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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2907

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Duthie (WILMOT, TASMANIA) - That is against the Standing Orders.

Mr CHARLES JONES - I did not call him a hypocrite. I said that his speech was hypocritical.

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - I heard quite distinctly what the Minister said. He said that the honourable member spoke in a hypocritical fashion.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -I think the Minister could rephrase that sentence.

Mr CHARLES JONES - I said it was a hypocritical speech. I do not think that ls unparliamentary.

Mr Nixon - I rise on a point of order. I have had some experience as to what is and what is not unparliamentary. Sir, may I suggest that if you look up the records I will send you a copy as I have been getting them from the Parliamentary Library lately - you will find that the word 'hypocritical' is unparliamentary. I suggest that the Minister should retract it.

Mr Martin - I would like to speak to the point of order. There is some doubt as to whether or not the word 'hypocritical' is offensive. For a start it depends on who the person is to whom the word is addressed.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - That is another reflection.

Mr Martin - I have not made a reflection on anyone. Being a Christian I would never reflect on anyone. But my point in speaking to the point of order is this: Maybe the Minister did not mean what he said; maybe he meant to say 'pharisaical'. With your knowledge of the Scriptures, you may think it was a fit description.

Mr CHARLES JONES - Mr Deputy Speaker, may I withdraw the remark because I want the debate to proceed?


Mr CHARLES JONES - I would like just to give a few facts on this matter. I just outlined to the House that the 'Straitsman' commenced operation on 1 May 1972. The honourable member for Gippsland and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition were senior Ministers in the former Government which allowed this ship to be tied up. I would like to give the House a few more facts. On 16 June 1972 the Premier of Tasmania sought a grant of $300,000 from the Commonwealth. On 5 July the then Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon), rejected the request. Further approaches were made to the then Prime Minister and as late as 30 August the Prime Minister again rejected an approach for financial assistance for the Tasmanian Government to assist Captain Houfe. To listen to these 2 honourable members speak in this place in the way in which they have spoken tonight one could come to only one conclusion - that is, that they were completely innocent and had nothing whatever to do with the 'Straitsman'. One must come to the conclusion that they had nothing to do with the ship being taken off the run in the first place and that they had been most open hearted and generous in making untold grants to the company concerned and to the Tasmanian Government to maintain the vessel.

The honourable member for Gippsland and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition are critical of what I said late last year. It is perfectly true that my Party made a decision about what we would do. We decided that we would instruct the Australian National Line to enter into negotiations to purchase the Straitsman'. We said that we would require the ANL to reinstitute the service. But upon making inquiries on becoming the Government we found that the information which had been given to us and which came I believe from Captain Houfe was not factual information. So we had made a decision on information which was not factual. Therefore, I do not feel bound to honour something which was not based on correct information. When someone passes you incorrect information, are you bound to honour a decision which you made on that information that came from the person who is now complaining that we would not honour our promise?

One of the early actions I took on becoming the Minister was to ask the ANL to give me the necessary information and to prepare for me a report so that I could make a decision as to what we would do with the Straitsman'. I did that on 18 December, the day that I was elected as a Minister. On 9 January I received a report from the ANL which advised me that we would lose, on the present freight rates, $500,000 a year. Honourable members should bear in mind that the ship only cost $1.2m. I questioned the officers. I kept the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) informed of what was happening. The honourable member for Gippsland said that the honourable member took no interest in this matter. I can assure him that the honourable member for Braddon has nearly worn out the carpet in my office from walking in and out wanting to know what was happening. He has never been off my back about this matter. The honourable member has carried out his responsibilities as the member for Braddon in an endeavour to get a shipping service for King Island. To criticise him in any way is completely unfounded and unfair because I know what he has done in regard to this matter. As I have said, he has never been off my back to do something about this matter. 1 drew the attention of the honourable member for Braddon to the report of the Australian National Line when it was made available to me. The honourable member said it was not factual and that there was additional freight which he was certain would be available. I arranged for an officer of the ANL to go to Tasmania and to King Island with him and they were able to get together an additional $28,000 worth of freight. The report then was in this condition: If freights were left as they are at the moment we would have lost $500,000 a year on a ship that cost only $1.2m; if we increased freights to return us $100,000 that would bring the loss back to $400,000; and with the additional freight that the honourable member for Braddon was able to get, the final figure for the annual loss on this ship would have been $384,000. Facts contained in the ANL report show that the Labor Party had not been given the correct information from Captain Houfe. 1 am not able to table the report because it contains a lot of confidential commercial information which belongs to the ANL. I do not propose to make information concerning the general administration of the ANL available to every other shipping company in Australia. My predecessor will know what the position is.

Since then we have had numerous discussions. On 15 February I had discussion with Mr Batt, the Minister for Transport in Tasmania, and the Premier of Tasmania. Mr Batt wrote me a letter on 16 February. The Treasurer (Mr Crean) and I had discussions with both him and the Premier of Tasmania on 20 March. We put a proposition to them. Let me underline the important point that the Premier and the 3 Ministers who attended this meeting unanimously agreed that the 'Straitsman' was not the most suitable vessel for this job. The Treasurer and I made an offer whereby Tasmania could charter a ship for a short time or buy it. We told them that we would provide the money by way of loan so that they could charter or buy the ship. We pointed out that we would accept responsibility for half of the loss. We were resigned to the fact that there would be losses on the run. We then agreed that they could operate the ship for 2 years and at the end of that time they would replace it with an Australian built ship. We said that we would again make special loans available to them so that they could first of all purchase other a ship from overseas or a ship operating on the Australian coast and then build a ship in an Australian yard. That decision was reached on 15 March.

On 20 March there was further correspondence between the Premier of Tasmania and myself, as was the case on 5 April. So this matter has continued to move. But I was not and am not prepared to recommend to the Government that we should purchase the Straitsman' and lose the money which I have already outlined to the House. We on this side of the House have done our damnedest to make sure that King Island has a shipping service. As late as 25 May I again wrote to the Premier to inform him of the terms of an agreement which the Treasurer and I were prepared to recommend to Cabinet. We said that we would provide money by way of loan so that Tasmania could acquire a ship, whether it be a second hand Australian ship or one from overseas, and that if a ship from overseas was purchased they subsequently would have to build one in an Australian yard. We have done all we can to make sure that there is a viable shipping service. We have not closed it down, as the honourable member for Gippsland and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) did when they were Ministers in the former Government. We have attempted to give the people a shipping service. We are still prepared to make money available to the State so that the people can have a shipping service.

Mr NIXON(Gippsland) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Duthie)Doesthe honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?

Mr NIXON - I do, on 3 counts. The Minister for Transport and Minister for Civil Aviation (Mr Charles Jones) said that I was laughing about the Bill. I was not laughing about the Bill; I was laughing about the interjections that were being made. I regard the Bill as being a very serious matter. That is the first count. The second count relates to the Minister's statement that the previous Government refused to provide $300,000 to assist Tasmania in providing a shipping service to King Island. In fact what happened was there was a Premiers Conference and Loan Council meeting at the same time as the request cams in and Tasmania was so generously dealt with, as was acknowledged by the Premier of Tasmania, that there seemed to be no need to proceed with the earlier request. Finally, the Minister claimed that I said that the honourable member for Braddon (Mr Davies) had no interest in this matter. That is not what I said. I am fully aware of the honourable member's real interest in this matter. He not only has tramped the corridors of the Minister's office but also tramped my corridors when I was Minister for Shipping and Transport. I do not question his sincerity about or interest in this matter. But the fact remains - this is the point I was making - that he is the man who was guilty of sending the telegram.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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