The State Government has cleared the way for crucial national rail reform legislation to be passed in the Upper House.
It has negotiated a new arrangement under which Western Australia's equity in the National Rail Corporation can be varied.
This means the Opposition coalition, which is opposed to Western Australia having a stake in the new corporation, now has no reason not to pass the legislation this week.
In talks between Transport Minister Pam Beggs and National Rail Corporation officials over the past few days, the NRC agreed to secure the support of the Commonwealth and other States for the move.
The support was confirmed in letters to Mrs Beggs today from the Transport Ministers in Canberra, New South Wales and Victoria.
The Ministers agreed they would be prepared to amend the NRC Shareholders' Agreement, if requested by the WA Government before June 30, 1993. This would give Western Australia the option of changing its equity share in the corporation.
Mrs Beggs said the National Rail Corporation Agreement Bill passed through the Legislative Assembly with National Party support last month.
But the Opposition's new coalition meant the National Party members had to align themselves with the Liberal Party which was opposed to Western Australia being an NRC shareholder.
"There now is no reason why the legislation cannot be passed immediately to enable the National Rail Corporation to begin operations on January 1," Mrs Beggs said.
"The Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victoria have agreed to the legislation and the latest proposal requires no amendments to the Bill, as the ownership provisions can be changed under Clause 8 of the NRC Shareholders' Agreement.
"But the Opposition needs to understand that the Shareholders' Agreement only becomes effective once this complementary legislation is passed.
"If the Opposition, with the support of Independent MLC Reg Davies, blocks or delays this Bill, they will be responsible for stymieing the single most important rail reform in Australia.
"The NRC is calculated to offer savings of more than $1 billion in national transport costs and has universal endorsement by key business and trading organisations. Even the WA Liberal and National parties acknowledge it is a necessary and worthwhile reform.
"The agreement reached today also gives the State greater bargaining power in negotiating a range of issues including workforce numbers and industrial arrangements."
Mrs Beggs said the State Government believed an equity shareholding was in the State's best interests because it gave Western Australia a direct say on how the NRC would operate.
"If Western Australia does not remain a shareholder, then it will lose all rights to membership of the NRC board of directors and therefore a role in the decision-making process," she said.
Under the Shareholders' Agreement, Western Australia would take up a five per cent equity with 15 per cent of voting rights at a cost of $8 million.
Western Australia negotiated a specific clause that protected its financial interests in the first five years of the NRC.
This meant the State would not be liable for losses the NRC incurred in that period. Financial analyses of the NRC's operations showed it should be running profitably within five years.
"The key aspect is that the changes agreed by the other States and the Commonwealth means Western Australia now has an option that previously was not open to it," Mrs Beggs said.
"Therefore, there is no reason why the Upper House cannot pass the legislation this week.
"Moves by the Opposition coalition's transport spokesman Eric Charlton to refer the legislation to a Standing Committee not only would delay the Bill, it would duplicate the extensive consultation that has occurred between the Opposition and officials from Westrail, the Department of Transport and the NRC."