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Wednesday, 13 March 2002
Page: 700


Senator COLBECK (5:43 PM) —Thank you, Madam Deputy President. There would be few before me, and I suppose there will be few to follow, who would not feel an enormous sense of pride to be a representative of the Australian people in the federal parliament. I am no different. It is indeed a most rare honour and privilege to take my place here as a representative of my party, my state and my country, and I do so with great humility.

I would like to thank the membership of my party, who saw fit to include me as a member of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team. I am a proud member of this great party and I look forward to representing its principles in this chamber over the years to come. I also thank the Tasmanian electorate for seeing fit to return three Liberal senators at the November election. The nature of the electorate in Tasmania and the electoral processes that electors are exposed to at a state level make them very discerning. It was an outcome that went against all the expectations of the pundits, and it was a very good one for the Liberal Party. It is my intention that it be demonstrated to be a very good one for Tasmania.

I must also pay tribute to my predecessor in this chamber, the former Senator Jocelyn Newman. It is an honour to be selected by my party to follow someone of the stature of Jocelyn Newman. In Tasmanian terms, she is one of the most significant identities in the history of our parliament and more so in the context of the Liberal Party in Tasmania. She ranks alongside Dame Enid Lyons in terms of her achievements, and I pay tribute to the contribution that she made to both her state and her country. I again thank her for the opportunity and the privilege to be a part of the opening of this 40th parliament. It was a most generous gesture and I am extremely grateful for it.

Most importantly, I express my thanks to my wife, Gaylene, and to my children Carmen, Rhys and Dane. We all know that the pressures of political life have an impact that extends beyond the member, and I could not have asked for a family which is more understanding and supportive of my involvement in politics.

I am a proud fourth generation Tasmanian, with my family settling at Bothwell in the 1830s—and, in case you were wondering, there was no prison at Bothwell. It does say something about our country that someone from a dairy farm at Wilmot in the foothills of Cradle Mountain, who started their working career as an apprentice carpenter, can become a representative in the Senate of the federal parliament. As a representative of Tasmania, I can but delight in the premium outputs of the people and the industries of the island—outputs that are recognised internationally as being the best available. I take some delight in naming and boasting of some of these:

· disease-free Atlantic salmon that we now export back to source as fry to replenish stocks

· premium product from our wild fisheries

· the only beef in Australia guaranteed by legislation to be free of hormone growth promotants and therefore sought after in premium markets such as Japan

· dairy products from the north and north-west and King Island

· premium vegetable crops

· unique tourism industry with experiences that surprise those who visit

· mining, forestry and fine timber products

· innovative technology developments including, of course, world leading shipbuilding technology.

There is a host more that I could name; yet this wonderful island continues to struggle to keep pace with growth levels across a range of indicators of the rest of the country and battles to keep pace with the rate of change that is these days a fact of life. This brings me to several issues that are of significant interest to me in advancing the cause of my state. While some may think, `Here we have another Tasmanian with the upturned hand approach,' I assure you that is by no means the case. In most instances it would be quite appropriate to substitute regional Australia for Tasmania—in other words, what is good for Tasmania is generally good for regional Australia. I realise that Tasmanians need to play a large role in developing their future and, in some respects, they need to change their perspectives to achieve that development.

The real issue for Tasmania is that key issues need to be addressed by governments at both state and federal levels to allow for the natural advantages that we enjoy to be fully exploited. The first of these has to be access and the cost of access. This would have to be the most significant influence on the potential growth of the state. It does not matter which industry you come into contact with; sooner or later the conversation comes around to this topic. The issue is more than just access and cost; it extends to guaranteed reliable transport.

In an attempt to remove some of the preconceived thoughts on the relationship between the two main land masses that make up our country, I will change what is generally accepted as normal terminology, as I am one who refuses to accept any concept of superiority that it might convey one way or the other. In a tourism sense, there are many north islanders who would like to visit the south island. In fact, research shows that about 18 per cent of north islanders express this sentiment. The reality is that only about three per cent actually do visit. But why? Is it fair that, for example, a north islander has to pay approximately 60 per cent of the total cost of their holiday to get to their destination on the south island or that, when they get there, they might not be able to get back home again? Unfortunately, no matter how small the risk, it is one that many north islanders are not prepared to take. At this point in time, that is the situation, particularly in the current climate of uncertainty surrounding air travel. While there is no question that there has been significant ground made towards solving this situation through freight equalisation and passenger equalisation, and even more recent developments through the state government, in my view there is more required to achieve the ideal situation, and I look forward to working to achieve that.

