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Tuesday, 2 June 1998
Page: 4471


Mr MARTIN (9:09 PM) —At the outset, in the spirit of cooperation which pervades the parliament this evening, let me indicate that the opposition in no way will hinder the passage of the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill (No. 1) 1998 through either the House of Representatives or the Senate because, quite obviously, this bill is uncontroversial. It seeks to do essentially two things. It seeks to give legislative effect to the Customs Tariff Proposal No. 5 of 1997, which proposed a reduction on the rate of customs duty payable on aviation gasoline. That certainly is a very non-controversial element of the legislation.

The second part of the bill which needs comment deals with the proposal to allow the importation of prescribed goods by non-Australian Olympic and Paralympic family members for both the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games. There can be no more important and significant event in the coming couple of years in Australia than both the Olympics and the Paralympics in terms of what that will provide for Australia in showcasing this great nation of ours. It will be a celebration of athleticism, the likes of which Australia has not seen certainly since Melbourne and, probably, with advances in legitimate training techniques, we will see athletic and similar abilities on show for the rest of the world to see. Importantly, it will also give us an opportunity to cheer on Australians in their own environment and in a magnificent facility that is in the process of being constructed at Homebush.

It is actually quite opportune that we are debating this bill today in respect of the elements relevant to the Olympics because the New South Wales state government delivered its budget today and, as an adjunct to that budget, gave an indication as to just how much the Olympics were to cost in terms of its overall cost to Australia but, more specifically, to New South Wales. Rather than being the subject of some derision, I think that Michael Knight, the Minister for the Olympics, the Treasurer, Michael Egan, and the Premier, Bob Carr, deserve congratulations for being the first government, as I understand it, probably ever to bring forward the costings associated with the Olympics before the Olympics take place.

It has apparently been a feature of most Olympic events around the world that costings are delivered well after the event. Final costings come in and the people of the host nation discover just how much their city, their state or their country is up for in terms of paying for the Olympics. As I understand it, from the figures that were quoted today, something like $2.7 billion will be expended on the Olympic venue and it will be a matter of the state contributing a sizeable proportion of that.

Revenue from the Olympics and revenue from the sale of housing that is being developed at the present moment to house athletes, et cetera, will go towards meeting the costs of those facilities at Homebush. As I have said, the fact that costings have been released now, in advance of the Olympics having been completed—and notwithstanding some commentary that the initial costs have blown out by comparison with those that were advanced at the time of the bid being made—I think is a credit to the New South Wales government.

Quite often in this place we stand in front of each other and hold debate—and sometimes, indeed, even scream abuse—about whether or not governments and, indeed, oppositions are accountable. In the case of governments being accountable, of course that normally goes to whether or not all information is provided to the taxpayers of Australia in respect of any legislation, any tax measure or any other measure that the government brings forward. In the case of New South Wales, as I say, here for all to see, warts and all, are the costings associated with the presentation of the Olympics in the year 2000.

As I said, the fact that it has been broken down to costings like $144 million for transport, $99 million for other aspects of the games, $8 million-odd for hospital and medical facilities and so on is an indication of the significance which the New South Wales government attaches to ensuring that the taxpayers of that state know about it. That extends to the taxpayers of Australia and, might I say, even the Commonwealth government, given that we are now a sponsor with the latest deal that has been done in handing over the $32 million-odd that was required for things like providing customs services and other facilities where there was some scrabbling around the edges between, I think, the Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr Andrew Thomson) and his counterpart, Michael Knight, in New South Wales. I think it is very appropriate that that is the case.

I might just say, while we are about it, to the Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs (Mr Truss) that I know that those in the Australian Olympic movement and the athletes in Australia who are looking forward to the challenges of the year 2000 Olympics and Paralympics welcome the support that has come from the Commonwealth government. I have had an opportunity to meet with a number of people and to discuss that. It is a little unfortunate that people decided that they wanted to play politics at the edges. Discussions that were going on behind the scenes would probably have achieved a reasonable outcome in the long term, but from the opposition's perspective we thank the customs minister who is at the table most sincerely not only for what his department will be doing to ensure that the Olympics goes off well but also for providing a briefing for me and my staff on this specific bill. I commend this minister; he goes out of his way to ensure that the opposition is informed on every aspect of customs legislation. It is something which we certainly appreciate.

The only issue that emerged when we were looking at this bill was the fact that, as I have said, it was seeking to allow the importation of prescribed goods by non-Australian Olympic and Paralympic family members for both the Sydney 2000 Olympics and the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. The only problem that crept up for us was: just what is this definition of the `Olympic family'? The definition lies in the hands of the International Olympic Committee, and, as best as we could ascertain, the definition of the `Olympic family' is not written down anywhere. It would also seem that under the very astute and esteemed guidance of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the President of the IOC, the definition apparently has widened somewhat. Initially, the definition included the IOC members and accompanying persons, the International Federal President and Secretary-General, the athletes, officials and accompanying persons. But that has now been widened to include people belonging to the host city delegations and accompanying persons and also the media at large.

