suspicion.

We are now speaking about the original Bill introduced by the Whitlam Government in 1975. Senator Withers referred to clause 17 of the Bill, which read as follows:

The Commission has power to do any act or thing that it is authorised to do in pursuance of any law made under the provisions of the Constitution relating to trade and commerce, including but not limited to, a law with respect to the engaging in, or the use of aircraft, vessels, vehicles or pipelines in, inter- State transport without the licence or consent of the Commission.

I read that original clause simply to indicate the breadth of that Bill introduced back in 1975 and to point out that under the legislation we are now dealing with the powers of the Commission are very much more limited. I refer now to section 9 (1) of the Inter-State Commission Act 1975, which is now law. It states:

The Minister may at any time, by notice in writing given by him to the Commission, direct the Commission to investigate any matter or matters specified in the notice, being a matter or matters relating to inter-State transport.

As I understand it, originally under the Constitution it was intended that the Commission be given very broad powers relating to trade and commerce, which would obviously include transport. Specific reference was made in the Constitution to railways and transport matters. Now we are dealing with a much more confined concept in which the Commission is, I think quite properly, concerned with this important area of interstate transport. I wish to commend the Government for its common sense in realising that it is not proper at this stage to expand the powers of the Commission.

Most of the time the Minister for Transport, who is at the table, is a rational person and is concerned about transport matters. My colleague the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) and I sat with him on the Standing Committee on Road Safety. We understood then from the comments that he made that he was very much concerned about road safety matters, and in his concern for interstate transport generally he shows that he is a rational person. I am not so sure what would have happened had we had one of the more radical members of his Party appointed as Minister for Transport. I refer to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) or the Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe). We might have had an attempt to expand this Commission and make it a much more centralised and powerful body. That would have been of great concern to the Opposition.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend a number of provisions of the Inter-State Commission Act to take account of legislative and other developments since 1975. I will refer to some of the points briefly. Firstly, the Bill will exclude from the ambit of the Commission any investigation of matters relating to the operation of the current 1981 airlines agreement and the Independent Air Fares Committee legislation. Secondly, it will adjust to present day equivalents the salaries of the President and members of the Commission and related matters. I will comment briefly about the membership of the Commission in a moment or two. Thirdly, it will replace those provisions relating to retirement benefits in the Public Service Act with up to date provisions reflecting changes since 1975. There are also some minor changes to conform with current administrative procedures, with the present drafting practices of Parliamentary Counsel and with the practices of the Parliament.

The general question of an Inter-State Commission is a fairly controversial issue. As I said before, there was a raging debate in 1975. People still have some doubts about the value of this kind of body. It will investigate and advise , as the Minister for Transport said in his second reading speech. All it will do is provide advice to the Government of the day. It will be like a royal commission. Of course, royal commissions of late do not have a very good record. They go on and on for a long time and are very expensive. That is great for the lawyers. Lawyers love to be involved in a royal commission, as the commissioner or as counsel assisting the commissioner because that means that they are paid very large salaries usually for a very long time. Of course, this Commission will be ongoing. It may never end, unless we provide legislation to rescind this legislation or somehow change the role of the Commission.

It will be an ongoing type of royal commission, as the Minister has already said. That worries me to some extent. The expense worries me. It concerns me how it will relate to other bodies which already provide fairly sound advice to government, including the Australian Transport Advisory Council and the Transport Industries Advisory Council. How will it relate to committees of this Parliament, Senate committees and House of Representatives committees? Those committees have a very valuable role to play and are a good source of advice to the Government. I hope that this Commission will not undermine the role of committees of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. It is also a matter of some concern-this will have to be watched very carefully by the Minister-that a large bureaucracy does not develop around this Commission. There is a tendency, as one of Parkinson's laws indicate, for these sorts of bodies to expand and to keep expanding. If there is a vacuum, they will expand into that vacuum. They will take on more and more people. Sometimes the amount of expense involved for the taxpayers does not relate very accurately to the quality of advice provided by such bodies.

Mr Goodluck —What is its first job?

Mr GROOM —I will get to that in a moment. That is a matter of some concern. Another point, of course, is that the body might well provide very objective, academic and non-political advice, but this is not always the best advice. Many organisations provide that kind of academic advice, which is very good for the pursuit of an intellectual exercise but which does not always take into account the human factors. The Industries Assistance Commission is like that. Sometimes it ignores basic human factors such as the need for employment in a particular district. I hope that this Commission, in giving advice to the Government, will take into account these very real human factors in the community. I hope that it will not look just at statistics, at the cold hard figures, when determining the nature and quality of the advice it might give.

I am a Tasmanian and I am pleased to see colleagues from Tasmania in the House. The honourable member for Franklin and the honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr ) have always taken a very keen interest in transport issues, as have the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and the honourable member for Bass ( Mr Newman). I am pleased that these honourable members are here to support me in this debate. The first question to be placed before the Inter-State Commission is the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. As members of this Parliament and as Tasmanians, we were very pleased to be involved in the initial groundwork which created the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. When we came to office as back bench members of the Fraser Government the honourable member for Bass was then a Minister-we were very keen to see the freight equalisation scheme implemented as soon as possible because we realised how important it was to the future of our State and the industries within it. Within six or seven months-the honourable member for Franklin might correct me-the freight equalisation scheme was introduced by the Fraser Government. This was welcomed by the Tasmanian community, by the Government, by local government, by people in industries and by the farmers of Tasmania. The farming community remains the backbone of Tasmania and the farmers were very pleased with that scheme.

