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Friday, 8 November 1985
Page: 1813


Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(10.44) —The Government does not accept the second attempt being made by the Opposition to delay this legislation. In the debate that took place on the legislation last Tuesday an attempt was made by the Opposition to delay it. Now we have the assurance of Senator Puplick that that is not the intention. Nevertheless, the motion we are debating today-incidentally, it was moved after the conclusion of the second reading debate, taking advantage of a standing order-seeks to have this legislation referred to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. It is a rather hollow tactic on the part of the Opposition to prevent the Senate in a four-day sitting from passing one piece of legislation. This will be due substantially to the tactics the Opposition has adopted during this sitting week.

It is just not true to say that inadequate or unfair consultation has taken place in respect of this legislation. For the past two years the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris), in his inimitable style of seeking views, and compromise where views cannot be accepted, from the States and other interested parties, has brought down a fast track package of legislation which will have the effect of substantially meeting the needs of the industry. The legislation was formulated on the basis of extensive consultation with all the major political parties ensconced in the State parliamentary area. It is a tribute to the Minister that he has been able to reach substantial agreement with National Party, Liberal Party and Labor Party governments because not even within the Labor Party is there necessarily a common position on matters affecting Commonwealth jurisdiction on which there are State views and which involve States' rights. This legislation was debated at length in the House of Representatives some weeks ago. It is wrong to suggest that somehow or other the legislation which has come into this place does not represent the consensus and the compromise approach which has been the objective of the Government in respect of the legislation, knowing full well that the introduction of legislation that does not have the support of the States and cannot, therefore, be portrayed as representing a genuine view in respect of State attitudes means that its passage in the Senate will be rather torrid.

Senator Puplick, who was forced to carry a brief at short notice, spent half his time denigrating or attempting to embarrass the Australian Democrats. He put up a pretty implausible argument as to why the legislation should be put aside. It is clear that the Opposition has no coherence on this matter. In the debate that has taken place on these two pieces of legislation affecting the national attitude to our fast track industry, the important road transport industry, most of the Opposition senators said that they supported the legislation and its general thrust. Yet, when it comes to the nitty gritty of dealing with this matter in a cogent and sensible fashion, Senator Puplick seeks support for a part time amendment to refer the legislation to a committee. This would achieve the same objectives as the amendment that was defeated in the Senate on Tuesday night. That is why Senator Puplick has spent so much of his time, not debating the logic or illogic of the Opposition's policy attitude to the legislation, but rather attempting to make some sort of an impassioned plea to the Democrats to change their view as expressed in the vote on Tuesday night and vote for the amendment which, if accepted by the Senate, would probably mean that no legislation at all would be passed in this sitting week.

The Government has the responsibility of governing. In this session it has brought down these two pieces of legislation to meet that objective. A committee was set up which reported to the Parliament in September 1984. Since that time the Minister has spent countless hours as, indeed, have his officers, in travelling throughout Australia talking to the leaders of the industry and the States and coming to a conclusion which will have to be accepted. This conclusion was reached in a spirit of compromise; nevertheless it met the basic thrust and the basic responsibility of a national government to produce a piece of legislation that would establish some measure of influence, control and jurisdiction in respect of the road transport industry. Since this legislation was being discussed in the House of Representatives we have had correspondence, telexes and other indications from the States of support for the general principles of the legislation. On 17 September, Mr Hinze, the Queensland Minister for Local Government, Main Roads and Racing, said in a telex:

Given the constitutional realities, and the complexities of other alternatives Queensland agrees that the Commonwealth Government should implement the type of scheme proposed.

He then went on to say:

Generally, there has been good co-operation between Commonwealth and State officials working out the administrative details of the scheme.

One Labor Minister, the Western Australian Minister for Transport, in a letter of 21 October-that was after the House of Representatives had passed the legislation and referred it to the Senate-said:

My Government accepts that the Commonwealth is acting in good faith with this legislation, for the benefit of the States.

Of course, the gem of them all is the statement of the Tasmanian Premier, Mr Gray, made on 20 October 1985 in a welcoming speech to the Australian Road Transport Federation. He said:

My Government has expressed its support for the fast track package . . . and is currently working on means of implementing those recommendations requiring State Government action.

One is therefore entitled to ask what is the Opposition's strategy and what are the problems for the Opposition? Is it that the Opposition, having said in debate that it generally supports the legislation, is taking the delaying, obstructionist tactics which have been a feature not all the time but from time to time of the tactics of the Opposition in the Senate when we have had Federal Labor governments? It is just not true to say that somehow or other the Government is acting improperly or that it is not acting in concert with the States. It is also not true to say that it does not have the substantial support of the industry itself.

Listening to the debate on this legislation one could come to the only conclusion that the Government is faced with an Opposition that is playing an obstructionist role. For example, in the debate on Tuesday the Opposition moved an amendment to the motion for the second readings, and that was defeated. The Opposition then indicated that in the Committee stage it would move 50 amendments which were clearly designed to bog the Senate down and to create difficulties in the passage of this legislation. Will we be confronted with that action, assuming that the Senate does not agree with the new tactic that has obviously been thought out by the Opposition front bench? Will the Senate be put in such a position whereby, the Opposition having taken the opportunity to move an amendment at the second reading stage-I appreciate that that is a definite tactic-it will be bogged down with 50 amendments from the Opposition?

There have been discussions with the Opposition and with the Australian Democrats. A measure of goodwill and co-operation has been extended by the Minister in the way in which he has operated not only in this place but also in discussions that took place with the industry and with State representatives. We concede that it is not always possible to accommodate everything that is asked for when there is a conflict of views, but the Government believes that the legislation is a reasonable compromise. Therefore, any suggestion that some fast track tactic is involved, that we are trying to prevent the Senate from exercising its review responsibilities and that somehow or other we are denying the normal and logical debate processes on this legislation, falls down completely because there is no evidence to suggest that the Government's approach to this matter is not fair and reason- able. It is just an example of the democratic rights of sections of the industry to present another viewpoint.

Who do we accept represents the viewpoint of the industry? One small group that is very vocal has a right to present its view to government, the Opposition and to any other person involved in the debate on the issue. We concede that. Nevertheless, the Government has set itself the responsibility of having this legislation passed so that we can begin the process that Mr Gray suggested, that is, the process of complementary legislation which has to flow from State jurisdictions.

We know that the passage of this legislation does not mean that as from Monday next, for example, all things will fall into place and another area of consultation with the States will take place as they begin the process of bringing in their complementary legislation. That is the way in which governments and Ministers should operate when we have to deal with six States. We should have consultation with not only the States but also the Territories. We are attempting to establish some form of uniformity in road safety standards; we are attempting to establish a package which will protect the interests of the operator, particularly the small operator. He may not see it that way. Nevertheless, that is the strategy of the Government and that is the strategy that everybody associated with the industry accepts is fundamental if we are to bring about a cogent and coherent policy in respect of the road transport industry.