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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18650

Mr ROSS CAMERON (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services) (11:35 AM) —It has been a characteristic of road transport regulation, and of transport regulation more generally, that there has been close cooperation between the Commonwealth, the territories and the states and a high level of bipartisan support for that regulatory reform agenda. So it is perhaps regrettable that the member for McMillan chose to devote the majority of his remarks to a characteristically partisan attack on some very able and important members of this government. I feel obligated to make some response to those remarks before turning to the substance of the bill.

The member for McMillan based about 75 per cent of his speech on a series of speculations about the possible future of various members of the government—with the exception of the member for La Trobe, whose passing away politically he described as an attempt to avoid accountability for promises made by his government. I merely note the fact that the member for La Trobe is someone who has won a marginal seat in the western suburbs of Melbourne at five successive elections. His representation has been such that the electorate is increasingly non-marginal. He, unlike so many of his colleagues on both sides, had the political wisdom to choose the moment of his departure—unlike, I suspect, members like the member for McMillan and perhaps myself, who are much more likely to hear of our demise from a television broadcaster on some future election eve.

I merely note, in relation to the Pakenham bypass, that the member for McMillan did not, I think, utter a word about the accountability of the Victorian government or the Victorian minister for transport. I simply note that the Pakenham bypass is not a federal road, it is a state road. It is a Victorian government road. The Commonwealth government recognises the importance of the road to the constituents who surround it; so, as a gesture—purely a volitional gesture of national leadership and benevolence—it committed $30 million originally to prompt the lethargic Victorian government into action. That, of course, turned out not to be enough—$30 million was not enough of a sweetener for the Victorian government to respond to the needs of its constituents in an area of its core responsibility. The Commonwealth therefore stepped up and said, `Okay, lads and lasses, we will give you $100 million if you will just get off your lethargic posteriors and begin to construct this bypass.

The complaint advanced by the member for McMillan is that $100 million is no longer exactly 50 per cent of the cost of construction. I note two things. Firstly, there is no constitutional or legislative requirement that RONIs should be 50 per cent of the cost of a road. The second point is that the reason that $100 million is no longer 50 per cent of the cost is because of the delays, the laches, of the Victorian minister for transport, who simply cannot muster the internal resolve to make a decision and give an instruction to start constructing the road. So can I suggest that $100 million of discretionary spending—which comes out of the tax paid by my constituents in Parramatta who are funding your government's road—is a pretty generous offer. My suggestion to you is: put a little bit of pressure on your state Labor colleagues to deliver, in Mr Reich's words, the fundamental core responsibilities of government, especially of state governments.

To reflect for a moment on the record of governments in delivering their transport funding commitments, I note that I sat through the last state election in Victoria, the last state election nationally, where we went to the people and said, `We are going to fund the Scoresby bypass as a freeway. We are going to commit over $400 million of Commonwealth funding to that freeway.' We went forward, with Steve Bracks smiling that lovely smile before the cameras, shaking hands and putting out press releases about the Scoresby Freeway. It was not until after the Victorian government was re-elected that we suddenly found this was not to be a freeway, according to Steve Bracks.

Between the declaration of the polls and the resumption of parliament, something extraordinary and unexplained happened in the mind of the Premier. Suddenly this was not to be a freeway, as Steve had promised to the Commonwealth and to the Victorian and Australian people; it was to be a tollway. As a supporter of private enterprise and a defender of capitalism, I am not instinctively opposed to toll roads or tollways. Toll roads such as the M2 motorway have made an enormous, constructive difference to many of my constituents. I do object, however, to Premier Bracks promising to deliver a freeway and then, having won an election partially on the basis of that promise, turning it into a toll road.

We saw Premier Bob Carr, the Labor Premier of New South Wales, do exactly the same thing. He pulled exactly the same stunt in relation to the M4 motorway in not the last election but the one before. I will come to the last election in a moment. Premier Carr went to the people with an explicit election promise to remove the tolls from the M4 motorway. All my constituents, who pour off James Ruse Drive in their hundreds and thousands onto the M4 motorway to head into Sydney, had a confident expectation that Labor was going to abolish the toll. But, sure enough, the election came and went, and there was an epiphany, an unexplained event that took place in the mind of the Premier and the state Labor ministers: `I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but it is simply too expensive.' So, today, the toll road remains.

We could, of course, look to the Carr government's record of delivering transport infrastructure in relation to the Parramatta to Chatswood rail link, which we have seen proudly heralded to the people of Western Sydney as an example of the Labor government's commitment to delivering core transport infrastructure—in Mr Reich's words, its `core responsibilities' as a government. We have seen this happen now over three elections. About six weeks before the election, bureaucrats from the Department of Transport came out with beautiful three-dimensional models of great looking new civic squares and transport interchanges and promised $1 billion of investment. It was not until just after the election that a new transport minister was appointed. We have seen Mr Costa, the troublesome police minister, shifted into the frame. He wandered in and said, `I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, about the 21 press releases we put out about the Parramatta to Chatswood rail link and all the promises about the forward funding for this core piece of infrastructure. There was a mistake in the calculations, so we cannot afford it and it has been put on ice.' If you want to talk about fulfilling commitments, I suggest the model that will instil confidence in the Australian people is the performance of the coalition at the federal level, while the model that will put the fear of God into any Australian who relies on core transport infrastructure is the performance of the state Labor governments in New South Wales and Victoria.

