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Monday, 3 April 2000
Page: 15073

Mr WAKELIN (9:00 PM) —The Transport and Territories Legislation Amendment Bill 1999 amends a number of acts under the Transport and Regional Services portfolio to help rectify some specific operational and technical anomalies. A further amendment contained in the bill relates to the Australian Capital Territory (Planning and Land Management) Act 1988, which currently requires that the full-time member, normally the chief executive, must be present at meetings of the National Capital Authority for there to be a quorum. The amendments in this bill remove the requirement for the full-time member to be present at meetings for there to be a quorum when the full-time member has disclosed a pecuniary interest. These amendments are relevant and necessary changes to be in place for a situation where a full-time chief executive of the authority or a full-time chairperson is the member who declares a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a matter to be considered by the authority and is therefore unable to be present at any deliberation of the authority with respect to that matter.

Under these amendments, if the full-time member is the chief executive and is unable to attend a meeting because of a declared pecuniary interest, a quorum will be formed by the part-time chairperson and two other members. If the full-time member is also the chairperson and the chief executive officer and is unable to attend a meeting because of a declared pecuniary interest, a quorum will be formed by any three members. Currently, parliamentary secretaries in the Northern Territory government—as the member for Batman has alluded to in a fairly crude fashion from the other side—are not members of the Northern Territory Executive Council and therefore are not eligible for remuneration for their services. Under the amendments prescribed, parliamentary secretaries will become members of the Northern Territory Executive Council and will receive remuneration, allowances and entitlements as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal.

These changes follow on from a letter sent to the Prime Minister in October 1997 by the then Chief Minister for the Northern Territory pointing out that the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 made no provision for the appointment of a parliamentary secretary to the Northern Territory government. One consequence of this was that there was no means of providing remuneration to the member of the Legislative Assembly who was performing the functions of cabinet secretary. The Chief Minister asked for amendment of the self-government act to provide for the appointment of parliamentary secretaries in the Northern Territory government and to enable them to become members of the Northern Territory Executive Council and therefore be eligible for remuneration for their services. The Prime Minister agreed to that proposal and it was an intention that these amendments be included in the department's Transport and Territories Legislation Amendment (Portfolio) Bill. The Office of Legislative Drafting was unable to provide the necessary resources to draft the amendments until October this year.

The bill amends the commencement provision of the Transport and Communications Legislation Amendment Act (No. 2) 1992 to overcome a technical difficulty that prevents a proclamation being made for the commencement of the amendments to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Act 1983. In addition, the bill amends the Christmas Island Act 1958 and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Act 1955 for three purposes: firstly, to remove the reference to a Western Australian court which has been abolished; secondly, to remove the application of certain provisions of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 to Western Australian employees who work wholly or mainly in the Territory; and, thirdly, to remove obsolete provisions relating to prisoners and accused persons. The bill also proposes some miscellaneous amendments to acts which contain drafting errors and gender specific language.

I note that the member for Batman made a few comments about rural and regional areas. It is probably timely to remind the House that it was not that long ago that the Labor Party was the government of the day and, in its enthusiasm in wishing to raise revenue in this country, it raised the excise rate from 6c or 7c a litre to 36c a litre. If there is one tax that impacts on rural and regional Australia, it is fuel excise. It is a truly regressive tax; that is, in rural and regional areas, the further you travel the more you pay. When you sit that alongside an urban transport subsidy, estimated to be about $6.5 billion in this country, you can see the sort of equity that you can expect under a Labor government.

The member for Batman made some mention of vital services. Much has been said in recent years about services to regional Australia. He made no mention whatsoever of the specific nature of any loss of service, and in my experience there has been very limited loss of service—and, in most cases, no loss of service. It is more accurate to say that under this government there has been an improvement, an increase, in services. I can point to Medicare agencies. I can point to the transaction centres. I can point to the Regional Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund, which has meant we have telephone services, particularly mobile telephone services, in Australia which a Labor regime would not have got within a bull's roar of.

I challenge the Labor Party to put on the table what they will actually do for regional Australia. It is a cheap shot in opposition to make these sorts of accusations. But in actual fact, until we see the colour of their policies, see the colour of their money, they can only be treated according to their previous form. When Paul Keating was Treasurer, one of his first acts was to abolish the fuel freight equalisation subsidy. His first act was to ensure that those people who lived in regional Australia paid significantly more for their fuel than did those living in urban Australia. Let us not forget those figures: the excise rate on fuel moved from 6c or 7c a litre to 36c a litre in the life of the Labor government, after collecting some $10 billion to $12 billion.

I will conclude by just making a few general comments about mandatory sentencing. In the context of what a self-governing territory is about—moving towards self-government—the coalition government does believe that it should dictate to states and territories what is their lawful and constitutional duty. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate for the Northern Territory administration, the Northern Territory government, and the Northern Territory people to make those laws and to vote in those members which they think most appropriate. It is not the role of the Commonwealth government to intrude upon those people who freely elect their own parliament. It is for us in the Commonwealth, who have this centre of government in Canberra, to facilitate the states and the territories in the exercise of their duly authorised power. It is a very clear principle in my mind that you should bring the laws and the authority of the state closer to the people, and that should be done through the states and through the territories and, wherever possible, through local government. I am a great believer in the separation of powers. We need a balance in this country and not a centralist government dominating and dictating from Canberra.