Legislative Council Wednesday 22 August, 2018
Ms FORREST (Murchison) - Mr President, overall this bill is a sensible way forward. There are a few areas I would like to drill down into, but we hope that governments of any colour can focus on long-term infrastructure planning. The Minister for Infrastructure seems to have taken up a suggestion I made last year - which the Government then voted against - to look at a long-term infrastructure plan. Anyway, we seem to be working on that now. I commend the Minister for Infrastructure for doing that. I have said that publicly and I have said that to him personally. To me, this fits into that sort of framework - we want our public transport to be as efficient, effective and future-thinking as it can be.
The population in the south of the state is growing much more than in other parts, hence the boundary redistribution and other things that are going on. It is really important to plan for this growth and to enable the smooth passage of people around the state. You only have to go to some our other capital cities in Australia to see how it can be quite disruptive.
When I was in Melbourne recently a lot of work was going on with their railway crossings and changing tram and train routes, and it was a bit chaotic at times. Melbourne's population is growing very quickly and is projected to continue to grow. Unless they do something about it, it is going to be an absolute nightmare. It is pretty nightmarish at the moment for many people. I do not think Tasmania is at great risk of getting to that stage quickly. I hope it is not, in many respects.
To enable Metro to be involved in other modes of transport beside buses is an appropriate and sensible move. Some people say Metro does not run a particularly efficient bus service, so why give it boats and trains as well, potentially? I think we have to have more faith in our GBE than that. It is up to us to hold Metro to account.
It is difficult. We have a small population and we subsidise Metro a lot to provide that service. There is a Metro service between Burnie and Wynyard. One of my constituents, Mr Gordon Sutton - I am sure the Leader knows him; every Liberal member would know Mr Sutton because he is a very strong campaigner and one of my great supporters as well, having backed me in my last election campaign on the west coast - lobbied very hard for a bus service to enable people to travel by public transport from Queenstown to Burnie, particularly for people to access the hospital. That is still a work in progress.
Mrs Hiscutt - The same as the one from Sheffield.
Ms FORREST - Yes. He is getting on in years now. I am not sure how old Gordon is, but he works really hard for the community of the west coast.
Mrs Hiscutt - He is passionate.
Ms FORREST - He is very passionate, yes. He always has something good to offer and works very hard for the betterment of the community. The former minister for infrastructure put in place a trial Metro bus service from Queenstown to Burnie. I have a photograph on my phone of the bus sitting outside the railway station in Queenstown. The number of the bus is 747. The 747 has landed in Queenstown. Unfortunately, it takes a bit longer than a 747 would, if it were a plane, to get from Queenstown to Burnie.
The member for McIntyre talked about how a former minister promised to deliver a Metro bus service from the east coast to Launceston, and that has not happened. Maybe she needs to get someone like Gordon on her team. I give credit to Gordon for never giving up on that. I believe it is now a permanent fixture. The trial was considered to be a success, as far as I am aware.
Mrs Hiscutt - I have not heard any different yet.
Ms FORREST - It has been a positive thing. Although, I am sure, they have relatively low numbers on the bus at most times, a full-size bus is still used. That is probably why it is called the 747.
This is a sensible move to open up the options, not just to expand Metro services in terms of road transport but also to look at other options where there are opportunities for water transport.
I was in Sydney just recently and catching the ferries from one side of the harbour to the other is just so easy. They have one card that does the lot. You get your Opal card and it does the lot. In other cities around the world you get one card that does the lot - your myki card in Melbourne - except for the SkyBus, but you can buy a SkyBus pass now. It makes it much more efficient and you only have to tap on and not tap off, which is sensible in terms of the myki cards in Melbourne. If you are in the free trams, you do not have to tap on, or off, at all.
You can streamline the movement of people in many ways and those sorts of things are where bottlenecks are created and slow things down. I understand this is also to try to facilitate a single ticketing system, which is a really positive thing. I know there have been many barriers to that, and that part of that process is getting rid of the current system with the fares order which applies to certain Metro customers.
There was some discussion on this in the briefing, as members would be aware. I assumed the fares order would not be a disallowable instrument, but when I looked at the legislation website page, I found it is treated as a regulation. Although only a small number of Metro fares fit under what this bill will get rid of - the fares order process - it was disallowable.
