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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1504

Mr O'KEEFE(10.30 a.m.) —-I have pleasure in joining in the debate to approve the allocation of funding for the Department of Transport and Communications to enable the carry through of the Government's program in this field. I welcome the contribution by the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Cowan). In fact, I find myself in agreement with a number of the observations made by my National Party colleague, which I am sure he will be pleased to hear.

I also commend the honourable member for Shortland (Mr Peter Morris) for his contribution and his outline of the problems facing shipping and the waterfront. He referred particularly to the growing public recognition of the problems created by unseaworthy vessels, flags of convenience, and countries and shipping operators who are prepared to allow unseaworthy vessels to ply the world's waters. In Australia, particularly on the west coast, where some of the worst turbulences occur, such ships struggle to make the mark and in recent years have been the cause of a number of tragedies, many of which have gone unreported.

There are two or three items in the Government's reform program for transport and communications that I particularly would like to highlight. The first is the funding that is allocated for improvements to aviation and the airlines, particularly to the development of airports. I do not particularly want to say anything about the Sydney Airport issue, except that the funds are there and that when the decision is taken to proceed with construction of the third runway at Sydney the project will be given a fast track.

I am keen to have it publicly known that the Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne is in my electorate. I am concerned by reports from time to time in which that airport is described as being in some ways a Third World airport and reports which say that there is some kind of program or policy of trying to encourage more spending there or even the handing over of the airport to private ownership. I make a very clear public statement that Melbourne's Tullamarine Airport will remain as public property, a government owned enterprise.

At the moment approximately $300m is being spent on developments at the airport, and a number of joint venture projects are being negotiated with the private sector to ensure that developments at the airport provide jobs and a focus for what will become a major freight, passenger and tourism centre in the south of Australia. I have great hopes for the role that Tullamarine Airport will play in that continuing program. I am delighted to see a couple of my constituents, Mrs Burgess and her son Nathan, in the gallery today. Mrs Burgess works for Australian Airlines, so she would be well aware of the developments taking place at the airport.

I think I should also make some mention of the scope of reform of telecommunications which is provided for. This is not only about gingering up Telecom and allowing more competition in the marketplace so that Telecom does become more responsive to its clients and provides services which are more responsive to rapidly moving technological needs. Certainly that is one of the big benefits that we are already seeing. Our telecommunications industry is one of the areas in which Australia is at the world's leading edge and is one of the most successful countries. We have managed a very successful industry development policy and our Government believes that in the telecommunications industry in particular we have major opportunities to provide services to the 400 million new telephone subscribers who will come on stream in the Asia-Pacific basin during the next 15 to 20 years.

These countries are saying to us, `Yes, we are prepared to allow you access to our markets provided you are prepared to allow us access to yours'. We are in the process of negotiating a broad new trading arrangement with the whole Asia-Pacific basin. We will be scrapping the White Australia policy, scrapping the old ties to Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, countries which have been our primary sources of trade, and we will be developing our potential in our region. There is much vision in that and much success to be had from it.

In the next couple of months the Government expects to announce the name of the consortium which will gain the second carrier licence to provide that second phase of competition in the Australian telecommunications market. The most important process of reform by a long shot in the field of transport and communications is undoubtedly the change in the balance between road and rail in Australia. It is often unheralded. For instance, there is an enormous amount of publicity and hype about the problems on the waterfront.

The Industry Commission has assessed that the improvements of the kind foreshadowed on the waterfront will lead to gains to the economy of about $1 billion per annum. That is not insignificant and no-one would scoff at that, but it ought to be kept in perspective. The same Industry Commission says that an improved balance in the road-rail infrastructure in Australia would lead to benefits of $8 billion--this would provide eight times the gains to the economy as would improvements on the waterfront.

The Special Premiers Conference, which is taking place between the States and the Federal Government, is enabling consensus agreements to be reached about who will register motor vehicles, where the roads will be built, and what will be spent on rail and infrastructure to change that balance. These are the most significant things taking place in Australia today in the field of micro-economic reform. Let me give just one example. The recent agreement to form the National Rail Corporation is an acknowledgment by the six States and the Federal Government that it is no longer satisfactory to have six different rail systems, different railway gauges, and different organisations with which arrangements have to be made if one is trying to send freight or when people travel interstate.

We are now forming a National Rail Corporation which will take over the administration and operation of a total rail system. It will spend about $500m in the next five years upgrading our rail infrastructure. The standard gauge, which we ought to have had for a hundred years, will be put into place. It will be constructed between Melbourne and Adelaide in the near future. The standard gauge between Melbourne and Sydney will be upgraded. Before too long we will have a complete standard gauge system from Brisbane to Perth and the ability to consign an item from one end of Australia to the other using one authority. That is a very major reform. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Premiers are to be commended for the way that they have negotiated those arrangements.

As time is short, I mention only briefly a matter raised in Question Time yesterday. I asked the Minister for Land Transport (Mr Robert Brown) whether had he anything to say about the speculated merger or joint venture of Australian Airlines and Australia Post in the parcel and freight and post area. As was explained by the Minister, that joint venture has now been formed. I saw press reports of it this morning.

This is the start of the comeback of the public sector government business enterprise. It has always made sense that operations such as Qantas, Australian Airlines, Australia Post and Telecom work together in a common market presence to avoid duplication of facilities and to provide a cheaper, broader service to the people.

That is what Australia Post and Australian Airlines have now set out to do together with their freight, parcel and post operation. I have no doubt that that will be the forerunner of a much broader expansion of reform and savings in this area of transport. I commend the estimates to the Committee. I believe that the reform program is one of great substance. Certainly, the estimates are worthy of approval. (Time expired)