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Thursday, 1 December 1983
Page: 3192


Mr HOLLIS(4.56) —As a former railway man and a member of the Government's transport sub-committee I am pleased to speak on the Australian National Railways Commission Bill and the Australian National Railways Commission (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill. They are another example of the Hawke Labor Government enacting legislation that is appropriate for transport in the 1980s and the coming decades. I was pleased to hear today the sudden interest of the honourable member for McPherson (Mr White) in railways. It is a pity he is not in the House now. He was very interested in the Alice Springs to Darwin railway. In fact, as the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) said, most of his speech was devoted to defence and this railway. Honourable members might be interested to know that he used to have a railway in his own electorate. It ran to Brisbane. The Liberal-National Party closed it and sold off the land-most likely to its mates to whom it usually sells land. Now those parties are screaming for a new railway. Perhaps the electors of McPherson would be more interested in knowing why the party of which the honourable member for McPherson is a member sold off the railway, now he has some interest, not in the railway in his electorate but in a railway from Alice Springs to Darwin.

This Government accepts that it has a major role to play in improving the efficiency of railways in Australia's national transport system. It is a tragedy that past petty State rivalries have resulted in Australia now having five separate rail systems using three different gauges. Indeed, the Australian National Railways Commission itself operates three different gauges. The past State petty rivalries were lucidly explained by my friend and colleague, the honourable member for Grey (Mr O'Neil).

Railway performance can and must be improved. This can be done by the introduction of more flexible and commercial management and a more consistent national transport policy than in the past. The long term viability of rail systems depends not only upon adequate infrastructure but also upon effective pricing, marketing, organisation and personnel policies. With this legislation, the Government is providing AN with the powers to operate in this manner. The legislation will enable invigorating thought to be given to looking at new areas of business. It is not expected that railway operators should concentrate solely on traditional areas of business; they should be looking at new traffic to expand business. AN is expected to operate in a commercial manner but, at government direction, it is expected to operate efficiently services which may be socially desirable but not commercially rewarding.

In recent years all Australian rail systems have suffered large operating deficits. ANRC is no exception but this Government, on taking office, had to face a 50 per cent increase in loss subsidy. Although the Commission had made steady progress from the late 1970s to the early 1980s in reducing its deficit, this deficit has risen substantially in the past two years because of traffic downturn due to the drought-which we broke-and the overall depressed state of the economy. ANRC has also been hampered by problems in integrating three separate rail systems. Other hampering factors have been the legacies of past government policies and the problems presented by a network of five different railway systems operating on three different gauges serving one country. As I have already said, AN itself operates three different gauges. It is this Government's intention to enhance AN's ability to operate commercially in a competitive market. To do that it is essential to provide a sound legislative base attuned to today's and tomorrow's environment. Part of this naturally must be an improved industrial relations environment, better management and rational investment plans that will reduce transit times, improve reliability and increase the opportunity for real growth in rail business.

To realise its potential fully AN needs better corporate planning and financial discipline, greater autonomy in day to day decision making; an improved industrial relations environment; aggressive pursuit of new business, including diversification into non-traditional areas of business; and continued government support for major projects. The legislation which is now being debated will improve the Commission's competitive position. It will clearly define the Commission's rights and responsibilities. It will remove some of the outdated constraints on the Commission's ability to operate as a commercial undertaking. It will place the responsibility for commercial and marketing initiatives squarely with the Commission, in this way improving its ability to be responsive to the demands of the market place. The legislation will also impose on the Commission a greater degree of financial responsibility and accountability.

As a trade unionist I accept that a healthy working relationship between labour and management is as important for railways as it is for any industry. As the public is well aware, co-operation and consultation are the basic working principles of this Hawke Labor Government. The Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris), who is at the table, has worked tirelessly in the area of co-operation and consultation. He initiated regular meetings with the unions and AN to discuss issues of mutual concern. This process of consultation and co-operation is being expanded both at ministerial level and within AN. I have said in other speeches about transport-and I repeat now-that this country is extremely fortunate that we have a Minister who understands transport, and also someone who can and will work co-operatively with the trade union movement. Because of this co-operation and consultation, AN's employees have a greater opportunity to contribute to improvements in AN and have an input into policy.

