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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7096

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) (8:06 PM) —I recognise that some issues of real concern and interest to people have been raised in this place. May I very briefly cover some of those. Firstly, the member for Grayndler has approached me in very good faith in relation to his concerns about airport noise and insulation and he has raised a number of issues with me. I am actively pursuing them and will be coming back to him on them.

Secondly, the member for Lowe has raised five specific questions with me. I will undertake to respond to those. The government remains committed to the long-term operating plan, although it has to be acknowledged that that has to be consistent with the safe operation of the airport. BASI and CASA have had things to say about that in the past, but I was delighted that members of the Sydney airport community consultative forum recently felt able to say to me that they had noticed a distinct improvement in performance in that regard. There are a number of other issues here which I will follow up and come back to you on.

In relation to the question of Sydney's airport needs, I can say that I will honour the broad commitments given in terms of releasing for public digestion the EIS, and the government will move to a decision making process in accordance with a reasonable timetable after that document is released. I would add that I am really conscious and the government is conscious of how difficult these issues are. There are real lifestyle issues, very genuinely held beliefs about lifestyle issues in the inner city areas. There are real concerns in the western suburbs. There are, of course, the competing interests of the economic future of Sydney and New South Wales, the need to build Sydney's reputation as one of the world's great destinations, with all that that implies in terms of jobs and prosperity. We will do this as sensitively and as appropriately and in as balanced a way as we possibly can.

Let me come briefly to the comments made by my opposite number, the honourable member for Dickson. Can I say that I believe that we are developing an appropriate strategy for rail in this country. We inherited a railway network that was, I think by any standards, in a genuine mess. We have committed very substantial resources to bailing out—if I can use that term—parts of that rail infrastructure that were financially devastated, and NR is now in a much better resourced position to be able to go ahead.

In terms of the interstate track and our commitments to a single point of access, we are making progress. I note the member's interest in the proposal for an NLTC—a national land transport commission. The Australian Transport Council, including the original major proponent of such a commission, decided that the ATC should be the body that should drive reform—the Australian council of ministers. I happened to support that view, and I drove it very hard. It was accepted by council. We are going to set up an advisory panel, but I believe that ministers are elected to make decisions and that that council—and I make no apologies for saying it—given that it crosses over so many jurisdictions, must make firmer decisions, because I share your view—I take it, your underlying view—that we really do need a national approach to rail and rail reform in this country. Unfortunately, it has been bogged down in the old problem that we get so often in this country of differences between jurisdictions. We do need to sort that out.

I believe that, in terms of rural and regional Australia where the stresses and strains are well known to us all, we have made progress. I do not underestimate the challenges; they have a great deal to do with the truly tough economic circumstances facing our major commodity industries. We cannot be blamed for the international downturn in demand. I believe that the rural sector, given the economic environment it now operates in, would have been in quite good shape if we had not had that collapse in commodity prices. We as a nation do face major choices there. I think that the government has made a good start. Health alone is a number one priority for rural and regional Australians, and they believe that we have made a very substantial start in that regard.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Attorney-General's Department

Proposed expenditure, $1,319,396,000.