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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2569

(Question No. 548)


Senator Archer asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 18 November 1983:

(1) What specific items did the Prime Minister undertake to provide for Tasmania during the 1983 election campaign, whether at meetings, by letter or in policy statements;

(2) Which of these undertakings have subsequently been cancelled or deferred?


Senator Button —The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) During the 1983 election campaign, I gave a number of commitments relating to Tasmania. I made it clear that a Hawke Labor government believed that the Gordon-below-Franklin dam should not proceed and that we would ensure that those who were employed, or would have been employed, on the Gordon-below-Franklin scheme were provided with alternative employment, and that the Commonwealth would involve itself in ensuring that Tasmania's future power needs were met.

I said in this regard that the Commonwealth would negotiate with the State Government on:

the Federal assistance necessary to assist the construction of a smaller hydro electric project or projects away from the Franklin River (the King and Henty/ Anthony schemes were suggested in this context);

funding, in the transition period and beyond, projects appropriate for taking up the skills of the people in the Hydro-Electric Commission (HEC) workforce who would otherwise have been employed on the Gordon-below-Franklin scheme and who could not continue to be employed on existing projects, and in respect of whom there would be a transition period before the alternative schemes could be undertaken. A number of possible projects were referred to in this regard.

Other commitments given with respect to Tasmania included:

in co-operation with the State Government, to establish a joint Commonwealth/ State south west management authority, similar to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, with financial support for capital and recurrent expenditure by the Authority as well as payments to the Tasmanian National Parks and Wildlife Authority to meet its responsibilities in the world heritage area;

to develop a regional economic plan for Tasmania designed to reconstruct industry and regenerate employment. This would include support for the establishment of a Tasmanian development corporation as well as special assistance to the Tasmanian Government to develop access to, and accommodation at, Tasmanian tourist attractions, including assistance to the Youth Hostel Association and similar organisations, to develop low-cost accommodation for tourists;

with respect to developing and improving infrastructure for Tasmanian industries, undertakings were given to:

adhere to the five-year time frame and consider increasing the grant in light of inflation for the program to rehabilitate Tasmania's rail system, as well as separately funding as community service obligations all strictly non-commercial rail services required for community development purposes;

support the recommendations of the Pitt-Sherry report on the development of port facilities to assist the fishing industry in Tasmania and to assist the Tasmanian Government in the implementation of the report's recommendations;

institute an inquiry as to the effect of wood and paper imports on the industry in Tasmania and what may be able to be done to alleviate the present difficulties;

encourage the development of high technology and high growth institutions particularly relevant to Tasmania.

(2) With regard to the Gordon-below-Franklin scheme, I wrote to the Premier of Tasmania on a number of occasions between March and June 1983 proposing discussions on possible alternative employment strategies. These proposals were not taken up and work on the scheme proceeded until the High Court's decision on 1 July 1983 in favour of the Commonwealth.

Since the High Court decision there have been extensive negotiations with Tasmania on the provision of alternative employment opportunities and on Commonwealth assistance for Tasmania's future electricity requirements.

In the 1983-84 Budget, the Commonwealth appropriated $27m to generate alternative employment opportunities and to ensure income maintenance for Hydro Electric Commission employees and assistance to contractors involved with the construction of the Gordon-below Franklin scheme. A further $3m was provided for the upgrading of Hobart Airport.

Negotiations are proceeding with the State Government on both further employment funding (including additional development of Hobart Airport) and the Commonwealth offers to provide:

$200m in January 1984 dollars, over a ten year period, to enable the cost of 112 megawatts of power to be reduced to the level of the cost of power that would have been produced by the Gordon-below-Franklin scheme. Further negotiations will be held with Tasmania concerning the provision of assistance in respect of an additional 68 megawatts of capacity that would make up the difference between the expected capacity of the Gordon-below-Franklin scheme an the capacity already subsidised;

$25m as an ex-gratia payment to Tasmania in order to avoid the need for any increase by the Hydro-Electric Commission in retail tariffs for electricity as a consequence of the bringing to account of past expenditure on the Gordon-below- Franklin scheme.

A number of other matters referred to in the 1983 election campaign have been addressed in the course of the negotiations following cessation of the Gordon- below-Franklin project. These have included:

proposals, on which negotiations are proceeding with Tasmania, on the respective roles for the Commonwealth and the State in future management arrangements for the world heritage area in South West Tasmania. An amount of $ 500,000 has been provided to the State for the provision of interim additional protection measures for the world heritage area during 1983-84;

the provision of $520,000, under the package of employment projects financed by the Commonwealth, for development of port facilities at Strahan, one of the ports identified in the Pitt-Sherry Report as being of strategic importance to any large-scale fishing development;

consideration of the possibility of establishing a special Federal/State commission to examine various aspects of the Commonwealth's proposed assistance, against the background of the longer term prospects for the Tasmanian economy.

A number of other matters of importance to Tasmania, such as the possible expansion of the computer software manufacturing industry, other aspects of the Pitt-Sherry report, the rehabilitation of the Tasmanian railway system, the replacement of the 'Empress of Australia', and the future of the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme, are under negotiation with the State Government or are under study in various ways at the present time.

In sum, it can be said that the Commonwealth is taking every action to honour its election commitments to Tasmania relating to the Gordon-below-Franklin scheme, and that other undertakings are being implemented or are under consideration.

As I pointed out before the 1983 elections, the Government inherited a budgetary situation which was much more difficult that had been admitted by its predecessor. In consequence, it may not be possible to implement all our election commitments as quickly and completely as we would have wished. None of the commitments to Tasmania to which I have referred, however, has been cancelled.