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Tuesday, 15 November 1983
Page: 2737

Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(11.17) —in reply-I thank those honourable members who have participated in the debate this evening and on the occasion of the debate last week. I thank particularly the honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Hollis) for his positive and constructive contribution. He raised the serious matter of road safety and the safety of heavy vehicles in road transport. I thank the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Reeves) for his effective input to the debate this evening. He raised the interesting constitutional question of the exclusion of the Northern Territory from the scope of the Inter-State Commission. From our viewpoint, it seems to have been an accident of history rather than a deliberate intent on the part of the founding fathers when they were drawing up the relevant sections of the Constitution towards the end of last century. It is a fact, however, that the Inter-State Commission could pick up Northern Territory State-type issues if such issues were incidental to a wider inter-State transport issue under examination by the Commission, and obviously, ultimate statehood for the Northern Territory in due course will bring it within the ambit of the activities of the Inter-State Commission.

We have made it clear during all the public statements in opposition at the last election and since coming to government that the Commission's activities will be based upon consultation, as is the whole spirit of this Government's endeavours. At this stage I should like quickly to run through the points raised by Opposition speakers. There was one recurring theme in the contributions from honourable members opposite, that of dissension within the Opposition on policy. The last words of the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), for instance, were that he is opposed to the Inter-State Commission. The Act we are amending this evening, in a very minor way, was passed with bipartisan support in 1975 in both Houses. Most of the amendments were cast by the then Opposition. The Bill this evening that we are dealing with will not be opposed by the Opposition. As I move through the comments made by the speakers of the Opposition, I see that the one constant theme is that of dissension within Opposition ranks as to what their policy really is.

I am really fascinated by the policies of those who sit opposite. They had seven years to correct all the ailments, all the shortcomings of the transport services of this country. Their only contribution was to exacerbate them. Over the course of the last few weeks we heard during this debate appeals to us as the Government now to remedy the shortcomings and the failures that those who now sit opposite are responsible for. All the suggestions are coming forward on what ought to be done. The short response from the Government to all of the honourable members opposite is this: They had seven years to remedy the situation. Why did they not do something then? They should not come in here like a bunch of whinging willies trying to appeal to us now to correct the disasters that they have created.

The honourable member for Wilmot (Mr Burr), again in contradiction of the remarks of some of his colleagues, made the point that he was disappointed that the Inter-State Commission was not going to be an adjudicatory body, that it was not going to be a regulatory body. The last speaker for the Opposition, the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), said the opposite. He complained that air passenger services would be excluded from the ambit of the Commission. The present amendment in respect of section 6 of the Act replaces the amendment written in by the then Opposition in 1975. That initiative came from the Liberal -Country Party, it did not originate on this side of the House. We are preserving, in the amendments tonight, the same exclusion in respect of air passenger services that was put forward by the Liberal-Country Party Opposition of 1975. The honourable member sees it in some sinister way as being protection of the two-airline agreement.

The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) made the point the week before last that the two-airline agreement is a pipeline to the mint for the private operator. They are his words. It is the Opposition's agreement.

Mr Reeves —They are going to close down TAA.

Mr PETER MORRIS —Well, Opposition members have made the point clear that they would want to see sell all of the statutory authorities and all of the transport enterprises. I think they should make that statement clearer to the public and particularly to members of the National Party of Australia. In some way the honourable member for Wilmot again raises the point that I, as Minister, have something in mind-he is not sure of what it is-to retard the growth of the road freight industry. That is just sheer nonsense. Again he, like the last speaker, has not read the Bill or, if he has read the Bill, certianly did not understand it, because the Bill provides for an updating of an investigatory and advisory body, not a regulatory body. If we want to retard something or inhibit the growth of an industry the action will have to be regulatory, as the honourable member for Wilmot wanted. On the one hand he wants something that is not in the Bill and then sort of abscribes to me something sinister in intent to write into the Act what he really wants himself. There is no intent and no way in which the Inter-State Commission can be a regulatory body. I say that for the forty-fifth time for those who sit opposite who try to conjure up propositions in substitute for responsbile argument.

