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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 415

Senator COATES —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment: Is it true that the Tasmanian Premier, Mr Gray, is still, after a four- or five-month delay, refusing to process the recommendations of his own Heritage Advisory Panel on projects eligible for National Estate grants from the Federal Government? Is the Tasmanian Premier taking his opposition to, and scorn for, the whole concept of the National Estate to such an extreme that he could cause Tasmania to lose more than half a million dollars? Is this the same Premier who complains that Tasmania should receive an increased level of Commonwealth Government financial support? What can the Federal Government do to ensure that worthy projects in Tasmania are funded?

Senator RYAN —The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment has provided me with the following information in response to Senator Coates's question:

I understand that the program of $503,000 was put to the Tasmanian Minister by the Heritage Advisory Panel in late September 1986, some five months ago. I have been most concerned at this delay and I wrote to the Acting Tasmanian Minister for National Parks, Mr Hodgman, in December 1986, urging him to finalise his recommendation to me and asking him to let me know what was happening. Officials of my Department have also been in touch with Tasmanian officials to try to speed things up at the Tasmanian end. Despite this, I have heard nothing from Tasmania.

As suggested by Senator Coates, the reason for the delay appears to be that the Tasmanian Premier cannot bring himself to agree to recommendations supporting projects related to the Aboriginal and natural environments. He has exerted pressure on his own panel of experts to change its program but, to its great credit, the panel has refused to compromise its principles. The Premier is, therefore, jeopardising this grant of $503,000 to the Tasmanian community. It reflects his disdain for the preservation of the National Estate in the same way as his woodchipping activities and his wish, recently conveyed to Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, to try again to build a dam in the South West Tasmanian World Heritage area.

Senator Walters —The Minister is reading her answer.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister should be heard in silence.

Senator RYAN —Thank you, Mr President. I point out, for the sake of those who might have heard the interjection, that of course I am reading the answer since I represent Mr Cohen on this matter. I am giving information to Senator Coates which he and, I believe, the entire Tasmanian community are interested to hear. Because of the legislation which authorises the National Estate grants program, funds have to be directed through State governments. Unfortunately, therefore, unless the Tasmanian Premier relents and agrees to a proper and balanced program, Mr Cohen may have no alternative but to reallocate the money intended for Tasmania to other States. This will mean that Tasmania will miss out on $503,000. Community groups, such as the National Trust and local government authorities, will have to seriously curtail their activities and the National Estate in Tasmania will suffer.