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Tuesday, 5 November 1985
Page: 1578

Senator ARCHER(10.02) —I had not expected the Australian Democrats to support the common sense that we are trying to get into this debate. I think it is necessary to look at a few of the facts in relation to the interstate road transport legislation. The Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), in his second reading speech on 8 October, in one paragraph said:

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.

A bit later on he said:

I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of the co-operation that has been shown by the States and Territory governments, the industry, unions and users.

Those two statements are patently incorrect. Those of us who looked at the legislation in the early stages fairly naturally believed that the Minister had told us what the position was. What we find, of course, is that the States have not agreed and that an extraordinarily large proportion of the users have not agreed. Just to show the Senate that what I have said is correct, I will read portions of submissions made by some of the State Ministers. One of them says:

As the sole rationale for States participation in the scheme is to receive some funds out of it, all States should have an input in determining the distribution formula . . . before he nominates the roads on which the funds are to be spent.

A bit later on it says:

In addition to the above the Government is concerned about the possible use of section 34 of the Bill . . . specific conflicts between State authorities and then only with the agreement of the States through ATAC or one of its sub-committees is the way that it should work.

Another Minister said:

. . . the Federal Minister already has sole responsibility for the distribution of national road funds . . . taking these factors into account, I have agreed that the draft legislation should, if possible, be amended to incorporate the distribution principles . . .

This is a long way from being the sort of agreement that the Minister has talked about, or that Senator Vigor is of the opinion is correct. Clearly and patently it is not. Another Minister said:

Administratively, the Bill is cumbersome and would involve considerable additional workload.

Later he went on:

To help ensure that the new fee is constitutional, the Commonwealth has separately requested the Interstate Commission to investigate and recommend an appropriate level for the cost recovery-based fee . . . The problems are seen to be that the Commonwealth is seeking greater powers than it needs to, to achieve these objectives which would then compromise State/Territory powers and regulatory efforts. Because the detail had not been thought through, the legislation is too open-ended . . . the impression is the Commonwealth Minister is committed to proceeding with both the operator and registration provisions and through lack of advice, to retain provision for separate Federal safety standards and for offences where State Territory offences already exist.

A major problem appears to be that the Commonwealth officers involved have not appreciated the practical issues nor the scope for open-ended legislation to be abused over time. Their Minister has not been advised as to how to legislate to achieve the original purpose and avoid creating unnecessary concerns for the States Territories.

That is the sort of thing that has come through from the States already. This is the way that they see it. They have had to work on the presumption of the contents of the Bill and their work is based on very limited opportunities to examine the detailed implications. The operator licensing provisions are seen to be premature and the detail of how they are to operate has not been adequately thought out. It presumes too much on parliament. The remaining differences reflect mainly variations in regional considerations or delays by some administrations in implementation. Potential problems appear not to have been understood by Commonwealth officials. A much simpler, more effective approach would be for the safety requirements, of the State or Territory in which the vehicle is, to be met as at present and a further effort made to remove the few remaining differences between the State and Territory requirements. This is what the Minister told us had all been agreed. Agreed, my foot! We are a long way from getting this to the stage where we can accept it as legislation.

I have had a quick run through the main Bill and looking at the areas which require regulations, I found 50 separate clauses that I believe will have to be covered by regulations. To have what will amount to 70 or 80 regulations-because a lot of those clauses will require more than one regulation-in a Bill as small as this is asking too much of the industry, the State governments and this Parliament. If the Democrats want to fall for this business of giving an open cheque to the Labor Party whenever it asks for it, that is up to them. But it will not happen as far as the Opposition is concerned. It is our responsibility to see that this legislation is in a fit and proper condition when it comes before the House. If we are to get on with this legislation, let us look at these matters clause by clause and let us have some answers from the Government as to what this is all about. There are so many open-ended issues and so many questions not answered. Issues were raised in the second reading speech that are nothing to do with the Bill in any way, shape or form.

There is this question of the Inter-state Commission. Why is the Inter-state Commission making an inquiry if we are not even going to wait for the outcome? What is the point of the Government giving undertakings and kidding Senator Vigor about a $1,400 figure that it is prepared to put in the legislation when a couple of lines further down the page it says that it will take advice from the Inter-state Commission? I feel sorry for Senator Vigor. He has been sucked into believing this sort of rubbish. He has been hoodwinked and hoaxed in every possible way. I think it is time this House took the matter really in hand and made sure that it got the answers. I would be surprised if, on the information that we have before us, we would be able to line up all the road transport operators in Australia and put them through this rigmarole. I am very disappointed that the Government has not seen fit to take the advice it has been getting from the industry, from the State governments and from the Opposition. So be it; it is on the Government's head. But the Bill will certainly not go through without our complaining and I would certainly hope that the Democrats even yet will come to listen to the arguments that will take place in the Committee stage and get some sense from them.