The honourable member for Wilmot raised the point of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme review by the Inter-State Commission. We have made it very clear in all honesty and frankness to the people of Tasmania, to the Farmers and Graziers Association, to the Chamber of Industry and Commerce down there, to the Tasmanian Minister of Transport, to the unions and to everyone that the frieght equalisation scheme will be reviewed by the Inter-State Commission. That will be its first task when the Commission gets under way. There will be consultations with all the interested organisations, unions and the Government down there on the terms of reference, as we indicated at the very outset. But I have to say that this kind of outright scaremongering and public mischief-making has only one certain and damaging effect; that is, to undermine business confidence in Tasmania. I make one appeal to the Liberal members who represent Tasmania: It is time they started representing that State in a positive way that engenders the recovery or redevelopment of business confidence in that State rather than constantly seeking to undermine confidence and carry out public mischief. In view of the attack by the honourable member for Wilmot on the freight equalisation scheme, I cannot help but draw to his attention the remarks of his colleague the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) on 2 November in the debate on the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill. The honourable member for Franklin made a point which I put to the hounourable member for Wilmot. He said:

We in Tasmania realise that we have to be sensible and have to realise, once and for all, that we cannot be continually propped up by the mainland.

For heavens sake, if there are to be Liberal members representing Tasmania, they should get their act together and have some sort of consistency in what they put to the Parliament in presenting the needs of Tasmania. The previous speaker, the honourable member for Mitchell, has obviously not read the Bill or, if he has, he does not understand it, he also conjured up an argument based on the original Inter-State Commission which was a commission with adjudicatory and regulatory powers, a very powerful organisation and one which carried out one inquiry. There was the wheat case about 1912 or 1914, whatever the relevant year was.

Mr Cadman —It was 1915.

Mr PETER MORRIS —Thank you, 1915. Thereafter, the Commission went into limbo. Another commission was proposed and debated in the late 1930s, one to which the honourable member referred. Let us get back to relevance. We are debating and discussing amendments to the 1975 Inter-State Commission Act, an investigatory and advisory body that has none of the powers that were referred to by the honourable member for Mitchell.

Mr Cadman —What, of evidence.

Mr PETER MORRIS —I was not referring to evidence. I am referring to regulation and adjudication.

Mr Cadman —I understand that.

Mr PETER MORRIS —That is right, yes. Most of the honourable member's argument was based on that, but the rest of it was simply a tack-on. The honourable member's concern was about determination, regulation and adjudication. Those powers are not provided for in the Act that we are amending. It seems to me that the Liberal and National parties, having spent seven years doing nothing are back to their old form of 'let's do nothing about national transport; just leave it as it is. Let it decay; let it erode; let it become more inefficient'. We have seen the results of that seven year do-nothing policy. It has brought this country almost to its knees and has caused enormous havoc in the road transport industry and all of the transport industries. It is not in Australia's interest to leave the transport industry under such policies. As the honourable member said in his last remarks, he is in opposition to the Bill anyway. That is a matter for him and his colleagues to solve within their party and their party room. It is for them to work out their policy.

Mr Hand —They haven't got one.

Mr PETER MORRIS —No, I do not believe they have a policy actually.

Mr Hand —They haven't got a policy on anything.

Mr PETER MORRIS —They do not have a policy on anything. They are like Micawber; like him, they wait seven years for something to turn up.

In fairness to the honourable member for Mitchell I should mention that he said that there was the David Hay inquiry into road transport. If the honourable member attempts to attribute to that inquiry some semblance of addressing the real problems of the road transport industry, it is no wonder that he is in Opposition and that he will stay there for a long time because his government had that inquiry and did nothing about it.

I now get back to the points raised by the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher). He said that the Commission will duplicate the activities of other bodies. There is no duplication whatsoever. The first task of the Commission will be the freight equalisation scheme for Tasmania. That is not being investigated by any other organisation. Only the Commission will have the powers to summon the production of evidence and to summon witnesses. The honourable member seems to have missed the point made then that the Commission has powers that are not available to other bodies that have been referred to, such as the Australian Transport Advisory Council or the Bureau of Transport Economics. The honourable member made the point also that legislative action by the Parliament based on recommendations by the Industries Assistance Commission may be subject to constitutional challenge, particularly where trade between the States is concerned. It is a curious concept, because the IAC is an integral element in the Constitution's provisions for trade and commerce. What reason has been advanced to believe a constitutional instrument such as the IAC will lead the Government towards unconstitutional action? There has been none.

