AusRAIL, Market Sectors

Canberra and states head for big chill over meeting

<p>Relations between federal and state transport ministers are in the deep freeze after the states went ahead with an apparently cancelled meeting of the Australian Transport Council on Friday (November 7, 2003).</p> <p>Federal transport minister John Anderson denounced the gathering under the ATC banner as a "stunt and a sham".</p> <p>Mr Anderson, who normally chairs the transport council, had earlier postponed the meeting, saying that the key agenda item of AusLink was still not ready for discussion.</p> <p>But the transport ministers of six state Labor governments went ahead anyway, using the meeting to blast the federal coalition over funding for maritime security and for AusLink.</p> <p>The council is a regular multilateral interstate forum, but the federal minister usually chairs it. </p> <p>The decision of the states to hold the meeting without the federal minister, and therefore with no standing, will have embarrassed Mr Anderson &#8211 not least over the continued non-appearance of the AusLink White Paper. </p> <p>In a statement, Mr Anderson said that these ministers have apparently ordered upwards of 50 staff and officials to turn up in Adelaide, at large cost, to watch them conduct a phoney and essentially useless meeting.</p> <p>He claimed that state officials had been ordered to "ransack the archives" to find a precedent that might make the Adelaide meeting legitimate.</p> <p>In a communiqu, however, the state ministers made clear their belief that it was Mr Anderson who had acted unilaterally.</p> <p>They called for new procedures on organising meetings, for a rotation of the chair &#8211 and significantly "looked forward to seeing the Commonwealth represented at the next meeting".</p> <p>The state ministers’ communiqu also expressed their "surprise and disappointment" that Mr Anderson had not come to discuss the issue of transport security, where the states believe that the Commonwealth should foot more of the bill.</p> <p>Western Australia’s planning and infrastructure minister, Allanah McTiernan, had intended raising the security issue. </p> <p>But Mr Anderson said that the WA premier, Geoff Gallop, staged a walkout at a federal-state summit just as the maritime security issue was about to be discussed.</p> <p>A spokesman for Mr Anderson said the minister had been "happy to attend a meeting of the council later in the year. </p> <p>"But the latest meeting had no status, no agenda, and no federal involvement".</p> <p>A number of items which the state ministers discussed there, including national code of practice for the construction industry, and the national airspace system, had not been on any agenda, he said.</p> <p>The state ministers continued to express their concern about AusLink, saying that there was a lack of disclosure and uncertainty over future budget allocations. </p> <p>They called on the Federal Government to prepare a draft inter-governmental agreement on AusLink for discussion at the next ATC meeting. </p> <br />