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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 2846

Senator MURPHY(6.00 p.m.) —I would like to address my remarks on the Airports Bill specifically to regional airports because they are of such significance in my home state. With regard to the question of selling the remaining FAC airports, there has always been, I think, a fairly diverse view within the Australian Labor Party about the sale or leasing of airports. They are a very successful public asset and they have worked, in the main, very well—save for some of the regional airports.

One thing that has always bothered me with regard to the FAC has been its investment strategy in so far as it has a very clear focus on the large airports and somewhat of a much lesser focus on what to do with the regional airports. I say that again in relation to my own state in particular. If I were of a view to support the leasing or the sale of those public assets, it would be on the basis that I thought that our airports in Tasmania could do much better under local ownership.

That brings me to this question of the local ownership. When we were in government, two community groups were set up, once the decision had been taken to lease the FAC airports. There was a concern about people in Tasmania not wanting those airports to fall under the control of private ownership—and for very good reason. So we in government agreed to a study taking place to allow the community to ascertain whether the local ownership or the local leasing of the airports by the local authorities would be or could be successful and whether or not the financial capacity of those airports would be such as to not be a financial drain on the community. In government we provided some $200,000 for that study to proceed. Mind you, I would have to say, the people that did the study, in my view, did not do a very good job and, in some respects, I think the money that was used was somewhat sadly wasted because we did have to proceed to get some further analysis done of exactly what the capacity of the airports might be.

We went on down that road to give a very firm indication to the Tasmanian community that, should they desire to take control of their airports in Hobart and Launceston, we would be granting those airports to the communities basically free of charge and also free of debt. We carried a resolution at our national conference in 1994 that also committed the ALP in government to the establishment of a development fund. What happened was that we rolled along the road towards a federal election and when the question was put—and I participated on both committees, in the north and south of the state—to the two parties, the coalition agreed and indicated very firmly that they would do exactly the same as what had been promised by the then Labor government, should they win government. We know that on 2 March they did win government, and we also know that they have now reneged—in fact, ratted—on what they told the Tasmanian public with respect to the two airports in Tasmania.

I just want to read out a few paragraphs from a speech made by the now Prime Minister (Mr Howard) on 26 March to the Business Council of Australia. In part, he says:

One of the reasons why the respect for our institutions has declined is the way in which promises are too freely made and even more freely repudiated after governments are elected to power.

I think part of the process of restoring trust and confidence in the process . . . is for governments to try to the best of their ability, and even beyond that if that's possible, to meet the commitments that they have made. And I have indicated to my colleagues and I have indicated publicly, and I will go on indicating it publicly, that nobody should imagine that I will lightly accept any repudiation of the commitments that we made to people. And even more important than other benchmarks against which you are entitled to judge us, in three years time you will be entitled to judge us according to the benchmark of whether or not we have honoured commitments made to people and to the Australian nation before the 2nd of March because unless that stream of trust, that element of confidence, can be restored, then the whole respect of the community for the political process and for the process of government is going to further disintegrate.

I think it is a great few paragraphs. I totally agree with them, but the problem is that the Prime Minister and his government now have lost sight of them altogether.

This is particularly the case with respect to Tasmania because this ratting exercise does not relate only to the airports. The Australian Maritime College is a very important piece of infrastructure in the Bass electorate, in which Mr Warwick Smith, the member of the House of Representatives, was re-elected at the last election. We gave a funding commitment to the college for the development of a new cooperative research centre, a hydrodynamic facility. The commitment was $14½ million. Overall, the development would have had a total cost of around $17 million and would have provided, during its construction and initial operation, a significant boost to the local economy in terms of employment, small business and services. And yet what has the government done? It has withdrawn that funding.

The Tasmanian state Liberal government also gave the Australian Maritime College $500,000, a fair amount of which was used in boring a test hole. They also put in place joint arrangements with other countries on the basis of that development proceeding, but John Howard's actions have left them with egg on their face. Of course, it does not stop there either. Also affected are the university through the better cities program and the redevelopment of the Inveresk railyards in Launceston in Warwick Smith's electorate of Bass.

Following the election I remember reading an article by Mr Michael Courtney in the Examiner saying that the people of Bass had been smart in electing a member of government in 1993 and doing so again in 1996, and he mentioned the significant benefits that having a member of government had delivered to Bass. I am sure he would like to withdraw those comments now, but of course he will not.

I noticed the other day that Launceston airport was so important to the new minister, Mr Sharp, that he organised a meeting with the PLA on Flinders Island. Of course, he did not tell anyone else—nobody else knew. He said, `We're very much in favour of local ownership, but we will put those airports up for sale to the highest bidder.'