This consultative approach, this legislation and this Government stand in stark contrast to the confused, pitiful and irrelevant so-called policies of honourable members opposite. A comparison between the excellent Minister for Transport and his pale shadow on the other side of the House clearly shows that this is so. For seven years honourable members opposite weakened public enterprise by conscious neglect and total incompetence. The shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher), during the debate on the Australian Shipping Commission Amendment Bill, called AN both incompetent and arrogant. I was pleased that in his speech today he changed his tune from his speech of 2 November. He told us today that we must give as much encouragement as possible to management and be supportive of the Commission and of present management. I wonder why he does not want to sell Australian National Railways? Certainly, a month ago he wanted to sell the Australian National Line. We on this side of the House welcome conversions, regardless of how late they come. The previous Government had control of AN for seven years. The description ' incompetent and arrogant' that I mentioned before, better fits the honourable member and all of those who sit opposite. They have no concern for efficient public enterprise providing competitive services to the Australian community. Honourable members opposite have no consistent transport policy. They are individual members defending their individual constituencies. They and their policies are irrelevant to the real transport problems facing Australia today.

The ANRC Bill has as one of its objectives the establishment of a unified organisation dedicated to operating a sound and efficient railway system. The Government is doing its part. It is now up to AN and its employees to grasp the chance for success and work to achieve it. As the Minister said in his second reading speech, the Government can set the climate but management and unions together must accept the challenge, and I am sure they will. Indeed, in AN, the Australian Government's own railway system, these things are happening. For example, the Commission is upgrading its marketing efforts to ensure that it wins its share of available freight and is seeking to improve the information available to management. The Minister has asked the Commission to identify those services which it believes should receive government support so that they are maintained.

Over the years it is clear that the railways have undertaken tasks that they would not do if they operated solely on commercial criteria. In order that the Commission can operate efficiently in terms of both its commercial and non- commercial activities, it is clear that this latter group must be identified, so that the costs can be seen and taken into account. It is then for others, rather than for AN, to determine whether those services should be maintained and, if so , to be prepared to meet the costs associated with their provision. Obviously it is incumbent upon government to fulfil this role. In this manner AN's performance can be judged against broad commercial criteria and community services can be undertaken without detriment to the Commission's overall financial performance.

This approach accords with the recommendations made by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Expenditure in its 1982 report on the Australian National Railways Commission. It also accords with the Government's social audit policy on transport. This social audit is akin to social cost- benefit analysis. The aim will be to determine the most socially effective method of performing new tasks. Another aim will be to guide policy on cost recovery mechanisms by determining the full cost attributable to each mode and type of service. This will lead to a more socially effective transport system, a system balanced in terms of modal division of tasks, industrial diversity, urban , regional and rural development. Most importantly, it will be a transport system that is nationally based and co-ordinated. The social audit's advantage is that it would keep the market honest by ensuring that the total costs of providing a service are considered along with total benefits.

The division between AN's powers and responsibilities and those of the Minister is clearly distinguished in the Bill. This arrangement emphasises the need for AN to operate as a commercially oriented transport authority. The responsibility for commercial initiatives rests squarely with the Commission. AN's greater commercial freedom will be evident in relation to day to day matters, such as the fixing of fares and freight rates. AN is obliged by the Bill to determine the principles which it proposes to apply in order to fix rates of charges for prescribed services. These principles are to be determined by AN and advised to the Minister, who may accept or redetermine the principles that are to form the basis of AN's charges.

The Bill enables the Minister to direct the Commission to undertake non- commercial activities which may be socially desirable. If the Government requires AN to engage in particular activities for social or other reasons, the Minister will issue a direction to the Commission. AN would then be reimbursed for any loss involved in carrying out the Minister's directions. Such directions are required to be tabled in Parliament. This Bill is another example of the Government's commitment to providing Australia with a transport system compatible with the 1980s and the coming decades, and to revitalising public enterprises. I commend the Bill to the House.