Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 September 2012
Page: 6869

Senator JOYCE (QueenslandLeader of The Nationals in the Senate) (12:46): I rise to speak on the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012. The bill will enable the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the ATSB, to expand its work in overseeing transport regulation and safety in Australia. Presently, the ATSB is responsible for improving safety in the marine and aviation industries as well as in the national rail freight network; but the changes in the chamber today mean that it will take on an additional role as the national rail transport investigator with jurisdiction to oversee state passenger and freight lines where requested to do so. Importantly, the ATSB will continue to work independently of policymakers and service providers to conduct detailed investigations of transport accidents and incidents. The courts and other investigative agencies will remain the means for determining liability.

This bill complements the transport reforms agreed to by the federal government and supported by the states and territories at the Council of Australian Governments, COAG, in August 2009. The result will be nationally consistent laws in maritime and rail safety and in the heavy vehicle industry. These reforms will reduce the regulatory burden on businesses, consolidate 23 existing regulators into just three and provide benefits of an estimated $30 billion over the next 20 years. Specifically, the National Rail Safety Act established the National Rail Safety Regulator. It recently passed the South Australian parliament, and will replace seven regulatory bodies with 46 pieces of legislation.

There are two components of the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012 which will expand the operation of the ATSB. Firstly, an investigative organisation, the ATSB, will for the first time have the power to investigate rail matters referred to it by state and territory governments. This means that the ATSB will be able to investigate state passenger and freight lines. It also clarifies the ATSB's capacity to conduct investigations within a Commonwealth territory. The intergovernmental agreement makes allowance for the states to pay the ATSB for investigatory services. To allow the ATSB to prepare for its new national role, $11.2 million has been provided by the Commonwealth.

Secondly, there is an amendment to clarify the position of the regulations made under the act that contain certain functions or powers. It is actually a precursor to the establishment of a national reporting scheme through future regulation, as allowed under section 20A of the act. The clarification provides for a defence to any prohibition for copying or disclosing restricted information such as that obtained or generated from an investigation or from within a confidential report. Importantly, this amendment will facilitate the introduction of a confidential reporting scheme for rail safety incidents similar to that already in place for the maritime and aviation industries.

The coalition does support this bill. We support changes that the government decides to make that come into this place in a considered and well thought out way. That is how you deliver good policy outcomes. But what we will not support is policy that is not developed this way. What we have seen developed lately is an example of a rushed and panicked policy, and that is the approach pertaining to a certain ship—a fishing vessel. Apparently, the problem with it is that it is too big.

When we have policies that are just foisted on the parliament in a matter of days after a press conference held by two people—Minister Ludwig and Minister Burke—at the behest of GetUp! and the Greens, then what we end up with is policy anarchy. This policy anarchy is now being revised to a lesser policy anarchy, but still anarchy nonetheless. Why this is so dangerous is that one of the concepts of this policy that is going forward is that the term 'environmental' has been invoked with an almost omnipotent quality. If something has an unnecessary environmental outcome then it is immediately scrapped.

How would that policy work if you took it into any other frame of operation in our nation? It would mean that as soon as you tried to progress something someone would just invoke the word 'environmental' and all of a sudden you are back to square one. How would it go with the Murray-Darling Basin plan? How will it go in the construction of any road?

Once more, the whole concept and structure of a debate has been to find a certain issue that really not many people know much about. When they talk about a rather large fishing vessel, people rightly have a sense of concern. They see it and, because they do not completely know what it entails, they are able to have that space filled up with a sense of, in some instances, fear. But, when we actually look at that vessel and we have plumbed the depths of it, we note that it was abiding by every regulation the government had set out for it. In fact, it had been proactive in telling the government exactly what it was up to. Within weeks of it being denied, it had been approved once more and condoned in its operation by the minister. Then, at another point in time, the same minister who had condoned it literally called a press conference and took the economic rug out from underneath its feet. It just does not stand to reason. There was no transparency. There was no logic. There was no proper explanation. There was no complete divulging of the facts.

Then the bill that completes all this commotion gets to the lower house. This is a maritime issue, and what we are dealing with here is a maritime bill. When the bill gets to the other place, they find that their own work is deficient and that it was going to have huge consequences in a whole range of areas, because what they had been lulled into doing in support of the term 'environmentalism' was to have such a wide scope in the bill that people in all areas of the recreational and commercial fishing industry were about to have a whole new raft of caveats and imposts placed over their lives. So, in the panic, they started amending it, and who pops up to help them with the amendments? None other than the member for Dobell, Craig Thomson. When you think it cannot get any crazier, it does. So now we have the former member of the HSU helping out the Labor Party with policy on the run devised by the Greens. People have got so used to how manic and out of control the government is that they have just started accepting this as de rigueur. It is what will happen with this government.

When we look at it in reflection, what was the sentiment? This vessel, the FV Margiris—now named the Abel Tasman—had complied with every regulation and paid all its licence fees. It was under lease by an Australian company, but all of a sudden it was deemed to be an abomination. The closest that most people would ever have got to it is seeing it on the television. What was the emotion? That it would apparently catch more seals and dolphins. That rightly is a concern, but when you plumb the facts of that you find that, if you replaced it with three smaller fishing vessels, they would probably catch more and you would probably have a worse environmental outcome. If we start banning ships because they are big, where does this lead? Do we ban tractors because they are too big? Will we ban trucks because they are too big? Will there be trains that are too long? Will there be garages that are too big? Will we go around and find houses that are too big? If 'too big' is now the mechanism which basically determines the morality of a piece of capital, this is a very strange place we have arrived at.

