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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 573


Senator VIGOR —by leave-The Inter-State Commission has quickly, in little more than a year, established a role for itself in the Australian transport industry. However, it is not an independent role. The Commission's role is qualified by the Inter-State Commission Act, by which it was created in 1975. The legislation was amended by the Senate so that only the Minister has the power to initiate investigations by the Commission. This means that the Commission is purely advisory and dependent upon the Minister. It cannot commence an investigation of any transport matter of concern without the Minister's reference; it has to report back to the Minister, and it is the Minister who decides whether the Commission's report of its investigations will be implemented. It does not have the regulatory role that was originally envisioned when as a Bill it was introduced into the Senate.

The reliance upon ministerial initiative has created an appalling waste of talent and knowledge. An important feature of the Inter-State Commission is that it will be an ongoing independent body that will accumulate and retain expertise on Australia's transport. That expertise, generated by its investigations, will make it aware of other issues in the area of transport that even the Minister, himself, may not be aware of. Under the present legislation the Commission will not be able to initiate investigations.

Another serious restriction upon the Inter-State Commission is that under section 6 of the Act it cannot investigate matters arising out of the Airlines Agreement Act 1952-1973. This prevents the total co-ordination of interstate transport and makes Australia's transport policy somewhat `itty-bitty'. An example of this problem is that the current review of the two-airline agreement is being carried out by one single person. But for section 6 of the Act that agreement could have been investigated by the three commissioners of the Inter-State Commission and fitted into the general pattern of Australia's land, sea and air transport needs.

Although the Commission has an independent role that is restricted and qualified, that role is still important, as was recognised by the Australian Democrats in May when we supported the Australian Shipping Commission (Additional Capital) Bill 1985 after an undertaking was given by the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris). He agreed to the Democrat proposal that the financial performance of the Australian National Line and its progress towards achieving its declared commercial goals be monitored and checked. This would be done by an independent report brought down in 1986-87. That investigation and report was the condition on which the Democrats supported the Bill and the injection of an extra $70m into ANL. Further, we requested, and the Minister agreed, that the report be carried out by the President or a Commissioner of the Inter-State Commission.

That report, which we believe will be brought down in 1986-87, will be significant. With it this Parliament will be able to consider carefully, based upon a solid base of data and facts, the fate of ANL, Australia's national shipping line, and the role of Government in the provision of shipping services. It will also check ANL's record over the period of grace provided by the $70m capital input.

The additional capital granted to ANL was important for its survival. It gave ANL a period of grace and provided the opportunity for our national line to grow in strength and importance. We must note that before this grant ANL had a very poor prospect and image. I am convinced that the important problems brought before the Commission will be handled properly. I commend the report to the Senate.

I commend also the Commission's current investigations into matters relating to the cost recovery arrangements for road freight and road passenger vehicles engaged in interstate transport.

It is extremely important to all Australians that the report should recommend at least that the Australian National Line and Australian National, our national railway system, should be given the same type of accounting structure and advantages as we have for our roads system so that we can effectively compare these various methods of transport.