The community itself will not have the capacity to raise the necessary finance either to buy an airport or to compete against some other major bidders. In this legislation the government proposes allowing the clustering of airports so that somebody will be able to buy Melbourne airport and Hobart and Launceston airports. We propose an amendment to that which I hope the government members in this Senate from Tasmania will support.

I recall Senator Abetz not that long ago on another issue, namely, woodchip export licences, saying he expected Labor senators to cross the floor and vote with the government in the interests of Tasmania. I challenge Senator Abetz and his colleagues to do the same. If you expect that from us, then we can rightly expect the same from you.

I listened to Mr Chris Miles on ABC radio this morning talk about the labour market program cuts and the effective shifting of money into the modern apprenticeship training scheme, MATS. In Tasmania there has been a decline in big industry where apprenticeships are normally found. There is no investment on the horizon for our state to put people into apprenticeships.

The labour market program funding that we had in operation when we were in government provided the only employment generation in Tasmania. Many thousands of people now have real jobs—not apprenticeships—earning real money and paying real taxes. An organisation did a survey of the Tasmanian experience which indicated there was a net economic benefit after three years to the government in the use of labour market programs, even though some of them were not as successful as others. No way will MATS work in my state.

Mr Miles said, `But a major shipbuilder is having trouble getting trained people.' Mr Miles did not say, `By the way, we also scrapped the shipbuilding bounty' and Mr Clifford has now said, `That is exactly what you will do. You will wipe out that shipbuilding for Hobart.'

Senator Calvert —That was going out in `97 under your scheme. Don't come that here.

Senator MURPHY —You should know all about it. It is interesting that Senator Calvert should interject because I will be interested to see whether he will vote for our proposed amendments in the interests of Tasmania. Earlier I heard Senator Calvert say the airports are a vital asset, and I agree with him—particularly for tourism and some of our food-based industries such as salmon and oyster growing which have a capacity to expand. But Senator Calvert's Liberal colleagues in the state government ought to get some better management strategies in place for marine leases.

On the inquiry that was conducted, a number of government senators said that the southern municipal association came along and gave a great submission. The only reason they did so was because they were appalled at the fact that they even had to give a submission because they had been ratted on by the government. The state Liberal government did not even seek to make a submission. The northern regional development board, which is based in Launceston in Tasmania, said they did not know it was on until it was too late—and they sent a letter. The Liberal members in Tasmania have a lot to answer for.

Senator Calvert —I didn't see you there.

Senator MURPHY —Senator Calvert says that he didn't see me there. No, I wouldn't be there. I would have thought that in government you and your colleagues would have had the decency, understanding Tasmania's circumstances in particular—let alone anywhere else—to ensure that the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and the Treasurer (Mr Costello) did not allow these circumstances to develop in Tasmania.

What else you have done in terms of transport for tourists to Tasmania is cut the passenger equalisation subsidy by 50 per cent. Either you are admitting that you clearly lied in opposition prior to the election by putting out figures saying it would be $12 million in the first year, $17.5 million in the second year and $22 million in the third year—based on the figures that TT-Line gave you—or you knew that you were never going to apply it to a fare structure where people could get $150 one way. For your information, Senator Calvert, the only way under the current fare structure that you could get $150 going one way on the Spirit of Tasmania is if you stopped in the top two classes of accommodation.

In your budget yesterday you cut that amount by 50 per cent. That indicates that you either blatantly lied to the Tasmanian people or you cocked it up so badly that you really had no idea what you were doing anyway so you thought, `$49½ million is a bit more than the $44 million ferry that the Labor Party promised, so $49½ million will sound better to the people and that will con them.' Well, I have to agree that you did con them. It got you into government but, by God, a lot of Tasmanian people must be absolutely kicking themselves for ever voting for you.

As I said, airports are a vital asset in Tasmania. It is paramount that we get those airports under local control so they can be operated in the best interests of the Tasmanian community. If we do not, if they are sold to private interests and operated purely on the basis of being profit machines, there will be a real possibility that one of those airports will close. Senator Calvert might think that it is not such a bad idea, particularly if it was Launceston airport, but it would be a disaster for the north of the state. We have a real potential to see some industries, particularly in the agricultural and horticultural areas, develop. If we had a better state government that might happen all the more quickly. But the airport will be essential to our ability to transport those things out of the state.

Finally, I again urge and implore my Tasmanian government colleagues to stand up and fight for our state and ensure that the Prime Minister allows the granting of those airports to the two local bodies that have sought to take control of them. I urge you, if for no reason other than that you have an obligation because you told the voters you would do it and you should not be allowed to get away with ratting on them.