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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1388


Senator ARCHER(12.19) —The Opposition supports the aims of the Interstate Road Transport Bill 1985 and the Interstate Road Transport Charge Bill 1985. This legislation flows from several investigations but it was prompted in the end by the results of the May National Road Freight Industry Inquiry of 1984. The committee of inquiry comprised Mr Thomas May, Professor Gordon Mills and Mr Jim Scully, who received general acknowledgement for the work they did and for producing a very good report including 98 recommendations.

The report highlighted the position of the industry and the problems that go with it. As a result it highlighted the industry's history which showed that it has had many problems. The industry has a lot of instability, there seem to be worsening conditions, greater losses and bankruptcies and a lack of uniformity between the States. There are inadequate relationships between the operators and the shippers and so on. It is hoped that by getting some national legislation many of these problems will be overcome. There are wide areas of acceptance in the industry for this type of legislation but considerable reservations as to the legislation that is now before the Senate.

It has not yet been explained why it is necessary to have this legislation now. The Opposition can see no need to have this legislation dealt with at this juncture. It is little more than a framework for a Bill. The agreements with the States are not finalised; the regulations are far too general and too broad; the arrangements concerning rail, for instance, are not finalised in any way. There are no uniform agreements with the States. Nothing can happen before 1 July at the earliest, and there has still been insufficient consultation with large sections of the industry. In fact, only about an hour ago I received two telexes on the matter, and I think that it would be appropriate for me to read those telexes. The first was addressed to Senator Chaney, to me and to the Prime Minister and said:

We implore you to delay current legislation before the Senate regarding interstate transport referring to regulation changes expounded last May in the national inquiry into transport. Your source of information has been the TWU, the LDRTA, the NFFA as well as the Master Carriers Association all of which claim to represent a large portion of interstate owner drivers. This is totally untrue. This section of the industry believes that the proposed legislation is contentious and provokes further examination as it affects a large percentage of owner drivers not represented through the inquiry.

That is signed by Kevin Small. The next telex was addressed to the same people and read:

Further to legislation on interstate transport currently before the Senate, which is obviously the result of last May's inquiry into transport, we would advise that an estimated 95 per cent of interstate road freight is carried by owner drivers. Contrary to information you may have, very few of these owner drivers are represented by any organisation, i.e. Freight Forwarders Association, Master Carriers Association, TWU, or the Long Distance Road Transport Association. No doubt the above organisations claim to represent a large proportion of interstate owner drivers, however, this is quite untrue. We beg you to delay this legislation so our section of the industry can examine the proposals in detail.

That was signed Mr Reg Mullins. I know that truckies are difficult people to talk to because, like fishermen, they attend meetings very badly and prefer to work than talk. There is a tendency for them to be individual operators, but I am informed that probably 80 per cent of all operators are individuals and probably belong to no group at all. That makes our job of getting certainty as to details quite difficult, but we need to ensure that all operators are represented and that their views are known. I know that there have been efforts to try to do this and meetings at all hours of the day and night in all sorts of places around Australia, but I have not yet had enough evidence to indicate that there has been a general acceptance by the industry, or that it has been adequately consulted since these Bills were produced very recently.

The Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) has stated that there has been general support from the Australian Transport Advisory Council. I am not sure what he calls general support. Does that mean total approval and total acceptance, or is it partial approval and conditional acceptance? Is it subject to agreement on a whole range of issues yet to be finalised? There is a whole range of issues not yet finalised. In these discussions we must remember that we are considering an industry of approximately 15,000 operators. We are now talking about fees of the order of $1,400 for a large truck, plus another $300 for third party. We must also remember that the Interstate Commission has been charged with producing a report and having this in hand by the end of April 1986. In the overall time frame, that is not very far away. That report is on the cost recovery for interstate road and rail services. To the best of my understanding and on the best information I have been able to get, the States are most unlikely to pass any legislation without more consultation, and, at best, I cannot see them passing any legislation before the autumn session of the State parliaments, and probably not until after the Interstate Commission report comes down.

There is no doubt that the industry and the States will go along with any and every move that will produce better standards and greater uniformity, and improve safety, and that they will do their part in every way possible, but I am concerned as to whether the items that the Commonwealth has undertaken can be carried out by the Commonwealth. The industry in particular is wondering that also. We must be careful what we are doing because Australia has a particular need for long distance transport. The vastness of Australia makes it absolutely essential that we bring things together. So much of the production of Australia is away from the areas of either export or consumption and indeed the best possible system is needed to make that viable. It is vital that the costs be reasonable-both to those who are supplying the service and to those who will be using it. The economic efficiency of the system has to be maintained and assured.

We require and expect an undertaking from the Minister that there will be no proclamation of any of this legislation until all the present unresolved issues are finalised and legislated. The legislation cannot be fully effective without the complete adoption by all the governments concerned. I noticed in the Minister's second reading speech the following statement:

The report and the subsequent fast-track package have received broad industry and general community support as these groups have recognised that the recommendations must be implemented as a package.

I think that is very important, and the crux of the story is that it must be implemented as a package. I do not want to see us diving into this and trying to pass legislation covering one or two points, leaving all the rest still to be negotiated at some future time.

