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Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2198


Senator TATE —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Transport aware of reported statements by the Tasmanian Minister for Transport, Mr Roger Groom, that the choice of the new Bass Strait passenger ferry, Nils Holgersson, might have been different had the Tasmanian Government known at the time that it was to run the service and bear any financial loss incurred? Does he acknowledge the substance of Mr Groom's allegation? What are the facts behind the agreement reached between the Federal and Tasmanian governments? Is Mr Groom to be allowed to mimic his Premier, who apparently believes that agreements between the Tasmanian and Federal governments are to be ignored or misrepresented?


Senator GIETZELT —I am aware of reports published in some newspapers that cast doubts on the suitability of the new vessel, the Nils Holgersson, which has been purchased for the purpose of providing a passenger service across Bass Strait. These reports have certainly caused some consternation and surprise at the Commonwealth Government level, having regard to the facts surrounding the purchase of the vessel. If Mr Groom is reported correctly, it would appear that he is following a similar path to that taken by many other Ministers in the State of Tasmania-his public position is completely incomprehensible.

The Nils Holgersson was recommended as a suitable vessel for the Bass Strait service following a joint study of a team consisting of Commonwealth, Australian National Line and Transport Tasmania officials. In Mr Groom's telex of 9 April this year he conveyed the Tasmanian Government's request for Federal Government financial assistance for the introduction of this vessel, and stated that the Tasmanian Government accepted the joint study report and its recommendations as to the suitability of the vessel. On the basis of that request the Commonwealth Government provided a grant of $26m to the Tasmanian Government towards the capital cost of introducing the Nils Holgersson into the Tasmanian passenger service. This grant was accepted by the Tasmanian Government on 9 May without any reservations as to the vessel's suitability or otherwise for the service. Since that time the Tasmanian Government has not raised any doubts or criticisms about the purchase of the vessel or its suitability for that run. Nor had it indicated, until Mr Groom made his statement, that it was unhappy with the agreement made with the Commonwealth or the financial assistance which I believe the Australian Government has been generously able to supply towards the cost of the vessel. So it does appear that Mr Groom is following the path of the Tasmanian Government.

It is a government of knockers, and is recognised as such. From the Premier down, whatever relationships they have with the Commonwealth Government they always find some reason to try to apportion part of the blame to the Commonwealth. However, in this particular case there is absolutely no justification for it at all because the introduction of this vessel was the result of an agreement properly entered into between the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments.