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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2386

Senator COATES(10.45) —As Senator Peter Rae mentioned, the Bass Strait Sea Passenger Service Agreement Bill 1984 marks the end of the prime involvement of the Australian National Line in the Bass Strait sea passenger services, which is a bit of a sad point to come to. In a way I would prefer the national statutory authority to continue with this responsibility but the Tasmanian Government and many Tasmanian people wanted control and responsibility and that is what this Bill gives. The unfortunate thing is that the State government at the moment looks as though it does not want the ferry or the grant . I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard an extract from the Advocate of 19 October reporting Mr Groom, the State Transport Minister, as indicating that the ferry may not be the best for the service.

Leave granted.

The report read as follows-


Hobart-The Nils Holgersson might not be the best ship available for the service it would be required to provide, the Minister for Transport (Mr Groom) said yesterday.

Mr Groom said the Nils Holgersson had been chosen from a short list of vessels by a committee representing the State Government and A.N.L.

But the choice might have been different if the Government had known at the time it was to run the service and bear any financial loss it incurred.

Mr Groom said this was not to indicate that the Nils Holgersson would not prove suitable, but if the State had known how it was to be responsible for the new service it might have looked for a vessel with different features-such as a greater freight capacity.

He repeated a statement made in Parliament on Wednesday that Tasmania was given no option by the Federal Government and had to accept the Nils Holgersson as the replacement for the Empress of Australia.

That statement drew an angry response from the Opposition Leader (Mr Wriedt), who said yesterday that the State Government and the A.N.L. had jointly chosen the Nils Holgersson as the best available vessel for the Bass Strait run.

Mr Wriedt said it was false for Mr Groom to claim that the Commonwealth forced the State Government to accept the Nils Holgersson, as the ship had been chosen by Transport Tasmania and the A.N.L.

Mr Groom said the choice of vessel had been made before the Federal Government announced that Tasmania would have to accept responsibility for the Bass Strait service.

Originally, the Government had no intention of running the service, nor did it expect to be required to meet any losses the ferry might incur.

He said it was only when he met the Federal Minister for Transport (Mr Morris) on May 4 that it became clear that the Commonwealth intended to give Tasmania a $26m grant and require it to accept responsibility for the service.

''That's the key point. Until May 4, the Government never had any thought of operating the ferry or accepting financial responsibility for its operation,'' Mr Groom said.

Mr Wriedt also accused the Government of negotiating with Australian Newsprint Mills to win the company's shipping business away from Union Bulkships and the port of Hobart.

He claimed Mr Groom had negotiated with A.N.M. in the hope of winning the contract for shipping newsprint on the Nils Holgersson through the port of Devonport.

Mr Wriedt said this would threaten the viability of both the Union Bulkships' service and the port of Hobart.

Senator COATES —As far as I am concerned this raises great problems. The State Minister certainly seems to be trying to distance himself from the ship and the whole concept of Tasmania taking the service over. The facts are: The State Government was part of the working party which chose the Nils Holgersson from a list of six ships. The State Government endorsed the working party report and sent it to the Commonwealth. The State Government agreed to the idea of taking over operational responsibility for the service. The State Government did not have to; it was not obliged to, as Mr Groom is now trying to suggest. The State Government did. It happily accepted the offer from this Government of $26m and the responsibility of running this service without any reservation. It is quite wrong for Mr Groom to say that the ship was foisted on the Tasmanian Government. The Government was involved from the very beginning. The Federal Government has acted honourably throughout.

The Minister for Transport, Mr Peter Morris, deserves congratulations for his thorough work on this and other transport issues affecting Tasmania and his continuing interest in the transport problems of the State. This whole grant emphasises the commitment of the Australian Labor Party to Tasmania and its communications with the rest of the nation. It was the 1972-75 Labor Government which began the subsidy out of the Budget to the ANL's Bass Strait service. It was that Labor Government which proposed the policy and set in train the inquiry which resulted in the freight equalisation scheme. It was Labor which proposed and began the program of transferring to Tasmania appropriate Federal Government agencies so as to meet some of the shortfall in Commonwealth Government employment in Tasmania. It was Labor which took over the ailing Tasmanian railway network. It was Labor which set up the Inter-State Commission. It is now the Labor Government which is providing a major contribution of $26m to allow Tasmania to take over the crucially important Bass Strait service.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time allotted for the consideration of the Bass Strait Sea Passenger Service Agreement Bill has expired. The question is: That the Bill be now read a second time.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The question now is: That the remaining stages of the Bill be agreed to.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a third time.