The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: On 6 September 2000 I asked the Treasurer if the Government intended to privatise CountryLink rail services. In response the Treasurer said "A Labor Government will never privatise CountryLink, nor any passenger rail service in New South Wales." I ask the Minister for Transport Services a question without notice. In light of the recommendation contained in the Interim Report of the Ministerial Inquiry into Sustainable Public Transport, suggesting that some CountryLink rail services should be replaced by CountryLink bus services, will the Minister reaffirm the Labor Government's commitment to maintaining CountryLink rail services, including rolling stock, land assets, and access to rail lines in public hands? In particular, will the Minister give an assurance that CountryLink rail services to Armidale will not be closed down?
The Hon. Melinda Pavey: What about the branch lines?
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA: I am pleased to hear that very good interjection, even though I have not yet had an opportunity to begin to answer the question. I will refer to branch lines in a moment.
The Hon. John Ryan: Do you know what the word "patronising" means?
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA: Do I know what the word "patronising" means? Does the Hon. John Ryan know what the word "clown" means? It applies to him. The question asked of me probably should have been asked of the Treasurer. I do not know what comments the Treasurer made about privatisation.
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans: He said he would not privatise, and that was the Government's position.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA: I do not know what the Treasurer said, and given the record of some members of this House, I do not know whether that is an accurate report of what he said. I know that the Treasurer is not opposed to privatisation. He has been engaged in a number of privatisation negotiations for the Government. They were very successful privatisations, almost models to be used by others wishing to privatise—as opposed to the way the Opposition tends to privatise. It has no regard for market structures and its model has caused all sorts of problems, as evidenced currently with branch lines. It may be that if the Opposition had a better handle on the Australian Wheat Board privatisation we would not have problems with the branch lines.
The problem is with incompetence, and the Federal Government happens to be incompetent. The Federal Government handles issues in a very incompetent way; it particularly handles industry structure in a bad way. That is a fact. Anyone who has any knowledge of the problems associated with branch lines understands very clearly that the problems have not been caused by the New South Wales Government; they have been caused by competition between the two main providers of grain storage. I suggest that the Hon. Melinda Pavey buy a copy of last week's issue of the Land—unfortunately, there is a terrible photo on the front—which contained a reasonable analysis of the problems. I know it is reasonable, because most of the article was based on things I said. There are real problems with our branch lines and those problems are associated with a level of competition that has the potential to lead to a number of grain transportations moving from rail to road. It is estimated that potentially 1.3 million tonnes of grain will go onto the roads. That is a real concern to all of us.
I suggest that the National Party speak to its Federal colleagues about how the Australian Wheat Board is using its monopoly to destroy competition in the grain industry. If National Party members want to solve the problem they have greater access to the Minister than I have and they ought to speak to him. It does not make sense to have this silly competition with grain storage and handling. It is very silly. Everyone knows that the Wheat Board is building super grain silos and is talking about grain consolidation facilities—and that will distort the movement of grain. The board wants to move grain off the branch lines and onto the roads, and that will cause problems for local councils.
I am happy to work with the National Party on this, because I believe we have a joint problem. But members opposite should not come into the House and make all sorts of assertions based on ignorance. My comments about ignorance and the Opposition stand. Opposition members should do some basic research before they ask silly questions. If they did basic research they would understand the problem and we could all work on a solution.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: A supplementary question, Madam President.
The PRESIDENT: I call the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans on a supplementary question.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: It is not actually a supplementary question; it is more a repetition of the question. Will the Minister reaffirm the Labor Government's commitment to maintaining CountryLink rail services, including rolling stock, land assets and access to rail lines in public hands? Will the Minister give an assurance that the CountryLink rail services for Armidale will not be closed down? Will the Minister answer my question, and not the interjections?
The Hon. Michael Egan: Point of order: Whilst all of us, being human, are prone on occasions to shoot ourselves in the foot, the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans is the only person I know who shoots himself in the mouth. From his own mouth he has indicated that his question is not a supplementary question. Therefore, it should be ruled out of order.
The Hon. John Ryan: To the point of order: Notwithstanding anything that the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans said in the lead-up to his question, his question in effect asked the Minister to elucidate on an answer. Therefore, the question is in order.
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans: To the point of order: I was pointing out that the Minister had spent the whole of his four minutes answering interjections and had not answered my question. I repeated a large part of my question and then asked the key question: Will the Minister not be distracted by interjections and answer the question as asked—which is effectively asking for an elucidation of his answer?
The Hon. Michael Egan: Further to the point of order: It is quite clear that the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans did not like the Minister's answer. It should be pointed out to the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans that he can ask the questions but it is the Ministers who give the answers.
The PRESIDENT: Order! I am persuaded by the Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans that he was seeking elucidation and felt that the Minister had not fully answered his original question. I remind the honourable member that it is common to ask for elucidation when a member feels he or she has not understood the answer. The Minister may answer the question.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA: I suggest the honourable member obtain a copy of the Parry report, which is currently available on the web site.
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans: That is what I am asking you about.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA: Has the member read it?
The Hon. Dr Arthur Chesterfield-Evans: Yes.
The Hon. MICHAEL COSTA: Really? If the member has read it I do not need to elucidate any further because the report says it all.