I turn to the substance of the bill before the chamber. We are discussing the establishment of a national transport commission to replace the National Road Transport Commission. This move follows a review required by legislation of the operation of the National Road Transport Commission Act, which at the time of the review had been in force for about a decade. It was felt by the framers of that legislation that it ought to be reviewed at a certain point in its operation, and that review has subsequently taken place. The review recommended that it was time to take the next step forward in the evolution of road transport regulation, which was to integrate it more seamlessly and successfully with rail transport and with other intermodal connections. This is, I am pleased to say, a measure which enjoys wide bipartisan support. It is a measure that was developed with the consultation and consent of the Australian Transport Council, which is made up of the ministers of transport from the states, the territories and the Commonwealth and the major road user groups—in particular the trucking organisations which have carriage of so much of our freight movements.

The National Transport Commission is intended to ensure the regulation of the national road and rail systems so that they can communicate with each other more effectively. I would have thought that, of the many occasions on which members rise in this place to support propositions—often with some difficulty—this is one occasion on which they can rise to support it with some ease. Where you have a relatively small population spread across a vast continent governed by three levels of government, having been hewn out of the rock of a Federation, there is a very great risk that the various state, territory and Commonwealth jurisdictions may not communicate with each other effectively. So there is a need for standardisation across the various jurisdictions.

We have seen the minister for education recently talking about the importance of national standards in education so that a parent might be able to move with confidence from one state to another and be assured that his or her child would be achieving the same minimum levels of outcome in the education system. In the same way, we would like a road user to be able to travel perhaps from the far north of Queensland to Tasmania via ferry and be confident, for example, about the rules governing the road. One of the successful initiatives of the former National Road Transport Commission was to develop a national uniform set of road rules. Now we need to move that kind of initiative forward to include the rail network as well.

The member for McMillan was quite correct to applaud and uphold those who were prepared, in his words, to take a risk and to have a go. I am pleased to see the gradual conversion of the ALP to modern democratic capitalism. It has been a long time coming. I note that the member for McMillan instinctively quoted from a Clash song from the 1980s, which I think reflects the current state of evolution of Labor's philosophical position in relation to economic management. Nonetheless, he did uphold those who were prepared to take a risk and to have a go. We gather together to uphold today those who are creating goods that need to be moved by trucks and by trains and by ships and by planes. That brings into sharp relief the issue of the intermodal focus of the new National Transport Commission. `Intermodal' is simply a transport jargon word for the point at which different forms of transport connect and interface with each other, whether they be road, rail, maritime or aviation. All the research shows that it is the seamlessness and the speed at which those interactions—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mossfield)—Order! If the members on my left would like to have a conversation, they should go outside because it is difficult to speak over the top of the chatter.

Mr ROSS CAMERON —Thank you for your characteristic courtesy, Mr Deputy Speaker. The seamlessness and the efficiency of those intermodal connections—for example, as a train comes to a stop at a port, the speed at which containers or bulk goods can be unloaded from that train and loaded onto a port—is one of the things that drives the efficiency of the national economy. In the same way, if we are moving containers off the back of trucks onto trains then the speed and safety of that connection is critically important. I was a member of the backbench transport committee along with the former Labor Minister for Transport, Peter Morris, who was described recently by Gough Whitlam as Australia's second best transport minister—certainly I always found him to be a person of wisdom and practical commonsense.

As members of that committee he and I went to the freight terminal at Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport. We listened to the problems of the exporters of high-value seafood who were seeking to export lobsters, oysters and other exotic produce. They told us that a palette of lobsters had sat on the tarmac in the midday sun at Sydney airport for 12 hours and been completely spoiled before it ever made it into the hold of an aircraft. We asked how that could possibly be in that the provedore would suffer enormous losses. We were told, `There are about five different unions that have to be negotiated with in order to get the produce to the hold of the aircraft. If any one of those unions decides not to play ball then the lobsters rot in the sun on the tarmac.' Many passenger aircraft were flying into Australia packed with people, goods and produce but almost all of them were flying out of Australia packed with people but no goods or produce. We need to enhance the quality, efficiency, predictability and affordability of those points of interchange.

While the National Transport Commission will not be focusing primarily—or even, I suspect, extensively—on the issue of public transport access, it is clear from all the research that, when we ask ourselves how we can reduce pollution by getting more people onto public transport in our major cities, one of the most critical issues is the quality of the interface between, for example, cars and trains or between buses and trains. Every time you introduce a new intermodal interface you tend to lose a cohort of passengers. Every extra minute that interchange takes is very costly to the patronage of the public transport system. The same can be said in the area of freight. So this is a fulfilment of the encouragement given by the member for McMillan that we should focus on our core responsibilities as a government—and transport is one of them. I entirely accept that proposition. What we are doing here is not revolutionary—it will not be reported on the front page of any newspaper tomorrow—but it is an important part of the work of this parliament.

I will conclude on the issue of coregulation. In the same way that the physical points of interchange between people moving freight in this country are critically important, the quality of the interface between the state, territory and Commonwealth government is also important. While the Commonwealth may not have an explicit power to command the obedience of other players on this issue of coregulation, we nonetheless have a leadership role to play, a catalytic role to play, in bringing together the states and territories to encourage the production of nationally consistent standards which would then be enacted by the states and territories on the strength of their own constitutional powers. So it is anticipated that the National Transport Council will produce model regulations for safety on these various modes of transport. The states and territories would not be compelled to adopt those model regulations; they may be at liberty to adopt some but not all of them according to their unique circumstances. So this is not a heavy-handed approach; it is the Commonwealth stepping forward to play our leadership role and saying, `We are going to produce what we regard as best practice in the regulation of safety or of some other aspect of the transport equation and we are going to encourage the states and territories, to the benefit of our shared constituents, to step up and join in the task of national best practice regulation in the transport sphere.' I commend the cognate bills to the House and I thank members for their participation in the debate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.