The point was made by the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher) and by the honourable member for Mitchell that the road freight industry inquiry could have been carried out by the Inter-State Commission. That is not the case, because the road freight inquiry is looking at intra-state matters as well as interstate matters. The Commission's activities are confined to transport matters of an interstate nature. It was for that reason, because of the collaboration between the States, the Northern Territory and this Government and because of the need to get that inquiry under way as early as possible, that we established the national road freight industry inquiry in the form in which it has been established.

The point was made that the Commission will become another commission or instrumentality and that it will become part of the bureacracy and lose its ginger and its vigour. I think that is sheer nonsense; it implies that this Government will carry on its affairs in the same way as the previous Government did. I simply make the point that in my second reading speech I referred to this Government's intention to review the performance and the progress of the Inter- State Commission at the end of the first seven years. The point was also made that centralisation would be a difficulty, that there would be an intrusion into States' rights and that there was no obligation to consult with the States. We have made it very clear to the States that our intention is to consult with the States on the terms of reference. I make the point ad nauseum that the original Act of 1975 was passed with bipartisan support. That support is confirmed this evening by the fact that the Opposition does not oppose the Bill.

The spurious point was also made that the Inter-State Commission will become a regulatory body. I have said earlier in my remarks that that just is not so. Those powers are not provided for in the Act that we are amending this evening. The argument about regulation and deregulation is going on within the ranks of the Opposition. It seems to me that the previous Administration is consumed by this continuing, sterile, internal wrangle over a dogma of regulation versus dergulation. The issue is not a simplistic question of regulation versus deregulation. Proponents of deregulation ignore the fact that an economy with less public regulation is, on the other hand, increasingly regulated by powerful private interests, by the conglomerates in the market. Not only does this produce an inefficient market but it also produces a market which works to the detriment of many operators and consumers. What is needed is an ongoing process of reform that ensures that regulation is relevant to consumers, to industry and to public needs and is responsive to changing circumstances.

The honourable member for Braddon (Mr Groom) raised several points, and I shall quickly refer to them. He mentioned the duplication of the work of ATAC, the Transport Industry Advisory Council and parliamentary committees, and said that the Commission would become another bureaucracy that would grow. I have dealt with that matter already. As I have said, the Commission has powers which those organisations, which are of an advisory or investigatory nature, do not have and the Commission is restricted to transport matters of an interstate nature. I pointed out in my second reading speech that the establishment of a commission was recommended by the report of the Nimmo Commission of Inquiry into Transport to and from Tasmania of 1976. That report recommended that the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme be reviewed annually or biennially and that the Inter-State Commission was the appropriate body to carry out that review.

The honourable member for Braddon complained rather bitterly about the lack of Tasmanians on the High Court of Australia. I suggest that he refer to his own record, look at what happened in the last seven years and talk to his colleagues about that matter.

Mr McVeigh —It is hardly anything to do with this Bill, is it?

Mr PETER MORRIS —Exactly, but that was the point that he raised. He asked why there were no Tasmanians on the High Court and made an appeal for Tasmanians to be placed on the Commission. Each of the States has been invited to put forward names for consideration for appointment to the Commission. At this stage the Tasmanian Minister for Transport has not responded. Certainly, all nominations will be duly and properly considered.

The last matter raised by the honourable member for Braddon was his hope that under the Act I as Minister would be able to direct the Commission to examine the circumstances of a waterfront dispute as it affects the people on both sides of Bass Strait. Let me make it quite clear that I do not have that power. The Commission is not intended for that kind of function. It is not intended to be an organisation that can fire out an action team to a place where disputes are occurring to get facts and to consider each dispute carefully. They are matters of industrial relations. It is obvious again that the honourable member for Braddon also misunderstood the purpose of the Inter-State Commission. It has no mandate to investigate matters relating to industrial disputes even though they affect interstate transport operations. Nevertheless, it is important to understand how vital good industrial relations in marine areas are to Tasmania; indeed, to the whole of Australia. It is for that reason that this Government has initiated from the outset a continuing program of consultation with the seagoing unions and the Department of Transport so that there is a frank exchange of views, ideas and information on problems and an understanding on the part of all concerned of the importance of transport services. We will try to head off problems before they occur rather than wait till something happens and follow the crisis management policies of the seven years of the previous Liberal -Country Party Government. The Inter-State Commission will be an important tool to this Government in the development of a national transport policy and in the explanation of the policies that we propose to introduce over the remainder of the parliamentary term. I thank those honourable members who have participated in the debate and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.