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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2732


Mr BURR(10.41) —The Inter-State Commission Amendment Bill for the re- establishment of an Inter-State Commission is being brought into this place at the moment to revive a Bill that was passed by the Parliament in 1975. That piece of legislation, while it was passed by both Houses of Parliament, was never put into effect because it was not proclaimed. The present Government has now proclaimed that piece of legislation and is making certain amendments to the Act to make it appropriate for present conditions. While I support the concept of an Inter-State Commission Bill, I have grave reservations that the 1975 legislation, coupled with the amendments that are being put to the House tonight , do not perform the function that I would like to see an Inter-State Commission perform. I feel that the Inter-State Commission, as it is being conceived at the moment by the legislation, would really be something of a toothless tiger.

The Inter-State Commission, as it was conceived by the Constitution, was supposed to be a body of people within the Australian scene that would have the powers to be able to regulate interstate transport and connections between the various States. The Inter-State Commission was provided for in the Constitution in sections 101 to 105. Section 101 states:

There shall be an Inter-State Commission, with such powers of adjudication and administration as the Parliament deems necessary for the execution and maintenance, within the Commonwealth, of the provisions of this Constitution relating to trade and commerce, and of all laws made thereunder.

As I undersand that section of the Constitution, the prime purpose of an Inter- State Commission is to ensure a free flow of trade and commerce between the various States. I am sure that if a proposition for that purpose were put to the Parliament, it could be unanimously agreed to. Unfortunately, this piece of legislation does not put forward the proposition for an Inter-State Commission that will ensure a free flow of trade and commerce between the States. Very notable matters of trade and commerce have not been included in this Bill and I will refer to those a little later.

Firstly, the Inter-State Commission was first established in 1912. It operated for seven years. While I believe that the Inter-State Commission had its successes during that period it also had its shortcomings. The major shortcoming which seemed to me to be again a contravention of the intent of the Constitution was that, as a result of the decision by the Hight Court of Australia in 1915 in a case known as the Wheat Case which involved the Commonwealth of Australia versus the State of New South Wales, the High Court ruled that, in fact, the Inter-State Commission could not exercise judicial functions. That to me seemed to be a contravention of the Constitution. The Parliament of the day, rather than simply amending the legislation to give the Inter-State Commission the powers that it obviously needed, simply allowed the Inter-State Commission to lapse. It was not until the 1975 legislation that the idea of an Inter-State Commission was again revived. Coming from Tasmania we know what it is like to be debarred from the use of interstate transport connections. We, in Tasmania, rely very heavily on the interstate transport connections, particularly the sea lane connections and the air services. They are our only forms of connection with the other States of Australia. It worries me greatly that this Bill will do nothing whatever to ensure that there is an unhindered flow of both shipping and air services between Tasmania and the other States of the Commonwealth. This was most certainly recognised by Senator Wright when the previous legislation went before the Senate in 1975. The then Senator Wright, in his contribution to the 1975 debate, proposed certain amendments to the Bill which was before the Parliament at that time. One of the proposed amendments stated in part:

(i) The Commission may at any time declare that the regular carrying on of any such service is urgent; either in respect of a particular place or generally.

(ii) During a period of 60 days after such declaration it shall be unlawful for any person, company or union to take part in any strike or lockout interrupting such services;

The intent of Senator Wright's amendments was to ensure that there was an unhindered flow of transport services between Tasmania and the other States of the Commonwealth. That has not been addressed by the 1975 legislation or by the amendments that we have before us at the moment. I believe that, if the Inter- State Commission is to be effective, it must have the powers to ensure that there cannot be a disruption to trade and commerce of a State which relies heavily on transport services in order to conduct that trade and commerce. We are conscious, in Tasmania, of the regular disruptions to our trade and commerce as a result of strikes and other industrial actions that disrupt our transport services. I believe that one of the prime functions of the Inter-State Commission should be to ensure that those transport services are not hindered by industrial or any other form of disruption so that trade and commerce can be carried on without any disruption. I believe that that was also part of the intent of section 92 of the Constitution and that, in order to ensure that the effects of section 92 were properly carried out, our founding fathers proposed that there should be an Inter-State Commission.

I suggest to the Government that it look again at the 1975 legislation and that it look again at the powers that the Commission should have so as to ensure that the Commission has the powers to regulate against any disruption whether for industrial reasons or for any other purposes, thereby ensuring that there is no disruption to interstate transport. I am also disappointed at the fact that this Commission is being given investigative powers only and, in fact, is not being given regulatory powers at all. All this Commission can do is to investigate particular matters and report those matters to the Government. It is then up to the Government to determine how it should respond. That does nothing to give any guarantee to Tasmania or to any other State that there will be a free flow of trade and commerce through the transport system.

The other thing that worries me about this legislation is that air passenger services are specifically excluded from the functions of the Commission. The Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris), in a media release about the Commission, said:

It is the Government's intention that the operations of the 1981 Airlines Agreement and the Independent Air Fares Committee will be outside the ambit of the Commission.

I ask why air passenger services are being specifically excluded from the authority of the Inter-State Commission.

Because of the changes in technology and the changes to our transport systems, transport between States at the moment is mainly through the air system and air freight and air passenger services, or the road system, particularly the road freight system. Yet one of the major forms of interstate transport, the air passenger services, is specifically excluded from the function and the role of the Inter-State Commission. I cannot understand why that is so. I can only come to the conclusion that the Government has in mind some way in which to give protection to the two air line agreement and particularly to give some form of favour to the existing airline services at the expense of other air freighter and air passenger services whch may at some time in the future wish to enter into competition with the existing operators. I strongly suggest to the Government that it look again at the role of the Commission so as to allow the air passenger services to come under the ambit of the Inter-State Commission.

One other matter that worries me is the role of road freighting. The Minister has not made any mention of the role that the Inter-State Commission will have in regard to road freighting. Knowing the Minister's interest in road freighting , I am concerned that the Inter-State Commission will be used as a vehicle to retard the growth of the road freight industry in some way. I do not know what the Minister has in mind, but that is my fear. I hope that those fears are unfounded.

I mention one other matter in the brief time available to me. In introducing these amendments to the Inter-State Commission Act the Minister very purposefully said in his second reading speech that the first function of the Inter-State Commission would be to review and to investigate the function and the role of the Tasmanian freight equalisation services. That statement has given rise to grave fears in Tasmania that, in fact, what the Government has in mind is to dispense entirely with the Tasmanian freight equalisation services and that the Inter-State Commission is simply to be used as a vehicle to justify a decision that the Government has already taken.

I remind the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister that the policy statement by the Prime Minister both during and since the election campaign that a Labor government would do nothing to tamper with the Tasmanian freight equalisation services was very purposeful. I can assure the Minister that if that promise is broken and the Tasmanian freight equalisation service is in any way tampered with, there will be a tremendous outcry from the people of Tasmania . That scheme has done much to allow Tasmanian industry, both primary and secondary, to develop. It is the linchpin that has allowed employment opportunities to be maintained in Tasmania. Tasmanians have given great credit to the Fraser Government for its introduction. Without that scheme there would be a tremendous downturn in the industrial prospects for both our primary and secondary industries, which would have an obvious impact in undermining employment opportunities in that State.

I give my support to the introduction of an interstate commission because I think it is a step in the right direction to have proper regulation of interstate transport services, but I do detect some weaknesses in the present legislation. I ask the Government to tighten up its Bill, in particular to include air passenger services, and also to give the Commission a regulatory function so that it will have disciplinary powers over the unions in their industrial actions or any other actions that may disrupt interstate transport.