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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1507

Senator JESSOP(12.08) —We believe that the Interstate Road Transport Bill 1985 and the allied Bill have been brought in with undue haste and without proper consideration of those people who will be affected by their provisions. Senator Archer has moved an amendment, which I support, to enable proper consultation to be carried out. The amendment is:

Leave out all words after `That', insert `these Bills be withdrawn and redrafted, to remove the current excessive reliance on regulation, for presentation in redrafted form at the commencement of the 1986 Autumn sittings'.

I believe that the Government should pay regard to that amendment as being a responsible suggestion which would enable appropriate consultation to be carried out with the road transporters of Australia, particularly the small operators.

The Opposition's spokesman on transport, Mr Lloyd, pointed out in the debate in the House of Representatives that the coalition supports the overall aim of the legislation, but is concerned about the questions of adequate consultation, reliance on regulation and unresolved details of implementation. When one looks at the Bill, one sees that no fewer than 50 clauses are subject to regulation. I refer to some comments that have been made by the States on this matter. I remind you, Mr Deputy President, that, according to our information, the governments of Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania are opposed to the legislation and request a six-month delay. The Government of the Northern Territory has also expressed grave reservations about the passage of this Bill in its present form. At this stage no State has given any thought to the preparation of legislation. That is another very valid reason why a delay should take place. Operator organisations from Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania have not yet been lobbied or properly informed. New South Wales organisations support the Bill as its stands. I immediately become somewhat suspicious about that. In South Australia Barry Lewis, who represents the transport operators in South Australia--

Senator Messner —A very good man.

Senator JESSOP —He is a very good man who is extremely concerned about the whole question, the costs involved and the impact it is likely to have on small operators. He opposes the Bill and also claims to represent-this has been substantiated-Western Australia's opinion. When one considers that this Bill contains no fewer than 50 clauses that are subject to regulation, it seems to make a mockery of the Government's undertaking to deregulate industry. Certainly, the Opposition is of that view and when we are re-elected to government after the next election we will do all we can to deregulate industry, to free it up so that costs can be kept at a minimum and enterprise can be allowed to carry on without being encumbered by unnecessary bureaucratic or government controls.

I refer to several comments following the Australian Transport Advisory Council's meeting in Perth not very long ago. A typical comment is that under the Bill the Commonwealth has responsibility for determining how the fees and charges collected under the Bill are distributed. As the sole rationale for a State's participation in the scheme is to receive some funds out of it, all States should have an input in determining the way in which these fees are distributed. There has been no consultation in that respect. It is also recognised that section 92 of the Constitution limits the flexibility of the Federal Minister in this regard, it being necessary for the funds to be spent on roads which are damaged by interstate vehicles. However, it would seem reasonable to all the States that they should be consulted before the Minister determines the allocation each year and in particular, before he nominates the roads on which the funds are to be spent.

Senator Archer has drawn my attention in particular to the fact that Tasmania is particularly vulnerable in all questions of funding allocation. I believe that Tasmania's circumstances ought to be considered with respect to the formula that may be proposed. I add also that Tasmania has only a few hundred interstate vehicles registered at present and it is not expected that the amount of funds that will ultimately be derived from Tasmania by way of the proposition put forward by the Commonwealth will be very great compared with the amount derived from other States. Of course, the point is that, apart from New South Wales, all States have expressed concern and they seem to be in agreement. They point out that, in addition to the question of equitable distribution of revenue, they are concerned about the possible use of proposed new section 34. The Minister should act or produce Federal road safety regulations only in order to resolve specific conflicts between State authorities and then only with the agreement of the States through ATAC or one of its sub-committees. Proposed new section 34 of the Interstate Road Transport Bill states:

Federal road safety standards

34. For the purposes of this Part, the Minister may, by order in writing, declare standards, to be known as federal road safety standards with respect to road safety matters.

Certainly I subscribe to the view that it is necessary to look at road safety standards on a Federal basis. But this should not be done autocratically by the Commonwealth Government imposing its views on what the standards should be without appropriate consultation with the States. The other matter is that in my view and in the view of the Opposition this measure will place additional costs upon the transport industry. As I understand it, it seeks to impose fees which, in my view, are unrealistic and unfair. The Bill should not be allowed to pass until all these matters are thoroughly canvassed. I believe that Senator Archer put forward some very positive reasons why that should occur.