Going on to the issue of transparency, only a week before this we had an issue pertaining to Cubbie Station where we called for greater transparency. A motion was passed by this Senate asking for greater transparency, but we got nothing—no response. The Treasurer has no interest whatsoever in reflecting in his actions the wishes of the Australian Senate. He has been completely dismissive of the Australian Senate. It was not an issue of the coalition; it was an issue that passed in a motion before the Australian Senate, which a person only 100 feet away has decided to ignore. The Treasurer no longer cares about motions passed by our nation's Senate. On one issue he has gone completely and utterly frenetic in shutting down a section of the fishing industry—this fishing vessel—creating a sovereign risk by reason of a populist uprising. That is the aspersion that apparently was cast at me—that it was populist and a sovereign risk. Yet, when the Treasurer, Minister Burke or Minister Ludwig does it, apparently that is correct.

I have been waiting for Dr Craig Emerson, who has written almost a magnum opus on the sins that are truly mine, to talk about it being a sovereign risk, but I have not heard boo from Dr Craig Emerson, the Minister for Trade, about this issue. Why? Because Craig Emerson has his opt-in, opt-out economic purity, and today he is revelling in being a little bit impure. Maybe tomorrow he will be pure again. This is the opt-in, opt-out economic morality of the trade minister. But, of course, what he has drawn a line on is that all those op-eds that he wrote in the Australian now make him look like a complete and utter hypocrite, because an issue has come up and he has not said boo—not a word.

I am trying to plumb the depths as to where the difference is between these two issues, and I have put it down to two things: seals and dolphins. So, if we can just work out how we can manage to get some seals and dolphins into the ring tank at Cubbie Station, maybe the Treasurer will give us the benefit of greater oversight. Maybe that was my fatal flaw. I should have been more aware of the macrofauna possibilities of the ring tanks at Cubbie Station, and that is possibly how we could have done it—or, alternatively, we could have broken the boat up and seen if we could float it on one of the ring tanks. Maybe that would have brought some attention to the issue.

You can see the total and utter absurdity and hypocrisy of the government, and we cannot go on like this. We will have to debate this issue when it comes up here, and we do not really know where we are at the moment. We do not really know whether Mr Windsor is going to make a statement that he disagrees with big ships. Is Mr Oakeshott going to decide that the moral worth of the nation is determined by the size of the ship? I do not know. It will be an interesting one to watch to see what their arguments are. We have heard Senator Milne say she might know more than the rest of us; she is talking about introducing it here into the Senate, so it is going to bog down.

The more transparency comes into this debate—very similar to the live cattle trade—the more people will start to see that all is not as it seems when it comes to the concentration on this vessel, because really the greatest sin of this vessel is that it is large. It is large because it is not just a vessel but also has a range of processing mechanisms encompassed in it. What is the difference between it and a small vessel and processing centre back in a port?

It shows in stark contrast that, if you go about something in a diligent manner like this Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012, you will come to an outcome that is generally rational, relevant and non-controversial and actually goes through. That is not the case when you come up with an issue by flight of fancy and bung it on us by press conference after a whole process of the government going through every mechanism of scientific approval of it was in place. If this is the mechanism that can override other scientific approvals, will that ethos then creep into other areas of commerce such as the Murray-Darling Basin so we could get to an end with everything ticked off and approved but, by reason of a vibe, the whole thing gets thrown out again. There is a sense of uncertainty there, and it was really the role of the minister, instead of coming out and giving a press conference shutting the thing down, to come out and give a press conference clearly explaining the issues of how they had gone through the process of bringing it in and addressing the concerns that were rightly held by the public and of which the public had every right to a full and frank disclosure. It is the minister's responsibility to rise to the challenge and explain himself, explain the government's position, but he never did that.

This is basically what we asked with the Cubbie Station issue. This Senate has asked for Treasurer Wayne Swan to come out and explain himself. If he has the competency to get his mind around the corners then he should be able to stand before the podium, take the questions and answer them one after the other. But he has never done that, because the Treasurer no longer respects the Australian people. If you said, 'Stand by that statement. Why do you make it?' Because a motion has been passed by this Senate that he has completely ignored, and the Senate is a representation of the wishes of the Australian people, so he has ignored the wishes of the Australian people.

There is another issue that people should be pursuing. Why is it that this arrogance and anarchy has come in? The best way to describe how the government is operating at the moment is arrogance and anarchy. The people are apparently too simple for them to be worth the explanation, so they never get it. Then issues and processes come into place which are completely out of left field.

Another one we hear today is the freezing of around $2 billion of funding. We think it was going to be for a lot of regional Australian issues. We know that a lot of it is going to come from the RDAs. We do not know where it is going to be frozen. We do not know how it is going to be affected. We do not know which projects are going to be stopped. We do not know whether it is to do with things that have already been allocated. We have no idea. They will not tell us. We have called for Minister Simon Crean to explain his position, but we cannot get him out of his burrow. He is down the burrow with Mr Swan, and we cannot get them out to explain their position to our nation.

How did that come about? It came about because Minister Plibersek said when she announced her dental plan that she would find the money. Where was the money going to come from? She said she would just find it somewhere. We found out today where they found it: they found it in regional Australia, affecting the promise that they made to the Independents, Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor. I do not know, but I think Mr Oakeshott may be onto something. I do not think he is going to be taken as a fool. He might actually hold them to account on this one. It will be interesting to see.

Anyway, I commend to the Senate the Transport Safety Investigation Amendment Bill 2012.