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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2217

Mr REEVES(4.23) —I never cease to be astounded by the statements the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher), makes in this House about transport.

Mr Hodgman —When are they going to build the railway?

Mr REEVES —We will get to the railway in a minute. A few weeks ago the shadow Minister came into this House and said that the $5m this Government had allocated for the Alice Springs to Darwin railway route identification study should be withdrawn. In other words, the Opposition's spokesman on transport does not want the Alice Springs to Darwin railway to go ahead. That is what he said in this House not two or three weeks ago. Today he said in this House that the Australian National Line should be and would be closed down once the Liberal and National parties got back into government, if that ever happens, and along with that, of course, that the Darwin east coast shipping service would be closed down.

In the past two to three weeks we have seen the shadow Minister for Transport in this House suggest, firstly, that the Alice Springs to Darwin railway should be scrapped and, secondly, that our other transport link with the other States- the Darwin east coast shipping service-should be closed. We have not yet heard what he has planned in the areas of air and road transport but I am quite sure that he will have some hare brained scheme in mind for them too. If by some misfortune the Liberal and National parties ever manage to get back on to the Treasury bench we would find the Northern Territory left with no transport links at all. The shadow Minister has already suggested that we close two of them right now. I suggest that the people in all remote areas of Australia, not only in the Northern Territory, who rely on these public transport enterprises should take heed of those statements that the shadow Minister for Transport has made in the past few weeks about transport services in remote areas such as the Northern Territory.

Earlier he spoke about the continued Liberal-National Party theme over the past seven years about public enterprises. Public enterprises in Australia have been the subject of seven years of neglect and abolishment under the regime that purported to run this country before us. That so-called Government had a manic fixation against all public enterprises. The honourable member for Hume confirmed in his speech this morning that that is still its attitude towards public enterprises. The previous Government's vendetta against all things public reached ridiculous ends. It set about giving away profitable public enterprises to its cronies in big business and it destroyed any sign of enterprise or morale in the remainder of the public enterprises it did not give away as though these characteristics in public enterprises are some sort of cancerous disease.

At the same time the previous Government milked dry just about every public enterprise in this country. It took away their surpluses and capital and expected them to continue to operate while interest rates were going through the roof. Having turned these public enterprises into emasculated wrecks the previous Government stood back and said: 'See, public enterprises can't operate; they just can't make profits. The only people who can do that are private enterprises'. Telecom Australia was under seige and in its death throes by the time this Government came to power. Australia Post had its profitable limbs dismembered. The Australian Broadcasting Commission was strangled to death by a lack of funding. In the public transport sector Trans Australia Airlines, Australian National and ANL were being buried under years of neglect, lack of leadership and abuse.

When the Hawke Labor Government arrived on the scene these previously great public enterprises were in various stages of advanced decay. After months of intensive care we now see them returning to their better selves. They have the new lease of life that they deserve. Talking about ANL, I believe that ANL, along with the other public enterprises, has to do its part. I am sure that it will, given the leadership the present Government has shown, and that it, along with the other public enterprises that have been the subject of this vendetta over the past seven years, will start to come good. This Bill is a part of the rescue operation for the Australian National Line. Before I deal with the Bill in detail I would just like to describe what happened to ANL under the previous regime.

Mr Lusher —You did not misunderstand me.

Mr REEVES —The honourable member is the shadow Minister for Transport. This is one of the major pieces of transport legislation before the House and he was not even present for the debate on it. If he had been doing his job he would have been in this House and heard it. He should get the Hansard and read it tomorrow since he did not have the time to come into the House and listen to it earlier. Under the previous regime, ANL had been subject to the process I have described, a process of neglect and abuse. It seems that in about the middle of last year ANL decided that it would give up trying to do the job under trying circumstances and it applied the old adage: If you can't beat them you join them . So it started to play the game by the Liberal Party rules.

