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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27118


Ms LIVERMORE (1:20 PM) —I am pleased to be given the opportunity to comment on the latest report of the Standing Committee on Communications, Transport and the Arts, Back on track, which reflects the major issues raised by participants at a seminar convened by the committee late last year. The aim of last year's seminar—which I am sure honourable members have heard from the chairman, the member for Hinkler, already—was to bring back the key people and organisations involved in the 1998 inquiry that resulted in the committee's Tracking Australia report so that we could assess the progress made towards the recommendations listed in that report and its companion reports, the Smorgon report and the Productivity Commission's report, and the benchmarks set out by the Commonwealth government in its response delivered in April 2000. I was not on the committee for that major report of 1998, Tracking Australia. I naturally have a great interest in rail, however, because it is an important part of the local economy in Rockhampton, providing many hundreds of jobs, and it plays a vital role in the coal industry in my electorate.

Having not been on the initial inquiry, I did not go into the seminar last November with a detailed knowledge of the specific aspects of the rail industry reforms canvassed in the earlier report. It was interesting, though, that you did not need that detailed knowledge to pick up the overall impression of the industry players around the table—that their commitment to a dynamic, efficient industry, with a big future and a significant role to play in Australia's development and economic success, was not being matched by government. As the chairman pointed out in his foreword to the Back on track report:

While responsibility for ensuring the continuing development of the industry lies with many players, we believe that the cornerstone of the reform effort is political will.

The need for leadership at a Commonwealth level and a strategic national approach to rail infrastructure and the rail industry was a constant theme throughout the discussions at last year's seminar and is reflected in the committee's recommendations to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. As I mentioned before, I am relatively new to this committee, but it comes as no surprise to me that what has been identified as missing in the transport portfolio, particularly in relation to the rail sector, is leadership, an integrated strategic approach and, last but not least, some action. As a representative of a regional electorate, I have made the same lament in relation to this government's lazy and slapdash efforts in regional development. At least the minister, John Anderson, is being consistent across his portfolio responsibilities, even if not being constructive.

It was clear from the seminar that the industry is crying out for support and leadership from the minister. A particular problem area is in the planning of our rail transport needs and capacity and the development of infrastructure. So far, the minister's response has been at odds with the industry's wishes. In 1999 at the Ausrail conference the minister said that the government does not support a centrally planned approach which might be seen to be dictating national transport development. It seems that the minister's views criticising central planning for rail have become obsolete in any event, following the release of the Australian Rail Track Corporation's audit of the national network based on the corridor analysis methodology to widespread support from the industry. In the absence of any vision coming from the minister, the committee has recommended that the results of the ARTC's national infrastructure and performance audit be used as a guide to future investment in rail infrastructure.

What the minister derides as central planning in danger of dictating national transport development, the Labor Party sees as responsible management of an important facet of national infrastructure. The Labor Party will not take the same reactive ad hoc approach to national transport infrastructure as this government. Our policy is very clear about our intention to be much more proactive in bringing together state governments, industry players and private investors to develop a coherent integrated land transport system. For example, our policy platform includes a commitment to an integrated national rail network and tracks of national significance to the operation of the economy, including efficient intermodal connections, particularly airports. We promise to designate the interstate rail mainline network from Perth to Brisbane as the national rail system and maintain it in public ownership.

Furthermore, there is a promise to develop a national transport planning strategy and processes that provide for fair competition between modes, transparent and objective criteria for investment, equality of modal treatment in regulatory and financial issues, and policy integration with environmental, energy and land use objectives—just some examples of our approach to national infrastructure planning. In contrast the minister, John Anderson, has had three major reports in the last four or five years, plus this supplementary one, and so far has made no moves to address these issues. (Time expired)