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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1509

Senator BOSWELL(12.24) —The Opposition approves of the principle behind the Interstate Road Transport Bill, but it has some reservations over the Bill and its effects and it will be moving an amendment. Most of the problems arising from this Bill occur because of the haste with which it has been put before this Parliament. The Bill and its allied Bill allow for a system to be established whereby heavy vehicles involved in interstate trade will be federally registered. The registration fee will go into a trust fund called the Interstate Road Transport Trust Fund and it will be administered by the States. This fund will be used for road repair and maintenance. The legislation covers only those vehicles that are used in interstate trade. I know that some associations are desperately trying to get this legislation through, irrespective of whether it is complete. Their argument is that any legislation is better than none and that someone has to make the first move so the States will move to get their legislation through. I say to those associations: We state in our amendment that we would like this legislation to be pulled out and redrafted, and the anomalies sorted out. I note in passing that an examination of the present State charges shows that the two free enterprise States, Tasmania and Queensland, have the lowest registration fees of any State. That is another example of why people should support the free enterprise side of politics.

This legislation introduces a Federal operators licence to carry on an interstate road transport business. The fee is to be paid annually and a register kept of the licensed operators. That measure, of course, is to be welcomed. The whole important issue of Federal and road safety standards--

Senator Walsh —Who wrote that for you?

Senator BOSWELL —I thought the Minister would keep quiet after the question asked of him a few weeks ago. The important issue of Federal and road safety standards is given to the Minister by this legislation. The Minister is given the power to establish standards by regulation without any guidelines or conditions, and that is causing the Opposition some concern. This legislation is wide in its application and it attempts to deal with many aspects of the road transport industry. The key to this legislation is the agreement between the States and the Commonwealth to introduce complementary legislation, yet a lot of the States have not put down their legislation as yet. The State legislation will cover what is called `the fast track package': The introduction of a graduated truck licence and minimum requirements for operators to observe; action to improve railway cost recovery to match any improvements in cost recovery in the road freight industry; the removal of speed limit differentials beween trucks and other vehicles outside built-up areas; and the removal of fees charged by some States on vehicles already registered in other States.

As I understand it, due to the haste with which the Government has attempted to put through this legislation, much of this complementary State legislation is not in place. The proposed State legislation represents some of the compensating factors for the truck operator in return for paying the new Federal charge of around $1,400 a year. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that the Federal and State laws be implemented at the same time. The States' obligations cover very detailed matters. There is general public concern about the speed limit question. The matter of comparable rail cost recovery is also an enormous question. It will require endless research and discussions. It will obviously be a tremendous exercise.

The Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) referred to the vexed issue of the relative levels of cost recovery for competing interstate road and rail operations. The Minister should have waited for the report of the new Inter-State Commission to come down. He has not done that. This is putting the legislation at risk. As much of the State legislation is not in place and as much of it requires long deliberations on the part of the State, it is of concern to the industry and to the Opposition that this report has not been accepted. The Minister, in his second reading speech, has not given any assurance to the industry that it will receive its side of the bargain, at the same time as bearing the cost of new charges. The Minister, in his ssecond reading speech, has told us that the vehicle registration scheme will be proclaimed once substantial progress has been made on implementing the fast track package and that the operator licensing scheme will follow and be proclaimed to match equivalent State legislation. Mr Lloyd, the shadow Minister, has asked repeatedly for an assurance from the Minister that the legislation will not be proclaimed until the State legislation is in place, but he has not received an assurance as yet.

The road transport business is an expensive business, especially for the small independent operator. Many of these small businessmen struggle under enormous work loads and debt repayment commitments. Yet, at the same time, it is their way of life. It is the job that they wish to do. They are prepared to endure the hardships that the trucking business puts out to them. They are free enterprise people. They want to do their own thing, but they want some protection. These people, like so many in small business, have been slugged by this Government's big taxing ways and its economic mismanagement. This year there has been an increase of 10c a litre in the price of fuel and the imposition of a capital gains tax. We have now been told of the ruling of the Treasurer (Mr Keating) that capital gains tax will apply to leased equipment. The devaluation of the dollar has pushed the cost of rigs, which have to be imported, right through the roof. Most of the independent operators have to buy rigs from overseas and the high interest rates are crippling them. The truckie now spends most of his income on overheads.

I object to the unwarranted costs, such as fuel taxes, high interest rates, capital gains tax, exorbitant export charges and straight jacket tax rulings, that this Government has imposed on small business and farmers. These costs are unfair. They merely take from the productive sector and put into the public sector. To prevent yet another unnecessary charge being put on small business, I ask the Minister to assure road transport operators that the Bills will not be proclaimed until more consultation is held with the operators, until the vagueness of the regulatory powers is worked out and until the counterbalancing State legislation is put in place.

I know that another area that is causing some concern in my State is the allocation of funds out of the Interstate Road Transport Trust Fund for road repairs. This is not surprising when one considers the raw deal which Queensland has had from this Government. The Queensland Government has been short-changed in respect of Medicare, youth unemployment and education-to name just a few areas-to the tune of $250m. It is concerned, rightly, that it will not get its fair share out of the Interstate Road Transport Trust Fund. It is probably another penalty that this Government wants to impose on Queensland for supporting a free enterprise Queensland State Government.

I return to one area which the Bill addresses; that is, the need for licences for operators. For too long, small independent truckers have been at the mercy of unscrupulous operators who often leave the independent trucker little or no alternative than either to lose his livelihood or breach road and safety laws to fulfil a contract. Hopefully, this type of situation will end under the introduction of operators' licences and graded licences for drivers, a system which is already in place in Queensland.

Senator Walsh —I thought that you were for free interprise.

Senator BOSWELL —I am for free enterprise. I know that there is some concern in the industry. The report of the Senate Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills dealt with this matter. The regulations and rules are open- ended and the punishment is somewhat draconian. I request that the Minister review some of the draconian laws that the Bill would enact. Two specific concerns to the industry are the possibility that there will be a large rise in registration fees, which will act as a de facto road tax, and that the Bill allows penalties which are too severe for any accidental breaking of the law. For instance, one area about which concern has been expressed is that, if the monitoring device is stolen, accidentally knocked off or tampered with and the truck is discovered without it, the truck can immediately be taken off the road. There seems to be a need to give some consideration to that aspect of the Bill. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee has drawn attention to the fact that the maximum registration fee that can be charged is not stipulated. Again there seems to be a need to have a maximum limit so that truck operators will not face unreasonable costs.

In conclusion, apart from these technical matters due mainly to the haste with which the Bill has been brought before the Parliament, it is a Bill which I believe has the support of the Opposition but which needs some refinement and adjustment. If the legislation protects small business and improves safety standards for both the industry and the general public honourable senators on this side of the chamber will support it with the reservation that more consultation with the industry is needed and some of the specific problems that I have brought up need to be addressed in the legislation.