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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 141


Mr COHEN (Minister for Home Affairs and Environment)(10.21) —This debate, as has been the practice over recent months, is now getting into the category of cloud cuckoo land. In recent days the Premier of Tasmania has claimed that all he wants for compensation for the dam is $3,500m. As I have said, cuckoo land, Fantasyland or Disneyland, that is the way in which the debate is going. I give credit to the honourable member for Bass (Mr Newman); at least he did not go into the rhetoric that we have been getting from the Tasmanian Premier in recent days. I repeat, $3,500m. That is a reasonable request, one would suggest. That is $8,000 per person in Tasmania. For a family of five that is a gift of $40,000 or a new home. That is a reasonable offer of compensation! Mr Fraser offered $500m which is one-seventh of what the present Premier is now claiming. The Hawke Government promised that no Tasmanian would be disadvantaged or be out of work as a result of the stopping of the Gordon below Franklin Dam and that Tasmania's power needs would be taken care of.

For weeks prior to the judgment of the High Court of Australia this Government tried to negotiate with Tasmanian officials on the basis that the Commonwealth might win. Many people-I will not say all-believed we would win, and that was the final result. In the weeks before the High Court decision the Tasmanian officials refused point blank to negotiate or discuss the matter with the Commonwealth Government. A few days before they suddenly realised that they would lose and they started to panic. I find it absolutely incredible that members of this Parliament-many of them experienced both in the House and in government-seriously believe that in a matter of weeks we, that is, the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments working together, can put together a full , long term plan for Tasmania's power needs; that we can plan it all, cost it all and put it all together in a matter of weeks and say: 'There you are; it is done'. It is great politics; it is great rhetoric; it sounds great down at the grass roots. Honourable members opposite know as well as I do that it cannot be done that quickly; it is impossible. They know it is a ridiculous claim and while it is good politics-I congratulate them on their sharpness-they know it is nonsense; so let us get down to solving the problem which is Tasmania's problem.


Mr Burr —Why didn't you pay the workers?


Mr COHEN —I will come to that if the honourable member will control himself. I am surprised at his interjection because he has been the only rational Tasmanian member in the debate. On the day of the High Court judgment, in fact when the Premiers Conference was being held in Canberra, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) wrote to the Premier of Tasmania with an initial offer of financial assistance and alternative employment for Hydro-Electric Commission workers and contractors .


Mr Goodluck —We did not want that; we wanted to be left alone.


Mr COHEN —The honourable member should make up his mind. Does he want some help or does he want to be left alone? In his case I will make an exception; I will leave him alone.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Franklin has been consistently interjecting both during the speech of his colleague and that of the Minister. I ask him to desist.


Mr COHEN —Given the lack of co-operation from the Tasmanian Government in the weeks leading up to the High Court judgment, our action was no mean achievement.

We contacted it immediately. During the following weeks it received a draft of a financial agreement, prepared by Commonwealth officials, under which payments of financial assistance would be made. That agreement has been the subject of extended discussion and is now ready for completion. But who has refused to sign the agreement? Not the Commonwealth Government. For weeks and weeks since the High Court judgment that financial agreement has lain with the Tasmanian Government and its officials who have refused point blank to resolve the problem . The Tasmanian Government has not yet signed the agreement. We are hopeful that it will do so in the near future. It still refuses to sign that financial agreement. That is the reason why no funds have been provided. It is very simple . One does not hand money over to people unless one has a financial agreement. But in the interim the Commonwealth has agreed to fund a considerable number of projects. This includes $4.3m for the Strahan-Zeehan Road, $13.3m for the Zeehan -Lower Pieman Road, $3.3m for Hydro-Electric Commission maintenance projects, $3 .6m for the Crotty Road consolidation and stabilisation, $1.1m for the Heritage area and stabilisation works in the Warner's Landing area, $0.2m for the King River railway deviation--


Mr Goodluck —This is chicken feed.


Mr COHEN —I will come to that in a moment. The Commonwealth has also offered to fund $5m for assistance for development of tourist facilities, $1.7m for Queenstown sewerage and $3m for Hobart airport upgrading.


Mr Hodgman —All already programmed.


Mr COHEN —That is nonsense. Let me deal with one project with which I have been very familiar. Some few weeks ago when I was in Alice Springs I met with the Tasmanian Minister for National Parks and Recreational Lands and Minister for Tourism, Mr Geoff Pearsall. We had a long discussion. I told him it was my intention to go down to Tasmania when a trip could be arranged between our two departments. He was very agreeable. May I say this: I commend the Minister. He has been most co-operative, recognising that the future lies in co-operation between our two departments. He has been most amenable. He arranged an excellent tour of South West Tasmania. I might add that this assistance has not been added to by the gutless and cowardly behaviour of two honourable members opposite.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will withdraw those words.


Mr COHEN —Yes. By trying to--


Mr Groom —You are the coward. You would not come to that meeting.


Mr COHEN —I was not asked. At least I did not have to do something as dishonest- -


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will resume his seat.


Mr COHEN —My office was never told about it.


Mr SPEAKER —Order! The Minister will resume his seat. The Minister will withdraw the remark he made about the two members opposite.


Mr COHEN —I did.


Mr SPEAKER —I am sorry, I did not hear you withdraw that remark?


Mr COHEN —I will withdraw it again if you did not hear it.