The Northern Territory also has reservations in common with those of the States of the Commonwealth. The Northern Territory points out that there are questions, again in a repetitive sense, about how the refunding of revenues will work. People in the Northern Territory are not clear about how the scheme will apply to trailers owned by people other than the prime mover owners. That presents a problem which needs to be discussed. The Commonwealth has been advised by the Northern Territory at a departmental level of the concerns it has. The Northern Territory has given suggestions, other than for the trailer aspect, on how the registration scheme could work most effectively. The Commonwealth was also advised that the operator provisions are premature for the reasons I have previously stated-lack of consultation with operators and lack of communication with the governments of the States and the Northern Territory.

A Commonwealth-State meeting was held in Sydney on Friday, 23 August. It was aimed at sorting out these types of problems. That meeting resolved some of the problems, but the impression is that the Commonwealth Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) is committed to proceeding with both the operator and the registration provisions. Through lack of advice, the Commonwealth Minister will retain provision for separate Federal safety standards and for offences where State or Territory offence provisions already exist. I know that Senator Kilgariff, who is in the chamber at present, has been very concerned about the impact of this legislation on the Northern Territory. He has expressed his disgust at the lack of consultation with the Northern Territory Government on this important matter.

Other comments that have been made have been based on a presumption of the content of the Bill presented in the Federal Parliament from the contents of a draft Bill previously circulated for comment, plus alterations advised by the Federal Minister to the Victorian Transport Minister, and other information. They are also based on very limited opportunity to examine the detailed implications of the Bill. I am afraid that I could go on for an hour or so giving other illustrations. I know that the Acting Deputy President would have no objection to that. He may even indicate that he is sympathetic to what I am saying. But certainly the Queensland Government in his State has registered its dismay at the lack of consultation with respect to this important matter.

Comments have been made on the matter, and the call from the industry seems to be generally that the Bill should be deferred to enable proper consultation to be carried out. I wish to quote from an article in the Border Watch, a paper that is avidly read by many members of this Parliament and by some former senators like Senator McLaren, and I believe even Senator Withers occasionally reads the Border Watch, because it contains some significant articles. This article arose as a result of meetings that were held in the south east attended by Mr Porter, the honourable member for Barker. The first comment in that article states:

Truck operators want deferment of the Interstate Road Transport Bill 1985 so that apparent anomalies can be rectified in consultation with the transport industry,

It goes on to highlight the points I have already made. Another headline in the newspaper reads `Truckies in new attack on ``Tax'' '. That article reads as follows:

The Federal Transport Minister, Mr Morris, had not told `the whole truth' about proposed transport industry reform, according to South Australian truck drivers.

That refers to recent times, namely 25 October this year. The article continues:

There were obvious intentions behind the Interstate Road Transport Bill that Mr Morris could not explain . . .

That claim was made by the South Australian Professional Drivers Association whose President, Mr Barry Lewis, said:

. . . the association saw the Bill as a `backdoor to road tax.'

The Bill introduced two methods of calculating truck registration-either by a straight $1,400 fee or on mileage, as measured by a monitoring device.

Mr Lewis said Mr Morris had failed to explain why the two methods were needed.

Mr Laurence Byrne, General Manager of the Scott Group of Companies in the south-east, said:

. . . industry should be consulted and not rail-roaded into `an ineffective, unresearched, unworkable, over-governed legislation for an already troubled and fragmented industry'.

So the article goes on, repeatedly emphasising the lack of thought put into this Bill; the determination of the Government through at least 50 clauses to be able to regulate the industry without any parliamentary supervision or any consultation with the industry at all.

I totally support the Opposition's approach. I hope that the Australian Democrats will support a deferment of this Bill to enable adequate consultation to be carried out with people involved in the industry. We are particularly concerned about the small operators. The big, monopolistic type of operators may be able to overcome some of these problems without a great deal of inconvenience, although at an additional cost. However, we are very much concerned with the small business operators who are providing an important service to the whole community in this important area of transport.