Mr Fife —And all national thinking Australians.

Mr GROOM —As the former Minister for Aviation, the honourable member for Farrer, who has been keenly involved in Tasmanian issues in his various capacities, said , this had the support of all thinking Australians who were concerned about all parts of Australia. The freight equalisation scheme recognises the disadvantage suffered by the people of Tasmania because it is an island and because of Bass Strait, which I think is our greatest disadvantage but which is also our greatest advantage because it separates us from the rest of the mainland. But that is another point. People all around Australia recognised that, to establish equity, the freight equalisation scheme had to be implemented, simply to put us on the same footing as the rest of Australia. It has helped industries to survive. For example, the paper industry is a very important industry in Tasmania, the great Associated Pulp and Paper Mills Ltd being within my electorate and the electorate of the honourable member for Wilmot. Tremendous assistance has been provided to that industry. The vegetable industry is another key industry. The timber industry is terribly important in my electorate and throughout Tasmania. These industries have been through hard times. They have had to put off many people. They have been able to survive as a direct result of the freight equalisation scheme. I commend the Government and the Minister for Transport, who is at the table, because he has indicated his support for the continuation of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. We thank him for that . We thank the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) for agreeing to the continuation of this great scheme. We are fair when we can be, and we commend them for this action.

We are concerned about some of the comments and rumours that are getting around . Can we accept their word at face value? Usually we can, but there have been occasions when we could not. I do not want to go into the Wynyard Airport issue, which is only indirectly related to this Bill. But the Government made a solemn promise that Wynyard Airport would be upgraded to medium-jet standard. The honourable member for Farrer (Mr Fife) knows all about that because he was directly involved; he announced the upgrading of the Wynyard Airport. As soon as the election was over, this idea was immediately dropped. The people of Tasmania feel very disappointed, especially those on the north-west coast. Deep inside, they feel they have been let down. They thought these people were men of honour and that their word was their bond, but this has proved not to be the case. I shall get off that particular issue because it is not really directly related to this Bill.

The Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme has to survive. It is important that the Government look carefully at the membership of this Commission. Under section 9 of the Principal Act there will be three members-the President and two other members. I hope that there will be bipartisan support from both sides of this chamber for the proposition that a Tasmanian be appointed as one of the three commissioners. This Commission will play a very important role in the economic and social future of Tasmania. It is indicative of that fact that the first reference placed before this body is an examination of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. We in Tasmania are so dependent on our shipping. Tasmania is an island, as I said before. Shipping across the Strait is our lifeblood. I do not know what the honourable member for Macarthur will say about this but tragic maritime disputes have brought our State and its people to their knees from time to time. Too often our ships are tied up at the wharf, we cannot get our goods to market and we cannot buy the essentials we need in Tasmania to live from day to day.

Mr Goodluck —It is $6.50 a case to England for apples.

Mr GROOM —As the honourable member for Franklin just mentioned, it costs $6.50 to send a case of apples to England. That relates very much to the cost of these disputes. I hope that the Minister will respond to this point. I put it to him very directly and I hope that he will look at it in the fair minded way in which he considers these sorts of suggestions from Tasmania. When one of these disputes takes place on the waterfront, when the ships are tied up, when Tasmania's people and industry are adversely affected and when an emergency is developing, will the Minister as a matter of urgency direct the Commission under the Act to examine the circumstances of that waterfront dispute as it affects the people on both sides of Bass Strait, on the mainland and in Tasmania?

I believe that this Commission could have a very important role to play in examining those sorts of disputes that stop transport and sever the links between the States. After considering all the facts it could give some advice to the Government as to what it should do. If this Commission has an ongoing role to play, hopefully it will become expert in that kind of issue and will be able to give sound advice to the Government. Quite often in these disputes there is not a proper and free flow of good advice to the Government from people who are directly involved. Sometimes Ministers do not know what is going on in a dispute . Sometimes people who are adversely affected by a dispute do not know what is going on. We need to have a body, an action team, that can fly into the place where such a dispute is occurring, whether it is Burnie, Devonport, Hobart, Launceston or Melbourne, obtain the facts and consider each dispute carefully. I believe that it is a proper role for the Inter-State Commission to give some urgent advice to the Government. That would serve the interests of the community . I am sure that we all want to do the best we can for our community, and I hope that the Minister will take that suggestion on board.

We have missed out in Tasmania. We do not now have a commissioner on the Board of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. We used to have Elspeth Vaughan on the Commission, but now the ABC has no representative from Tasmania. We have only to look at what the High Court did to Tasmania. Never has a Tasmanian sat on the High Court. It is about time this Government looked at that question and considered filling the next High Court vacancy with a Tasmanian. Nobody has a more important role to play in the future of the smaller States than the High Court. I do not want to get on to the dams dispute. I think on that issue the High Court did not take into account the feelings and the interests of the people of the smaller States, the people of Tasmania. I think the decision of the High Court on that issue was a very poor one. It was said to be a legal decision but obviously it was a political one.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Debate (on motion by Mr Reeves) adjourned.