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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2227

Mr LUSHER(5.19) —I move:

Clause 8, page 13, at the end of proposed section 19B add the following sub- section:

' '(6) The Minister shall cause a copy of every report furnished to him by the Commission under sub-section (3) to be laid before each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of that House after the report is received by him.'.'.

The Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill 1983, as it is printed, includes a provision that, in effect, the Australian National Line produce a corporate plan. The Bill makes provision for the Australian National Line to make that plan available to the Minister for Transport. We do not have any objections to that. The purpose of the Bill as a whole, as I indicated in my speech in the second reading debate, is supported by the Opposition. We take the view that whatever can be done to assist the ANL process, as long as it remains a government-owned statutory authority, has our support. The Bill, as honourable members will understand, is virtually identical to a Bill introduced by the former Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt). I am pleased that the Government has accepted the thrust of the former Government's approach to the question of ANL. The Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) is following that course.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that, in the process of providing greater freedom to the management of ANL to operate the line commercially and not to be subject to a lot of nitpicking checking with the Minister and/or the Department, we do not lose the accountability of the ANL to the Parliament. It is important to understand in this situation that a rather large amount of taxpayers' money is involved in the ANL and that for years and years it has done nothing as far as the Parliament is concerned other than to put in an annual report. The Minister will say that for the last 24 years that has been a Liberal government problem. I accept that. I do not resile from the fact that that is the way in which it was handled under the previous Government. Now in 1983 the Opposition is engaged in a total policy review process. I would have thought that any reasonable person would expect the Opposition, having been rejected as a government, to go through a policy review process and to get its act together so that it can offer itself to the people as an alternative government at a forthcoming election. That policy review process is necessary. In much the same way, the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations said back in 1979 that there had never been a proper review of why so many statutory authorities-not just the ANL-existed and there had never been proper justification as to why they should continue to exist. We have gone through that process.

We have given serious consideration to all the reasons why a national shipping line should be government-owned. We feel at this stage that there are no compelling reasons for that and that there are very good reasons why it should not be government-owned. In the meantime, the reality is that it is a government -owned authority and that, to take a line from the approach of the Minister, it will continue to be so, at least during the term of this Government. Our concern is about the accountability of the Australian National Line to the Parliament and, through the Parliament, as the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) will keep reminding us, to the people of Australia. The effect of this proposed amendment will be simply to cause a copy of the corporate plan which the Australian National Line will furnish to the Minister to be tabled in turn by the Minister in each House of the Parliament. It is my belief that the corporate plan, having been tabled in each House, should then be picked up by the appropriate committee and that the ANL should appear before that committee to justify its existence and to discuss the corporate plan to see whether it continues to carry the confidence of the Parliament which, particularly this year and in earlier years- no doubt it will be the case in future years-has appropriated fairly hefty amounts on behalf of the taxpayers to keep the ANL afloat, and that is not intended to be a pun.

To my way of thinking, this is an appropriate job for the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Government Operations. It is not my intention to include that specific wording in the amendment simply because that Committee exists under the Standing Orders of the Senate and because I do not believe we should amend legislation to take into account something which exists under the Standing Orders of another place. As long as the corporate plans are made available in the Parliament, there could be an arrangement for that Senate Committee to look at them annually. The management would give evidence as to the performance of the ANL and would be accountable in the general sense for where it thinks the ANL is going under its corporate plan.

I will not get off the subject, but it is important to make a comparison. The Australian National Railways Commission was examined by the Expenditure Committee, which reported on this subject in February 1982. By chance both the Minister for Transport, who is at the table, and I were members of that inquiry into the Australian National Railways Commission. The whole question of the corporate planning undertaken by that authority was very seriously criticised by the Expenditure Committee. I will raise here a couple of figures because they give some indication of the sorts of things that happen and because they show why, if there is no accountability, things can easily get out of hand. I am not suggesting that this would happen in respect of the Australian National Line, but it is what happened in respect of the Australian National Railways Commission. It is the sort of thing from which the Parliament should be trying to protect the taxpayers.

The Australian National Railways Commission, up to the inquiry, produced four corporate plans because it had been told by the Minister that it had to break even by 1988. It is quite interesting to look at what the results should have been in June 1983 under each of the successive plans. The first plan projected that by June 1983 the ANR would have reduced its deficit to $60m. The second plan, which was the first plan revised, said that it would be reduced to $50m by that date. The third plan stuck with the $50m. The fourth plan increased it to $ 60m. I think I am right in saying that, in fact, the subsidy which will be made available by the Government for the year ending June 1983 is $85m.

Mr Peter Morris —June 1984. The June 1983 figure is $106m.

Mr LUSHER —I thank the Minister. Even though we have not seen the deficit figure yet, it is apparent that it will be way beyond any of the four figures projected in the four corporate plans. For the year ending June 1984, the first corporate plan showed a $55m deficit. The second showed a deficit of around $48m. The third had it down to $30m. The fourth had it back up to $50m. As the Minister tells me across the table, the amount that will be provided by the Government for the present financial year will be $85m. All those plans still show the Australian National Railways Commission breaking even by 1988. It will be very interesting to see where we are by June 1988 and to compare that with the corporate plans.

The point is that there is a need for accountability. As long as the Australian National Line continues to be a government-owned statutory authority we ought to do what we can to remove the problems caused for management by constant intervention by the Minister and the Department and we should try to have it operate as commercially as possible. But in the process of freeing it up, we should not lose any more accountability. In view of the serious situation that has developed, I think it is arguable that there be some reasonable additional accountability. For that reason, the Opposition has moved this amendment to require that the corporate planning reports furnished by the Commission to the Minister under sub-section (3) of this part of the amended Act be laid before each House of the Parliament within 15 sitting days of the report being received by the Minister. I commend the amendment to the Committee and I hope that the Government will be able to support it.