The Leader made a commitment in the briefing - and I am sure she will make it again in her reply - that the Government has no intention of raising fares above the consumer price index. The member for Elwick mentioned during the briefing that because the full fare-paying customers basically subsidise concession customers, it would be counterproductive to raise them higher than CPI, for example.
I understand the practicality of all that, but I am interested in seeing an open and transparent fare schedule development so people have the opportunity to be aware of how decisions are made, by whom and who has been consulted. One of the biggest problems with governments past and present is that consultation may not been as wide as it should be.
All we have in the second reading speech about the fares order is that the new contracting arrangements will give the secretary of the department the power to set fares under the fare structure which will replace the powers currently in part 3A of the Metro Tasmania Act. That is all we have in the second reading speech, and there is nothing in the bill at all. In my view that creates a bit of a void. Removal of Part 3A will not prevent the Government requiring a review of Metro's pricing, which could follow similar parameters to the work previously done by the Tasmanian Economic Regulator.
While the intention to have a single or consistent framework for setting of fares is right and good, all we know is that the secretary has the power to set the fares. The power does not seem to be in the act. I am not really sure where it is and while there may be reviews, particularly when contracts are up for renewal, to me there needs to be more transparency and more accountability around this.
Yes, the fare schedule will be published so people know what they are paying to go on a bus or other form of transport potentially, but there needs to be some sort of oversight of this decision-making. I will be interested to see what the Leader has come up with in talking to her advisers about that. Even though it was only a narrow part of the fare setting process, it was open to scrutiny. We are talking about the full fare-paying customers under the order, and they are the ones who carry the can for the others and pay. They support the passage of concession or subsidised passengers.
Mrs Hiscutt - We do not want to be driving them away, do we?
Ms FORREST - They need to be confident there is a proper process around this and that they are not being done over.
I seek some more clarity around that. The title of the bill talks only about Metro, but we know there are other things in the bill. Overall that intention of expanding Metro's capacity to deliver other forms of transport is sensible.
I was a little bit concerned about not competing directly in the private sector. This was mentioned by the member for McIntyre and other members may also mention it. Where there are passenger numbers that would warrant a ferry service, for example. Even a light rail service or something like. It may be there are other operators who would wish to provide this.
If a ferry service, for example, were to be subsidised by the Government, and Metro is running it to facilitate low-cost passage for passengers who would be eligible for concessions, is that going to be a disincentive for private operators to get involved? Would Metro services only target routes not being contested? The committee report talked about having an open tender process to establish appropriate or possible services. I think the Leader may provide a bit more advice.
Mrs Hiscutt - That is similar to a question asked by the member for McIntyre.
Ms FORREST - The other point I raised in the briefing was in regard to the extra section added. It has to do that because Metro is a state-owned company which is subject to the provisions of the Corporations Act. That includes, as the Government did with the last state owned company, Tasmanian Irrigation, requiring the business to operate according to the Treasurer's Instructions and for shareholder members to provide a statement of expectations. It is appropriate these measures are put in place, so all GBEs and state-owned companies operate under a consistent framework.
I remember that when Michael Aird was treasurer in a former government, he implemented a position paper looking at converting all GBEs to stateowned companies to provide a consistent approach. That did not go anywhere. I never understood entirely why, but that would have provided some consistency, because state-owned companies and GBSs are different in the way their obligations are enshrined in legislation.
This brings all state-owned companies in line with the requirements the GBEs have in their acts. Several of the older state-owned companies did not have this provision, and now they will. It makes sense.
In the briefing I asked about any conflict with the responsibilities of these state-owned companies under the Corporations Act. Each section has its own application and the Corporations Act enables it to deal with that. State legislation will prevail where there may be a conflict. It is important to recognise and understand this and that it is a sensible thing to do. Interestingly, it was put into this bill without any mention of it in the title of the bill - it is something the member for Launceston might have mentioned.
Ms Armitage - In 'miscellaneous'.
Ms FORREST - Yes, something like that. They do not amend the Metro Tasmania Act.
Ms Armitage - It should be 'Metro and miscellaneous'.
Ms FORREST - Probably.
It makes sense. Whether it should be done does not really matter, it just means there will be another bill, which would have been quite small.
I support the bill, with those questions I have asked regarding how the fare-setting schedules will work.