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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1573


Senator KILGARIFF(9.24) —Before the suspension of the sitting for lunch I was speaking on the Interstate Road Transport Bill. At that stage I was suggesting how ill-advised the Government was to press ahead with this legislation. I was indicating that I believe that there are very many reasons why the Government should not do so now. First of all, as I have said before, there is the Inter-State Commission inquiry into the cost recovery of road and rail services. This inquiry will not be completed until something like 30 April. As part of the package of Federal-State uniform legislation we have to consider the various State legislation. Having listened to the various speakers in this debate today, I would say that this legislation is hardly yet the light at the end of the tunnel. It will be many months, perhaps a year, before the States are ready. The vagueness of the legislation means that many Federal regulations will have to be drafted to bring some strength and basis to it.

It has been said that this is a Federal-State package, but here we see the Federal Government bringing in its legislation at least six months, probably 12 months, prior to the States' legislation, and one wonders the reason for this. Is it to be regarded as guidelines for the States, or merely as an indication to the States that they have to fall into line? It seems to me that if this legislation adds substantially to the cost of transportation it will mean a passing on of increased costs to the consumers of goods transported by road, and perhaps also by rail. There is an interesting side to this. Senator Archer quoted a Government speaker as suggesting that for the State governments there would be improvements in rail cost recovery to match any improvement in cost recovery in the road freight section, and that this would apply also to the Australian National Railways Commission. It appears as a rather ominous warning that we shall see increases not only in road freight but in rail charges too.

The people of the Northern Territory in outback remote areas-and this of course applies to Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland-are already suffering under the burden of high prices for the necessities of life. We have seen the cost of fuel and other necessities increasing dramatically in this last year. A submission by the Department of Transport and Works in the Northern Territory to the inquiry that is taking place at the moment points out that an increase of 5c per litre of fuel from 50c to 55c means an extra freight cost of $2 per tonne from Brisbane to Darwin.

Another item of considerable interest is that the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a report in September showing that the cost of goods and services in Darwin rose more in the three months up to September last than in any State capital city. The consumer price index, which measures the inflation rate, showed that Darwin's costs rose by 3.5 per cent in the three months to September. That was Darwin, but there are many other places in the outback and remote areas which are also suffering these extreme costs. Frankly, I do not think it right that these people who are prepared to live in remote areas-admittedly they have made the choice-should have such costs passed on to them, as it appears will happen under the present legislation.

As I have said, I support the approach of my coalition colleagues, which is to defer consideration of this legislation until such time as the Inter-State Commission reports to the Minister and we have some indication from him as to what tax will be imposed. This will give everyone time to look at the legislation properly and, given the Government's professed commitment to consultation and consensus, I am sure it would agree that the industry deserves at least that courtesy. I refer not only to the industry, particularly to independent truck owners who apparently are not being heard, but also to the States and the Northern Territory.

In closing I point out that, while I wish to see consideration of the legislation deferred, as I have indicated before, I am not opposed to those aspects of the legislation which deal with the need to improve safety standards and a more uniform approach to safety in the road transport industry. I know that those in the industry welcome measures designed to ensure their safety and the safety of other road users. Once again I make the point that, even though this legislation might be passed now by the Government, it will not be enacted for some six to 12 months, so it will have no effect on road safety measures until that time. We will have to rely on those safety measures at present enshrined in State legislation. In closing his speech, Senator Archer, the shadow Minister for the coalition in regard to this legislation, moved the following amendment on behalf of the Opposition:

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 think this is a very real and necessary request and I support Senator Archer wholeheartedly.