There are other issues that derive from access, all of which, to some extent, are felt by regional Australia. Education—particularly retention rates to tertiary education—is a matter that is felt by all regional communities in Australia, none more so than the region of Tasmania where I live, where retention rates—14 per cent versus the national average of 24 per cent—are lower than in any other part of the country, with the exception of the Northern Territory. There is a widely held view, and I am certainly one who holds that view, that the level of prosperity of a community is directly related to its level of education. That is surely borne out in the level of reliance on government assistance in the region. I do not pretend to have all the answers to this issue. To be frank, I do not believe that anyone does, but there must be a way to address some of the cultural, financial and locational impediments to reaching a better outcome.

Another element that Tasmania has struggled with, over the last decade in particular, is that of attracting investment capital, particularly at a reasonable premium. This has been particularly noticeable since the scuttling of a certain project in 1989 for political purposes, raising the element of sovereign risk for investors in Tasmania. A sour taste still lingers in the mouths of investment houses around the country and overseas. Business will not invest because there is not a high enough return, and there are not high enough returns because there is not enough investment. It may sound simplistic, but it appears to be the case. The question is: how do we break the nexus? I do not claim that this is a purely Tasmanian issue, because I know that other regional centres suffer similarly, but in a Tasmanian context it is perhaps indicative that we are still debating a bill that relates to securing against sovereign risk some five years after the original agreements were signed. Most of these elements have an impact on population, an issue that has been touched on in the state over the last few years but has not been driven to any extent— although it does appear that it may become a topic of national discussion, which might serve to keep it to the fore in Tasmania and to ensure that it is addressed in a positive manner.

It might appear that all is bleak on the south island and that there is no hope for the future. I for one certainly do not believe that that is the case. I have previously mentioned our wonderful agricultural industries that, according to the industries themselves, have the potential to double in output; a tourism industry that has potential beyond the concept of most; and other sectors that I have spoken of here tonight also have positive growth potential. In all, Tasmania is an island of enormous potential. That potential is demonstrated by the fact that Tasmanians are per capita the second highest exporters in the country behind Western Australians. And if you consider, as I was reminded recently, that nearly 50 per cent of the population rely on some sort of government support, you get an indication of just how industrious and productive we south islanders are. All we seek are the settings to allow us to reach our full potential, whether that be quarantine—as we have seen with salmon or apples—ensuring reliable and affordable access, greater retention rates in education or improved investment levels. There are plenty of issues to pursue.

As members of parliament we are often and quite unfairly regarded as being unaccountable and without benchmarks. Bearing in mind that in this profession we are often measured or judged by the things that we say and that this presentation is the one that those who search out information about us often first access, the issues that I have spoken of here today are those that I see as my own initial benchmarks. My objective here is to get the job done. By whatever it takes? No. But I was recently reminded at a Rotary weekly meeting of the Rotary Four Way Test: is it the truth, is it fair to all concerned, will it build goodwill and better relationships, and will it be beneficial to all concerned. It seems to be a pretty good place to start.

I am fortunate to have lived and worked in many areas of the state—north, south, north-west and west coasts and the two magnificent Bass Strait islands—and look forward with great anticipation and pride to working with and serving the people as my time here continues. As you might imagine, I have received advice from many quarters since the declaration of the poll to confirm my election to this chamber, but none better than that from my parents, as is usually the way with mums and dads. On the night before I was sworn in, they presented me with a memento to remind me of life on our dairy farm at Wilmot: `Never forget where you came from and never forget who put you here.' I look forward to living up to that advice during my time here and, with great anticipation, to serving the people who put me here. I thank the honourable senators for their courtesy.