The legislation mentions an amount of $1,400. I am not satisfied that that figure can be included as any sort of undertaking. I am not sure whether it is reasonable that this figure be included at a time when there is another inquiry whose job it is to try to assess what that figure may be. It is also reasonable to point out that the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills on 9 October 1985 drew attention to the fact and said:

The Committee has consistently drawn attention to provisions permitting a tax, levy or change to be fixed by regulation without stipulating a maximum amount (see most recently its comment on the Dairy Industry Stabilization Levy Amendment Bill . . .)

The Committee draws the clause to the attention of Senators in that by leaving the amount of charge to be specified in regulation it may be considered an inappropriate delegation of legislative power.

We have to be careful that we are not leaving a figure to be arranged by regulation when that should not happen and when it should come before the Parliament, or, alternatively, I am not sure that the figure mentioned is not a foot-in-the-door figure. From other sources we are being told that it would not be possible to provide this coverage at $1,400. I have seen figures of $5,000 or even $8,000 mentioned by some sources as to what it may cost. I ask the Minister to bear this in mind. I would like to hear whether it is possible to give some reasonable guarantee as to what the costs will be, how they will be determined and whether this will be dealt with by the Parliament or by regulation. I believe that it should be possible to give the industry something that it really can understand. I do not think it is reasonable to expect the industry to support the legislation while it is so unclear as to a matter of money.

We have the question of the States' fees. I am not yet sure whether the States have agreed to accept the same amount or that a similar amount should be charged overall and those currently charging more should take less. I am not sure whether the States have said so. I do not think they have. We do not know yet whether all the government authorities, the trading authorities-I have seen Australia Post and Telecom Australia mentioned in this regard-will be paying the same sorts of fees as the rest of the trading sector of the economy. Mr Lloyd in the other place, I think, summed up the situation fairly well. As recorded on page 1200 of the House of Representatives Hansard for 18 September 1985, he said:

We believe that more exposure of the legislation is necessary because of the uncertainty as to how many of the aspects will be implemented, possible gaps and contradictions in the legislation, the too great a dependence on regulations and the uncertainty of the definitions.

Nothing has happened since then to close any of those gaps. I believe that there ought to be more detail as to the distribution of the money. I am not yet satisfied-I cannot find anyone who can tell me-as to what the formula for the distribution of the funds will be, how the items that go to it will be determined or whether there will be any appeals from State to State. We are told that a determination made by the Minister in writing will be the method. I am not sure whether that is the most appropriate way of going about it. I would like to see a much better defined method for distributing the spoils.

The question of safety is very important. Safety standards need to be uniform. But we are not yet told whether there are to be uniform vehicle inspection requirements, who will fund the stations, whether there will be a charge or the nature of the charge. Again, the regulations and clause 34 give the Minister the power to determine and declare standards, to be known as Federal road safety standards. But do the States know what those standards are? Does the industry know and is this area covered by what the Minister refers to as general support? There are many other areas of vagueness and lack of definition. I am not sure how we can satisfy the users or the other governments as to the matters they are raising.

As I have said before, this Bill is little more than a framework of a suggested piece of legislation. There is scope for so many amendments. Had we thought that the Government was absolutely serious about the legislation we would probably have produced 20 or 30 amendments to try to clarify some of the vagueness in the Bill. I hope that by the autumn session at least we will be able to have proper legislation with all the details, with agreements from the States and advice from the operators that they understand it and that they can assist in putting the various relevant areas together. The operators are giving us a lot of advice but it is conflicting, as I have said, because we are getting it from different sources. It is all being given with the best of intentions. All the operators fully support sound, fully explained and easily understood legislation, but we cannot give them that because the Government has not provided it. There is still room for much more discussion and much more input. In the House of Representatives a Government speaker made the following comment:

For the State Governments there will be improvements in railway cost recovery to match any improvement in cost recovery in the road freight section. This would also apply to the Australian National Railways Commission.

There has been no discussion to my knowledge of the degree to which that is likely to extend or how it is to be done. I raise the situation of the State of Tasmania. The Federal Government runs the railways service there. Is it the intention of the Government to see that the rail freights rise, bearing in mind the present loss situation of the Tasmanian railways? What will be the attitude of the Government if legislation affects the cash flow situation, if increasing the cost of rail freight creates a downturn in the amount of freight carried? Have there been discussions with Tasmania on this matter and have undertakings been given as to what the Government would do if its actions prejudiced the position of those railways? This is very important. It is not just one of the things about which we can say `This is just covered by general agreement', because general agreement requires a lot of specifics to fill it in.

The main objections that are being raised are that the legislation provides for a considerable overuse of delegation and regulation. There are far too many unresolved issues-unresolved with industry and with the States. There is no urgency. This legislation will definitely not be required before the middle of next year at least. I believe that the Bill should lie on the table to be dealt with in the autumn session after people have had adequate opportunity to look at it, after we have had an opportunity to gain input from those who are involved and after we have been able to resolve the many questions that still remain. I have said before and I will say again that this Bill is nothing more than a draft or a framework of legislation. It is so incomplete as to make the industry very suspicious of what the Government is trying to achieve. On behalf of the Opposition, I move:

Leave out all words after `That', insert `these Bills be withdrawn and redrafted to remove the current excessive reliance on regulation, for presentation in redrafted form at the commencement of the 1986 Autumn sittings'.

Debate (on motion by Senator Colston) adjourned.