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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3274


Senator TAMBLING (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Transport and Regional Development)(3.06 p.m.) —Pursuant to an order of the Senate agreed to yesterday, and on behalf of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Development, I present an executive summary to the review of the Australian National Railways Commission and the National Rail Corporation conducted by Mr John Brew, and a statement relating to the document. I also seek leave to incorporate the statement in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows

Tabling Statement on the Brew Report

One of the surprises the Labor Government left for us was the state of Australian National.

The Australian community, and AN's employees had been assured repeatedly by former Ministers Brereton and Beazley that all was well at AN and that its future was secure. It wasn't, and they knew it.

They had been advised by their Departments in 1992 and 1995 that AN was experiencing serious problems and significant reform was required urgently. Laurie Brereton was also advised by the Chairman of AN in late 1995 about these problems, and instructed the Chairman not to do anything. `Its too close to the election', Mr Brereton said.

The Labor Government misled the Australian people; and they cruelly misled AN employees about the health of their business.

In effect, they planned for the current problems at AN, as the leader of the Opposition acknowledged on 26 August.

They established National Rail, removing from AN its major business but leaving it with all the debt accumulated by a much larger business. They then sanctioned some highly unusual commercial arrangements with NR which severely disadvantaged AN.

But they gave no thought to AN's future—they decided to do nothing to ensure it had a future. They knew what this meant—death by a thousand cuts.

The Labor Government understood the problem, understood that they had largely created it—but lacked the courage and honesty to do anything about it—to plan a future for AN and its employees.

The Minister for Transport and Regional Development commissioned the Brew Report soon after the Coalition Government came to Office—to reveal the true state of AN's problems and assist the Government in planning a future for AN and NR.

The Government is now examining every aspect of its involvement in the rail industry. We are considering the Brew Report and a range of other sources of information and advice.

The problems we need to address have developed over a long period, and the decisions will affect a lot of people. We are taking the opportunity to plan our future role in this industry carefully.

It hasn't been done before and we want to do it properly. A special Cabinet sub Committee is currently looking at reform options, and consulting with interested parties.

The Senate is now using its numbers to seek release of the Brew Report.

I am today providing the Executive Summary to the report, and the letter of transmission from Mr John Brew. The Executive Summary has been slightly modified to remove commercially sensitive material and some references to individuals—it is not appropriate that such material be publicly released at this time, although this may be possible after further consultation.

The Government will also consider releasing the balance of the report. We will need to examine material that is commercial in confidence, that provided to the review on a confidential basis, and that which is central to the Government's decision making process.

We will need to check with those people who contributed to the report that they are happy for their contributions to be made public. The report drew heavily on contributions made by people interviewed by the Review team and on written submissions to that team. These contributions were made on the basis that this was a confidential report to the Government on a range of policy and commercial matters.

Their contributions were in many cases personal in nature and include commentary on individuals and groups of individuals which are reflected in the report. They had no indication, or basis for believing, that their views or submissions would be made available to the public.

Public release of this material should only occur with the agreement of these contributors—and with the deletion of material where there is no agreement to release.

This approach is consistent with past practice. I can cite some examples.

In October 1994 Senator Collins, the then Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, declined to release commercially sensitive information, and I quote

A number of the documents sought contain commercially confidential and sensitive material relating to the businesses of third parties and/or ANL's current operations and business relationships. Release of these documents would be potentially prejudicial to the ongoing commercial operation of ANL and its business partners. Likewise, some documents contain records on the internal workings of government relating to confidential discussions on the privatisation process.

Senator Evans shared those concerns in speaking about this issue in September 1994.

In 1993, Senator McMullan declined to produce papers concerning an individual's applications to the Australian Artists' Creative Fellowships, until the person had been consulted.

- Senator McMullan (22 November 1993)

The Brew review team consulted with over 50 individuals and organisations in preparing their report. The consultation process will almost certainly lead to some deletions from the report before it could be tabled.

In tabling this material from the Report today I want to emphasis that the Government has not made any decisions on its future role in the rail industry, nor on any individual aspects of that role—including the future of AN.

The Commonwealth is actively considering its future role in the rail industry. The Brew Report is an important source document in that process.

However, it is only one of several sources of information being considered, and it is not necessarily indicative of the decisions the Government will take. The perception, which seems to be widely held, that the Report will be implemented, cannot be sustained at present. What elements of the report are to be implemented, if any, is yet to be decided.

An argument that has been used for public release of the report at this time is that there is a great deal of public uncertainty about the future of AN and the prospects of its employees.

The Government is very sensitive to the anxiety of AN's employees, and is seeking to settle these issues. No-one should assume the Government will be implementing this report in making decisions about their future.

Conclusion

This Government is committed to securing a future for the rail industry in this country. We will do it through carefully developed reforms.

At this stage we anticipate making decisions on all elements of the Commonwealth's involvement in the rail industry in October. These will cover the future of AN and NR, and establishment of a national rail infrastructure authority.

In particular, we will secure rail's future by creating an environment that encourages private sector involvement in rail operations and investment in the industry.