Madam Deputy Speaker Crosio, as an avid sports fanatic yourself, representing the western suburbs of Sydney, with all of the facilities that are available there and the fact that your electorate is very close to the Homebush site and to a number of the other Olympic facilities that have been built in the western suburbs of Sydney, I am sure you would be interested to know that when you see an Olympic Games in operation you notice not only the number of support staff that go with the athletes themselves but also the media. There are all these official media coming from every participating nation around the world—and that includes the print media, the radio broadcast media, the television crews, the backup, the electricians and all the rest of it. It is fair to say that you would get the impression that quite a large number of people are now embraced by this definition of the `Olympic family'.

Very kindly, this afternoon, Customs officials came and briefed me; some figures have been put on this now. The approximate size of the Olympic family—and this should not excite too many people because there are some explanations behind it—is 40,000 for the Sydney Olympics, 20,000 for the Paralympics and 5,000-odd people coming for trial and cultural events, making a grand total of 65,000-odd personnel. That is not a bad family to belong to, is it? If that includes getting seats at the Olympics, Minister, there are a few of us on this side who would like to think that we could be adopted as part of that Olympic family—


Mr Truss —And on our side!


Mr MARTIN —And perhaps even on your side there are a few that have put their hands up for adoption as well.

Dr Kemp interjecting


Mr MARTIN —No, they have not stretched out the hand of friendship to you just yet, Minister. As I have said, athletes, officials, journalists, dignitaries and a whole range of people will be part of this Olympic family. In trying to quantify just what the cost to government might be in processing these people and the effects that this would have on Customs, I have been assured—and I think it is absolutely right—that the cost, as it was put to me, is going to vary between zero and very little. At the end of the day, when people come into Australia and bring their equipment in there are ways in which Customs facilitates that. So there is no real reason for concern there.

Many athletes who come and participate in the Olympic Games bring quite a range and variety of very expensive equipment these days; it is the latest and the greatest. Probably, in many cases, the most expensive part of an athlete's equipment is what they bring with them—for example, in the case of a yachtsperson or if they happen to be involved in some of the other events where expensive equipment is necessary. Gone are the days when you brought a pair of Nike shoes, a pair of running shorts and a T-shirt or whatever and that was it. It is fair to say that in most cases there is quite a bit of equipment which each of the athletes bring in, and this bill is there to facilitate the entry of that equipment on behalf of the athletes.

I conclude where I started by again just saying that the opposition has no difficulty whatsoever with this legislation. I reiterate that all Australians are looking forward to this event. I do have some concerns—and I did raise it with the minister's officials this afternoon—about the capacity for the departmental people at the barrier to cope with the huge influx of people in the year 2000—and not only the athletes themselves; fortunately, though, I think they will be pretty much staggered. Athletes and countries' representative squads will be here well in advance of the actual events themselves. They will want to be here for final training and to acclimatise just prior to the events occurring in September. Many of them are going to come to Wollongong and go into residence, we hope, beforehand as part of the training regime because of the facilities that we have in our location.

I think it will be a very difficult time for the Australian Customs Service to move the amount of people through Sydney airport and other entry points in Australia—not only the athletes but also the many thousands of people—who will come to the Olympics. While he is the minister at the minute—and I cannot extend to him the hope that he might still be in that position in the year 2000—he is overseeing at the moment the Australian Customs Service as they plan how they are going to deal with these issues at the time.

I think it is going to test our servicing ability, but I know that he has a tremendously dedicated group of individuals that make up the Australian Customs Service. I know that they will be doing what is humanly possible to facilitate the movement of athletes, specta tors and visitors coming to Australia during the year 2000 both before, during and after the Olympics and the Paralympics. As part of the process of selling Australia to the rest of the world, it is those impressions that people go away with that will help enhance us as a potential major future tourist destination for some markets that we are trying to penetrate at the present moment. That impression comes with facilitation, the ease with which people come through the barrier, where they are processed quickly, where they can collect their bags, where they can get out of Mascot. Minister, I am sure that you would have been through Sydney in recent times. The amount of work that is going on in both the domestic and the international arenas at the present moment is staggering. I think it is all for the good.

We wish this legislation speedy passage. We certainly wish all the best to the athletes that are going to be beneficiaries of the good hosting of Australia. The Australian Customs Service will help facilitate the movement of athletes and visitors through Australia. I think that will be an appropriate welcome that we will give them. This legislation is timely in ensuring that the Olympics family, as broad as it may be—all 65,000 of them, God bless them—come into Australia and participate. I am sure we all hope that they leave with a smile on their face but that they do not leave with too many gold medals.