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Friday, 8 November 1985
Page: 1825


Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(11.05) —The questions that have been raised require some elaboration. It is clear that those Opposition senators who have participated in the debate do not clearly understand the strategy of the legislation and its attempt to establish some form of regulation, not for the purpose of regulation's sake, but rather to establish some influence on the way in which the industry should operate. For example, Senator Archer raised the question of establishing some form of a code without necessarily adopting some form of regulation. That raises the whole question of how the Commonwealth as a national entity without powers of regulation-unless we get the consent of the States-will be able to play the co-ordinating role which is essential if we are to have this industry functioning properly. I think every member of parliament accepts that the road transport industry is a very vital component of our economy.

Every time governments, of all political persuasions-whether Federal or State-or even local government authorities impose some code or regulation, certain business interests are usually critical about the imposition of a cost on them for the purpose of reaching some degree of uniformity and say that it should be opposed on that basis alone. The Commonwealth is concerned to establish uniformity not only to deal with road safety but also to protect the operator and particularly the small operator. Often the operator is not able to perceive clearly that the Commonwealth's objectives are ones that he ought to support. We have no need to look further than the situation with respect to the transportation of dangerous goods. A code for the transportation of dangerous goods was developed more than five years ago. Yet that code has not been uniformly adopted in Australia. So because of the various attitudes that exist within States and because of the constitutional problems that exist not only in respect of this industry but also generally, we cannot leave it to the adoption of such codes.

I fail to understand the reluctance of the Opposition to adopt a mature attitude to the legislation. Take Senator Lewis's contribution to the debate the other evening and his contribution today. After he had related all his experiences about road safety, speed and the state of the roads throughout Australia, he said:

It . . . demonstrates the need for the sort of legislation which is before the Senate tonight.

He talked about controlling the behaviour of truck drivers and he expressed great concern. This very piece of legislation is designed in the hope that it will solve that problem generally. The establishment of a regulated fee at the Commonwealth level will be implemented or assisted by complementary legislation in the States to reach the objective which the legislation seeks to achieve. That is why it has the support, as Senator Vanstone said, of the Australian Road Transport Federation. It recognises, as a responsible national body, the need to reach those particular objectives.

In respect of the fees that will be collected, I would have thought that those who have contributed to the debate would know that there is nothing in it for the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is not proposing to retain the fees; the Commonwealth is proposing to return the revenues in full to the States and Territories for their expenditure on roads, That may not reach the objectives of those Opposition senators who said that when they were in government they urged more money to be spent on roads. Of course, the Government supports that. The Government has drastically increased the amount of funds to be spent on our major road transport system and given funds to State governments and to local government to improve the road transport system generally-both the national road system and the local road system. They are all important factors in the way in which a modern economy should operate.

There is no doubt that the objectives that the Government has set in these matters are going to be partially met by the legislation and by the various regulations that the legislation will subsequently put into place. Clause 23 (3) makes it clear that these moneys are to be distributed between the States and Territories on the basis of the damage done to the roads by federally registered vehicles. There is absolutely no reason to fear that somehow or another we are setting up some incubus, some authority or some further bureaucratic control of the industry. Rather, by simply regulating the transport fees and the transport industry we will reach, we hope, the objectives which every member of the Senate seeks to achieve.

The amendments proposed by Senator Vigor are acceptable to the Government. Here again, there has been extensive consultation and discussion and compromise has been reached. As I said this morning on the motion dealing with this matter going to a committee of the Senate, the Government has at all times sought to reach an agreed position on this legislation. We hope, therefore, that the chamber will agree to the passage of the amendments, which are accepted by the Government.