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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 4046

Senator MACKAY(6.34 p.m.) —I would also like to speak to the report on the Australian Maritime College. I have my electorate office in Hobart, but that does not stop me from feeling very strongly about what is clearly a goofy decision by a government which has a supercilious attitude to regional Australia. That decision has taken the lustre off what was a valued and productive institution.

The Australian Maritime College, as senators will no doubt be aware, is situated within the Launceston campus of the University of Tasmania. By any standards, the college is a centre of excellence and one that Launceston and all of Tasmania can be proud of. The college attracts students and staff from a wide range of backgrounds within Australia. As well, students and staff come to Tasmania from almost 30 overseas countries. In addition to the university receiving much needed support and revenue from this arrangement, there are also obvious implications for the local economy. Students from these nations also add to the ethnic diversity and the texture of Launceston—something I hope we all endorse.

In addition, in 1996 14 Aboriginal students from different parts of Australia came to the college. I understand that the college is hoping to expand the number of Aboriginal students. Perhaps this is a lesson in reconciliation that can be shown to some other people in this country.

The college was established in 1976 under the Fraser Liberal government, which clearly saw the sense in the project. The college had been initially conceived during the Whitlam government's period in office. Unlike the present doctrinaire coalition government, it is pleasing to know that the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, had the good grace and sense to know a good idea when he heard one. The present government seeks to undermine, no matter what the source or the merit of an idea or suggestion may be. Almost year and a half of misery has been inflicted on Tasmania—and Australia in general—because of the ideological and doctrinaire position this government holds.

I hope that it will be of interest to the government to know that, despite the best efforts of the government to cut into the University of Tasmania, they have not succeeded in their second tier objective. The university remains committed to the principles of education and maritime safety before the sectional interests of capital and people who can afford to go to university. The AMC provides its students, researchers and clients with in excess of $100 million worth of infrastructure; 80 per cent of graduates from the Maritime College find well paid employment soon after leaving the college; and the college has good professional academic relations with the maritime industry world wide.

With these facts in mind, I cannot help wondering why the AMC has been forced onto the back foot by the government. In its slash and burn 1996 budget, the government cut the AMC budget and effectively provided the Dutch with a $4.5 million free kick. Under Labor, Tasmania was to receive $14.2 million for the Australian maritime hydrodynamics facility, as my Tasmanian Senate colleagues have indicated, at the Australian Maritime Engineering Cooperative Research Centre. This would have provided the first ocean testing facility in the world and put Tasmania and Australia at the cutting edge in this field. The research would have been used for fast-ferry building and offshore work for oil and gas.

The funding just was not in the budget. The Dutch now have the funding and they are well under way—and we were wondering why our best minds are leaving the state of Tasmania. This obviously was made more difficult by the reduction of the tax concession available for R&D from 150 per cent to 125 per cent. This will make it even harder for industry to create wealth and jobs through innovation.

Question resolved in the affirmative.