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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1740

Senator JONES —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. It refers to the Federal road funding programs. Can the Minister inform the Senate of any problems which have arisen in the administration of Federal road funding programs as a result of the amendment made by the Opposition last June to the Australian Bicentennial Road Development Bill? I would add that that amendment was supported in the House by the National Party of Australia, and in particular by Senator Boswell in this place.

Senator GIETZELT —I well remember the debate-a debate in which I acted on behalf of the Minister for Transport in this place-in which the Government tried to suggest to the Senate the need for some flexibility in respect of local road programs under the control of the States. However, I recall the inflexible attitude taken by the Senate. The Government wanted the Senate to endorse tendering arrangements for emergency works or minor works for local government regions projects in remote areas and tendering arrangements which could have been carried out with the express approval of the Federal Minister for Transport . I drew the Senate's attention to the problems that these amendments would create for many local government instrumentalities throughout Australia, particularly in Queensland. At the time I reminded the Senate that representations were made by the Tasmanian Minister for Main Roads and also the Queensland Minister. Nevertheless, the Senate decided to take a stand which now places the Government in an impossible position to meet any of the amendments to the tendering arrangements which have been requested of it by the States, particularly Queensland.

I remind one of the National Party senators from Queensland that when the debate was taking place he saw a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, but was not able to convince his National Party colleagues to join with the Government because the party room decision had been made without understanding the Government's strategy on this point. Several representations are now being made to the Minister for Transport, one from Senator Bjelke-Petersen, asking for an exemption from the tendering arrangements on the Landsborough Highway in central Queensland in the interests of the Main Roads Department employees, who now face the possibility of dismissal as a result of the decisions made by the Opposition in the Senate when these matters were being debated earlier this year. I can say only that National Party senators obviously were not convinced of the Government 's intentions. The Government has consulted the various States and the Australian Transport Advisory Council and it had the unanimous approval of that body. Thus, the minor works programs could have been carried out and the Federal Minister would have been in a position to accede to requests by the States for minor works and emergency works to be approved under the Commonwealth legislation. But that was denied us. Consequently, the Government's hands are completely tied. Of course, it was part of the argument at the time that everything should go from the public sector to the private sector. Contractual arrangements, I think, had been made by the contractor organisations and the Opposition in the Senate decided to listen to their demands rather than those of State government instrumentalities.