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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2175

Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(11.15) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I have great pleasure in bringing before the House this Bill which will finally, after eight years of neglect by our predecessors, enable us to establish the Inter-State Commission. It has been a long standing commitment of the Australian Labor Party to establish the Inter-State Commission. We see the ISC as an important vehicle for promoting the rational development of national transport policies. The Government's action today fulfils an important election promise in the transport field. As honourable members know, the Inter-State Commission Act was passed with bipartisan support in 1975 but was never proclaimed by our predecessors. Proclamation of the Act was arranged by this Government and the Act came into operation on 27 September 1983.

The purpose of the Bill I bring to the House today is to update a number of provisions in the Inter-State Commission Act 1975 to take account of legislative developments since 1975. The proposed amendments are necessary to enable the Commission to become operational. They are essentially of a technical nature and the purpose and powers of the Commission will remain the same as those embodied in the 1975 Act. An Inter-State Commission is provided for in sections 101 to 104 of the Constitution. When the ISC we propose to establish is seen in its constitutional context, it is clear that its purpose is to assist in the improvement of interstate transport-and certainly not to hinder it through undue control and regulation, as has been inferred in some quarters.

Establishment of the Commission will complete the constitutional coverage on interstate transport matters. Section 92 of the Constitution protects freedom of trade among the States. In a complementary way, the Constitution provides for an inter-state commission to watch over and advise this Parliament on such matters. The Commission we shall establish will in fact investigate and advise government on allegations of discriminatory practices, inequalities, inefficiencies and anomalies in interstate transport. Governments and the Parliament have frequently been advised to establish the Commission. The most recent occasion was the report of the Senate Select Committee on Passenger Fares and Services to and from Tasmania, which recommended such action. A similar recommendation was made by the Commission of Inquiry into Transport to and from Tasmania in 1976.

The Commission provided for in the ISC Act is an investigatory and advisory body with royal commission-type powers. Its reports and recommendations will be tabled in the Parliament. It has no regulatory or judicial powers and will investigate only those interstate transport matters referred to it by the Minister for Transport. The Commission will be required to carry out wide ranging investigations covering economic, social, institutional and legal- constitutional issues affecting interstate transport. There is no other existing organisation that is equipped, or empowered, to carry out such inquiries. The ISC meets the need for an ongoing independent body that performs these functions . While in certain circumstances there will be a need for ad hoc inquiries to handle matters falling outside the scope of the ISC in general, ad hoc commissions and inquiries are expensive to establish and lose all the expertise gained when they are disbanded. The Commission will accumulate and retain such expertise.

In conducting its investigations the Commission will operate, in many ways, like a transport users tribunal. It will consult with and examine the submissions and evidence of the private citizen, unions, business, the community , employees, transport users and suppliers and governments. Users of transport have no single entity in Australia to which they can take any problems they encounter with anomalies, discriminations and inequalities that exist in our national transport system. At present they can only appeal to operator- controlled organisations-both government and private-whose own interests are generally paramount. The Commission will be a major vehicle for getting the facts out into the open when it examines interstate transport problems. It will have a significant role in keeping each transport system 'honest' and will develop a fund of expertise that will be invaluable to the development of national transport policies.

I now turn to some of the specific provisions of the Bill. Section 6 of the 1975 Act, which excluded any examination by the Inter-State Commission of matters relating to the operation of the former airline agreements, is to be updated to exclude matters covered by the new 1981 Airlines Agreement and the related Independent Air Fares Committee Act. The objective, as previously, is to exclude the Airlines Agreement from the ambit of the ISC, together with fare determinations. However, as domestic air freight is no longer regulated through the Airlines Agreement, it will now come within the ambit of the ISC. Other sections of the Act need amendment because of changes since 1975. The salaries of the President and members of the Commission are adjusted to present day equivalents. Penalties are updated and sections 22, 23 and 24 are replaced to take account of legislative developments in the field of retirement benefits and the Public Service Act since 1975. There is also a number of minor amendments included so that the Inter-State Commission Act will conform with current administrative procedures and legislative drafting practices. As I have mentioned, the powers and scope of the Commission provided for in the 1975 Act remain unchanged.

The Commission is expected to be established very early in 1984 and action is already underway to make appointments to the Commission. It is important that we appoint people of the highest calibre to perform this important constitutional role. In accordance with its status as a national body with constitutional authority, the Commission will be located here in the national capital. It will have a relatively small body of supporting staff to assist in the running and administration of inquiries and to provide analytical and technical advice. The cost of running its operations in 1983-84 is estimated to be of the order of $ 250,000. In a full year, when fully staffed, the amount would be approximately $ 1.5m to $2m. More precise figures will depend on the administrative requirements of the President, when appointed, and discussions with the Public Service Board and other provisioning departments.

It is not generally appreciated that for nearly every $10 of gross national expenditure $1 is spent on transport infrastructure and services. The transport and storage industries employ about 350,000 people or about 5.5 per cent of the workforce. This excludes the large number of people employed on their own account, or for companies whose transport operations are incidental to their main operations. Transport is clearly a significant part of our economy. The value of benefits to be gained by transport users from the ISC's role in bringing about a more rational, effective and efficient national transport system will vastly outweigh the very modest cost of the Commission. Government decisions in the transport area consequently have a wide ranging effect on most areas of Australian economic and social activity.

One of the first tasks of the Commission will be a review of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. Before the final terms of reference are determined I will be consulting industry associations, unions, interest groups and the Tasmanian Government. More generally, and in keeping with the Government's policy of consultation and reconciliation, I shall be consulting relevant State governments and other organisations that may be affected by any proposed reference to the Commission. As honourable members will be aware, it is the policy of the Government to ensure that the functions and efficiency of Government authorities are regularly reviewed. It is the Government's intention that the Inter-State Commission's operations will be reviewed within the first seven years of its life. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lusher) adjourned.