Madam Deputy Speaker, you will recall that at about this time-that is, in September 1982-the Liberal Party rules were that one did not have to pay Customs duty, especially if one were a Liberal Party Minister returning home with a colour telly. The ANL thought that that must be the way to do things under a Liberal-National Party Government. So it got hold of four second-hand cranes and brought them into Australia. Following the rules as ANL thought they applied under the Liberal-National Party Government, ANL did not pay any duty on them. It soon discovered that under Liberal-National Party governments what is sauce for the goose is not necessarily sauce for the gander. Madam Deputy Speaker, let me remind you that this was going on against the backdrop of the MacKellar-Moore colour telly affair. Of course, two other scandals broke at about the same time. Let me quote from a Sydney Morning Herald article of 1 September 1982 which states:

The Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, dismissed suggestions yesterday that a senior Federal politician had been involved in a car importing scandal, but later two ministers revealed other potentially embarrassing incidents.

The Australian National Line had brought four cranes into the country without declaring them to Customs, and police had investigated-and found no action was necessary-the purchase by a Federal minister of a Gold Coast home unit.

Four members of the Liberal-Country party were involved in scandals at about this time. The honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar), the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), the person who was importing cars without paying duty on them, and a Minister who was involved in a scandal concerning a Gold Coast home unit.

Mr Hodgman —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I respectfully submit-and I respectfully submit that you should accept this on the basis of fairness-that attacks on the honourable member for Warringah and the honourable member for Ryan have nothing whatever to do with the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill. If the honourable member has any complaint about the honourable member for Warringah and the honourable member for Ryan he should move a substantive motion.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Child) —Order! There is no point of order. The honourable member will resume his seat.

Mr REEVES —Madam Deputy Speaker, I can understand why honourable members opposite are so concerned about the matter. I am relating how they used to treat ANL. Four scandals were going on about this time and ANL managed, as it later explained, by some-

Mr Hodgman —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I asked for your ruling. I respectfully submit that a personal attack on the honourable member for Warringah and the honourable member for Ryan has nothing to do with the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill. I ask you to rule in my favour on that point of order.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order, but I suggest to the honourable member for the Northern Territory that he should make his remarks relevant to the Bill before the House.

Mr REEVES —Thank you Madam Deputy Speaker. The point is that the four Ministers who were involved in these scandals were not prosecuted; they were not taken before any court at the time. ANL was prosecuted by the then existing Liberal- Country Party Government.

Mr Hodgman —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. I respectfully submit that the Standing Orders are quite clear. If an attack is to be made on a Minister or a former Minister it shall be done by substantive motion. The honourable member is clearly flouting the Standing Orders. He does not have to attack the honourable member for Warringah or the honourable member for Ryan to make his points about the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill. Madam Deputy Speaker, I respectfully ask you now to rule that his remarks are out of order. They ought to be disallowed.

Mr Peter Morris —Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish to speak to the point of order. I submit that the comments being made by the honourable member for the Northern Territory are most relevant. What the honourable member is doing is detailing to the House the record of events that are recorded in Hansard, events that occurred in respect of two Ministers of the previous Government. He is comparing the action of that Government in respect of those two Ministers with its action in respect of a similar incident involving the Australian National Line. There is a direct comparison; there is a direct relevance. I submit that the comments are in order.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Yes, there is no point of order. I ask the honourable member for the Northern Territory to resume.

Mr REEVES —Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. As I was saying, ANL was prosecuted on 7 September, less than a week after the whole incident had been raised. A prosecution was launched against ANL by the former Government for importing four cranes. ANL had got down into the muck with the Liberal-Country Party at that stage and had its head cut off. ANL found that it could not win, whichever rules it played to. If it played to the correct rules-the rules that it though were right-it got kicked in the teeth; if it played to the Liberal-Country Party rules it got its head cut off. When the Hawke Labor Government came to office in March this year it found that ANL was in the same condition as most other public enterprises in this country: Milked dry, demoralised and bitter. It was dying slowly. The first thing that we did was to give ANL a blood transfusion. We injected $90m worth of capital into it and put it on a proper financial footing. The Liberal and Country parties seem to think that public enterprises, unlike private enterprises, can operate without capital.

We have heard the honourable member for Hume talk about the losses that ANL has incurred over the past 20 or 30 years. It should be remembered that the Liberal and Country parties were running this enterprise over about 90 per cent of the last 20 to 30 years. If ANL was making losses it is the Liberal and Country parties fault, not ours. Let us look at what it did. It milked ANL dry and, according to the last balance sheet of the Australian Shipping Commission, the Liberal and Country parties left ANL with capital reserves of $35.8m. It had total loans of $210.1m outstanding. Last year when ANL made a profit of $2.5m, it paid interest of $22.4m. That is the problem that ANL was faced with. The previous Government took all its capital reserves away. It had to go out into the market and pay enormous interest rates. Of course on that basis it made losses. It was too highly geared.

