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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2057

Mr WILKIE (Denison) (11:58): Good morning to my parliamentary colleagues from Tasmania. I will address just one point very briefly before I turn my focus to the motion that we are discussing today: the issue of a price on carbon. I would ask the government to be mindful that the repeal of a price on carbon will mean that we will lose the $70 million windfall that Hydro Tasmania will enjoy this financial year and in successive years. So I do not want to get into a slanging match or argy-bargy about the price of carbon. What I would ask the government, though, is to be mindful of the cost to Tasmania of overturning the price on carbon. I think it would be an entirely appropriate in the circumstances if the government would consider somehow compensating Tasmania for the loss of that $70 million benefit that is being enjoyed by Hydro in this financial year.

Tasmania is obviously a place of enormous unrealised potential. It is a wonderful place. I chose to move there in fairly recent years, and I am very pleased with that decision. It is the jewel in this nation's crown in so many ways. But Tasmania will not release its potential until at least three things are done. First, there needs to be a collegiate, multilateral political approach to remedying the problems and the challenges that Tasmania has. I am pleased that the debate today has started in a very gentlemanly and collegiate way, and I would hope that that continues. When this debate started last week, I was disappointed to see that there was too much mud-slinging and political pointscoring. I think that is one of the reasons we in Tasmania find ourselves in the circumstances that we do. I am certainly more than prepared to work in a collegiate manner, in a non-partisan way, with the members of all of the political parties to try and find consensus, and to try and find ways to move the state forward. The future of my home state of Tasmania should be above party politics and political self-interest. We have a state election coming up in a few months' time, and there are political reasons for trying to score points at this point in time. But I would ask that we put them aside in the interests of the state.

Second, Tasmania will not achieve its potential until governments, both state and federal, put in place the enablers of economic development. It is no good—and politicians are guilty of this all the time—jumping to stage 2 of the plan; for example, that we will be a food bowl, or that we will increase the size of the university, or that we will increase niche manufacturing, like high-technology catamarans at Incat—but that is actually the second stage of a plan. The first stage is to put in place the enablers of economic development. There are a couple that come straight to my mind. For a start, we need a better quality of governance in Tasmania—

Mr Nikolic: Hear, hear!

Mr WILKIE: and the member for Bass, who has just walked in, would probably agree with me that we need a better quality of governance. That is not me trying to score points, or trying to attack any particular party or any particular government. But it has been the case in Tasmania that we have had a sub-standard level of governance, quite a lot, in recent decades. So I will look with great interest at the state election, and I hope we will see all of the political parties put up better-quality candidates. It is not true that we get the politicians we vote for; we actually get the politicians that political parties let us vote for. I will be looking with a keen eye, and I will be passing compliments when they are due and criticism when it is due—that is, according to whether the political parties put up good candidates or poor candidates. We need strong political leadership.

We also need to get the cost of moving freight across Bass Strait down. It is an absolute absurdity that three-quarters of the cost of getting a 20-foot container from Hobart to North America is getting it from Hobart to the Port of Melbourne, and that only one-quarter of the cost is getting it from Melbourne to North America. It is an absurdity that, to get a container of raw material inputs for our business in Tasmania, one-quarter of the cost of moving that container is getting that material from China to Melbourne, and three-quarters of the cost is getting it from Melbourne to Hobart or somewhere else in the state. I was very disappointed to see the Tasmanian state government not challenge the Victorian government on the $75 million annual port licence fee that it requires the Port of Melbourne authority to pay the Victorian government every year. I am advised that that port licence fee imposed by the Victorian government—which effectively applies to everything coming in and out of Tasmania, because it all goes through Victoria—is effectively unconstitutional. It is a tax on interstate trade. The Victorian government is acting quite improperly—and I think the Tasmanian government knows that, but it does not have the strength to take on the Victorian government in the courts. If we could get rid of the $75 million port licence fee imposed on the Port of Melbourne, that would bring down, or help to bring down, the cost of freight in and out of Tasmania.

There are then any number of specific policy reforms that could be implemented—and implemented quickly—to help Tasmania. I ask the two members of the government who are sitting in the Federation Chamber today: please go back to the government and ask the government to reconsider the decision to axe 56 federal public service IT jobs in Tasmania and send them to the mainland. I ask the government, in a collegiate way, to reconsider that. Fifty-six IT jobs in a workforce as small as Tasmania—that is a lot of jobs. That decision would seem to be entirely at odds with this government's stated intention to help Tasmania out. To strip out 56 federal public service jobs from the state—mostly out of Hobart, I suspect—is at odds with that stated policy position of the government. It could be reversed today. Today the minister could stand up and say she has directed the parliament not to go ahead with axing those positions.

Another thing the government could do today—we do not need an inquiry but could do this today—is say something about what has happened to Qantas. What is the relevance of Qantas to Tasmania? Among other things, there is a call centre in Glenorchy city employing more than 200 of my constituents. They are nervous; I have had a lot of correspondence from the workforce in Glenorchy saying they are worried about the future of Qantas and their jobs. If the federal government wants to do something today, the Prime Minister or Treasurer could put our minds at ease about the future of Qantas. I would favour the federal government taking a financial stake in the airline and giving Qantas the financial muscle to compete with its competitors, all of which enjoy largesse from their own governments, whether the Singapore or New Zealand government.

Finally, we need to do something about small business in Tasmania. We do not have a big mining industry or a big manufacturing industry, but we do have a big, vibrant and important small business sector. There are something like 32,000 small businesses in the state. On Saturday night I had a cup of tea with members of the Syrian community—there are about 300 Syrians in my electorate. Everyone there is a small-business operator; many have corner stores, takeaways and so on. They said they are being crushed by the cost of doing business in Tasmania. For example, a corner store doing groceries and some takeaway food pays up to $40,000 for electricity in a year. That is unaffordable. One businessman told me he pays $600 a year for someone to inspect his grease trap. They pay excessive rates, but do not get basic services such as garbage removal. They pay excessive payroll and land tax. There is also the predatory behaviour of Woolies and Coles. The federal government could do something about this predatory behaviour, but in the 43rd Parliament, when the member for Kennedy and I asked for that, we could not get any support. These corner stores are being driven out of business. When Woolies and Coles charge $1 for a litre of milk or a loaf of bread, the corner stores cannot compete.

There is so much we could do for Tasmania at the state and federal government levels. We need to work collegiately and do what we can—and we need to do it really quickly.