Mr SPEAKER —I ask the honourable member for Braddon to withdraw his accusation by interjection.


Mr COHEN —I will answer the accusation, if I may, Mr Speaker.


Mr SPEAKER —If the Minister does not mind, the Speaker is in control of the chamber. He is in control of discipline in the chamber. The honourable member for Braddon will withdraw the remark he made about the Minister.


Mr Groom —Yes.


Mr COHEN —I will deal with that incident, Mr Speaker, because it is one of the most cowardly--


Mr SPEAKER —As long as it does not offend.


Mr COHEN —actions taken against members of Parliament that I have ever heard.


Mr Goodluck —Don't call me gutless. You are twice my size but don't call me gutless.


Mr COHEN —Twice your intelligence too.


Mr Goodluck —And don't say it was a cowardly act either.


Mr SPEAKER —Order!


Mr COHEN —The trip was arranged to Tasmania through Mr Pearsall's department. The itinerary was provided to me 10 days before by Mr Pearsall's department. On the Saturday I saw in a paper that I was to speak at Queenstown. My Department contacted Russell Schneider, who wrote the article, and he said that he had been told about it. I said that it was not our itinerary, that no one had suggested a trip to Queenstown at that time and that we were due there the following day. On the Sunday night I contacted Ken Wreidt because I was told that I had been invited. I said: 'Do you know anything about an invitation?' He said: 'No, I have been invited but you have not'.


Mr Groom —Oh!


Mr COHEN —Well, that may be all very well but nobody contacted my office. Nobody wrote to me. There is no letter, no telex, no telegram-nothing-in my office.


Mr Groom —It is your word against someone else's.


Mr COHEN —I ask the honourable member to show me a telex that went to my office. He knows where I am; he has a phone. Why did he not phone me if he were going to invite me?


Mr Groom —I did not organise the meeting.


Mr COHEN —Oh, the honourable member did not organise it. Who invited me?


Mr Groom —Your office.


Mr COHEN —That is right. So having not been invited I was then set up by these two members and the local union member. They organised it. Knowing I was not going to be there they then accused me of not having the guts to be there. They did not have the guts to invite me in the first place. As I said, a number of projects have been agreed to and I have dealt with them.

I was talking about the $5m specified in regard to tourism recreation. The two departments and the Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service have worked closely together over the last six to 10 weeks and have already put together a package of proposals which will add significantly to the tourist and recreation facilities of the South West. I have inspected a number of them myself. We will be announcing the details of those projects, which are very exciting projects.


Mr Hodgman —When?


Mr COHEN —In the next few days, I hope. We now propose to develop a long term plan for the tourist and recreational development of that region. I am sure that honourable members would know and would honestly admit that we do not put together a proposal like that in a matter of days or weeks. We took with us some people from Lend Lease who are experienced in the development of tourist facilities-honourable members know of that company's work in the Thredbo area- just to get some advice as to how they thought we might proceed with improving the facilities of that region. They have spoken to other people and they are going to come forward with some proposals to the Government. We are going to work in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government; everything is being done together.

But of course we are not going to come up with a definitive plan for the tourist development of Tasmania or the south west in a matter of days. I will give an instance. The Yulara Tourist Village is due for completion. That project took something like 13 or 14 years. I hope what we are proposing will not take that time. Admittedly, Yulara was stopped and started at different times. But the type of planning in which we are engaged takes a long time. We hope to put proposals forward in the foreseeable future, but in the meantime we are going to have jobs on the ground throughout the whole of the South West in Strahan and in Queenstown. Honourable members will be hearing about those very shortly. Let us come to the question of power.


Mr Newman —What about the Budget? Tell us about that.


Mr COHEN —A total of $30m has been allocated in the Budget, which is all that is required in the short term to provide income maintenance for HEC workers and contractors. The other projects that I have just been talking about, such as tourism, will be the sorts of things that have to be worked out in discussions and negotiations with the Tasmanian Government. I have listened to the honourable member patiently and I did not interject. If he wants to hear what I have to say, why does he not shut up and let me speak?


Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) — Order! The House will come to order. I ask the Minister to resume his speech. I will look after the order of the House.


Mr COHEN —I do not think anyone in this House is not aware of the fact that the question of Tasmania's power needs was one of the main components of the debate about whether the dam should go ahead. Frankly, the Department of Home Affairs and Environment, which the honourable member for Bass was in charge of when he was a Minister, disputed those power claims, and those officials still do. Evidence from all the inquiries we have made also disputes those needs. We are saying to Tasmania: 'Get together with us. We will have a joint study between the Federal and Tasmanian governments and we will decide in the next year or so the power requirements of Tasmania'. We are not going to accept any bill that Premier Gray sends to us. Honourable members do not really believe that is a serious proposal. We have to look at other hydro projects and fuel fired generation. There certainly will not be nuclear power generation, as Mr Gray has been hinting. Whatever the proposals, they will come from a study between the two governments.

This is a political chamber and we are playing politics. We can expect over the next few months and years the sort of rhetoric that we have heard in the past. It is part of the game. If Opposition members from Tasmania seriously want to benefit the people of Tasmania, how about talking to us, how about co-operating with us and how about showing the attitudes of people such as Mr Pearsall? Maybe then we will finish up with what we all want-a prosperous Tasmania-without a Gordon below Franklin Dam.