The ANL rescue operation, which involves this Bill, encompasses the following proposals. Firstly, the streamlining and modernising of its management. This Bill contains a section requiring the Commission to undertake a corporate plan. Secondly, we have established a process of consultation with the unions. We are setting out to achieve good industrial relations. That is something that the Liberal and Country parties would not know about. All they wanted to do with any employer-employee relationship while it was in power was to apply confrontation to the situation. Thirdly, we are providing ANL with more autonomy. In particular this Bill will do that by lifting from $500,000 to $2m the limit applying to contracts by allowing the Minister to approve a contract or class of contracts, thus allowing ANL flexibility with operational contracts for oil or insurance. Further, we are freeing the Commission from the requirement to adhere to Government administrative policies and practices. Finally, we are giving the Commission power to select staff and establish salaries, terms and conditions and so on. One would expect that any operation, whether it is public or private, would have all of those things as a matter of course. But under the previous Government ANL was hampered by all these sorts of restrictions. We are removing them with this Bill.

A revitalised Australian National Line is a very important matter in the Northern Territory. ANL operates the east coast-Darwin shipping service and since 1956 it has done so at a loss. ANL has lost approximately $20m on this service since 1 July 1969. As a result ANL informed the Government in 1979-80 that it intended to withdraw from that service. In 1980-81 the previous Government agreed to provide a temporary subsidy of $1.5m to enable the Northern Territory Government to consider proposals for introducing an alternative service. The previous Government extended that subsidy in 1981-82 and in 1982-83 . On each occasion that the subsidy was extended the Government, and in fact the Prime Minister of the time, made it quite clear to the Northern Territory Government that the subsidy was temporary and that the Northern Territory Government was expected either to take up the provision of the subsidy itself or to find an alternative service. The Northern Territory Government sat back and did nothing, as it does in most matters, until this year.

The Minister for Transport announced earlier this year that the subsidy would be increased to $2m, but more importantly that that was the last time. It was only when the message finally got through to the Northern Territory Government this year, after the current Minister for Transport made it quite clear that this was the last time that the subsidy would be provided, that it finally got off its backside and did something about the matter. It must be remembered that it wasted three years before that, when it could have been promoting the ANL service or finding an alternative service. Instead it sat back and did nothing. It continued to waste time. It should be noted that earlier in the piece, after the Northern Territory Government had finally discovered that the Minister was serious about not continuing the subsidy, it said that it was not interested in taking up its responsibility to provide the subsidy. The Northern Territory Government also refused to join the Commonwealth Government and share the costs of maintaining the service while officials of both governments explored the possibilities of developing a viable service. After that shilly shallying the Northern Territory Government finally agreed to start talking sense. More recently, the Northern Territory Government has accepted responsibility. It appears that every now and then it has to accept some responsibility. After all, that is what responsible self-government is supposed to mean.

On 19 September the former Chairman of ANL, Mr Jenner, pointed out to the Northern Territory Minister for Transport, Mr Steele, that ANL requires support from the Northern Territory Government and Northern Territory shippers if it is to maintain the service. This Government is doing its part by revitalising ANL and turning it into a good, efficient, competitive service. It is up to the Northern Territory Government to do its part to ensure the future of the east coast shipping link. It is interesting-in fact, very interesting-to note that the Northern Territory Government's use of this service that it says is so vital is almost negligible. It does not use the service to transport any goods in and out of the Northern Territory-or it does not use it to any appreciable extent. Its use of it is negligible.

It has given no support to the Line over the past few years when the Line has been in so much trouble. Specifically, it has given no support to that particular shipping service. The ball is at the Northern Territory Government's feet. Considering its performance over the past years on a number of issues, it will probably fumble it. Let us hope that it does not. As I have already said, this Bill will provide for a revitalised ANL, a good public enterprise which has been destroyed by years of Liberal-National Party treatment. I commend the Bill to the House.