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Tuesday, 23 November 1993
Page: 3485


Senator COULTER (10.25) —These bills propose a number of amendments to 16 acts within the transport and communications portfolio. There are a number of technical amendments and some new arrangements for policy delivery. Included in the bills are amendments to the Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988.

  In his One Nation statement in February 1992, the Prime Minister announced that funds would be set aside for a significant upgrading of the inter-capital rail network. This project was conditional upon the Commonwealth receiving appropriate recognition of these funds as equity in the National Rail Corporation Limited.

  Under the amendment, the Commonwealth will be entitled to shares in National Rail equivalent to the value of payments made in respect of certain nominated railway projects. The amendments allow for the shareholders to issue shares to the Commonwealth, should they agree to do so. The amendments will also allow funds to be used in capital contributions as well as for the payment of grants. The effect of this amendment will be to allow the Commonwealth to have equity recognition but only with the agreement of shareholders.

  It is more than a pity that the government has taken so long—more than 18 months since it was first announced in the One Nation statement—to provide for these new funding arrangements in rail development. The grand commitment to improving Australia's rail system and creating jobs has been bogged down in government ineptitude and hidden agendas, as its so-called job creation strategy sought to retrench more people in the rail industry—and that is particularly true in my own state of South Australia.

  There are also amendments to the National Railways Commission Act to increase the penalty provisions for anyone who recklessly endangers a train. It is also proposed to extend the powers of inquiry into rail safety incidents. It is to be hoped that these measures are a sign that the government is truly committed—truly committed, not as it has been over all the years since it came in in 1983—to improving rail services and safety in an effort to encourage greater use of what is potentially a very cost-effective and environmentally conservative form of transport.

  The legislation provides for amendments to the Civil Aviation Act and the Air Navigation Act. The former enables the CAA to more effectively regulate foreign registered aircraft which are employed in domestic commercial operations. In order to ensure that Australia's laudable air safety record is maintained, I hope that the CAA is more diligent in this area than it has shown itself to be in relation to the new air space rules which fell on their face only a few weeks ago.

  The final area of this legislation I wish to address is the amendments to the Navigation Act of 1912. The legislation provides for the making of regulations relating to the qualifications, training, standard of competence

and licensing of marine pilots in the Australian coastal area. This, of course, is a matter which has received a considerable amount of attention in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.

  There have been recent reports in the media and discussions in this place about the disgraceful state of ships traversing Australian waters and the often compete lack of training and experience of the crews who man them. Indeed, I think Senator Margetts today moved a motion with respect to that. Thus far, it would seem that it is only divine intervention that has prevented a serious environmental disaster and loss of life. It is the case that significant areas of the Australian coastline and the channels north between Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have been only partially mapped, making the task of marine pilots traversing these waters even more difficult.

  If shipping is to fulfil its task of transporting Australian product to the world, it is imperative that ships which travel our waters be conducted safely, guided by pilots with a high standard of training and competence. The amendments proposed are a small step in the right direction. The minister will be pleased to know that the Australian Democrats will be supporting this bill.