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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3338

Senator RAE (Tasmania) - I wish to add a little to what has been said. I do not wish to detain the Senate for too long knowing the anxiety which prevails to ensure that the legislation is passed and people can return to their electorates. Talking of electorates I am reminded of the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones), the honourable member for Newcastle, who made a famous statement which appealed to Tasmanians no end, that there were more votes in Newcastle than there were in Tasmania, so why worry about Tasmania. He endeared himself as he has in so many other statements he has made about Tasmania. I refer to the withdrawal of the air subsidy for the Bass Strait islands and all sorts of other things which have so adversely affected the interests of Tasmania and in particular the interests of the people with whom we are concerned in the Bill tonight, the people of King Island.

This same gentleman, Mr Charles Jones, the honourable member for Newcastle, made some statements which are reported on page 4557 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 4 December 1974 which are so demonstrably untrue that I wish to take a little time to demonstrate how untrue they are. I think people can gauge the veracity and the general political honesty of the Government if they note what happened in this instance. Mr Jones, the Minister for Transport, said:

When this problem first arose with the 'Straitsman' being taken off the King Island run he literally lived on my door step.

He', I interpose, was Mr Davies. Mr Jones continued:

He was never out of my office- putting propositions to me about what could be done. I did not receive one word of representation from a member of the Liberal or Country parties or from one Liberal Tasmanian senator. They had no interest in this matter whatsoever. Not one of them made any representations to me. They could not give a damn what happened to the 'Straitsman ' or to the King Island trade. Let us git the facts clear. These are the facts.

Senator Cavanagh - Shocking, is it not?

Senator RAE - Senator Cavanagh,the Minister at the table, knows very well that that is a total and absolute untruth.

Senator Cavanagh - I do not know whether you made representations to the Minister or not.

Senator RAE - I thank the Minister for the interjection. If I ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Transport I expect it to get to the Minister for Transport. If I am wrong I would be glad to be notified. More important than the question, to which I shall refer in a moment, is the statement of the Minister for Transport. He said:

They had no interest in this matter whatsoever.

They had sufficient interest, as has already been referred to, to move in the Senate that a select committee- the Senate Select Committee on Shipping Services between King Island, Stanley and Melbourne- be established to investigate the matter and to report. Three Tasmanian senators were members of that Committee. Senator Wright was the Chairman. Senator Townley and I were the other 2 members. We presented a report. Whether the report was accurate and whether it was the best possible assessment of the situation does not matter for the purposes of this debate. The fact is that the Government eventually acted on the report. The fact is that the State Government responded to it, as did the Federal Government. That is how we happen to be debating this Bill tonight. The State Government decided, as recommended by that Committee, to purchase the 'Straitsman'. The Federal Government decided- this, too, was recommended generally by that Committee- that funds should be made available for the purchase. If that, according to Mr Charles Jones, is taking no interest- bearing in mind that 2 members of the Liberal Party and one independent Liberal Senator comprised the 3 members of that Committee- it does seem somewhat extraordinary use of the English language in which Mr Jones is engaging.

I have here a stack of copies of Hansard containing questions that I have asked in relation to the King Island shipping service- apart from the questions asked by Senator Wright, Senator Marriott and former Senator Lillico- throughout the whole period to which Mr Jones was referring. I have copies of Hansard containing some of the debates that we have had in this place. On 12 April 1973 1 drew attention to the fact that we were having great difficulty in getting the Minister to give certain information to us in relation to the King Island shipping service. I then said:

We have asked him repeatedly and he has not produced them.

I was referring to the reports. I then asked:

What is he trying to hide? What is the Tasmanian Government trying to hide . . .

Senator Sir Magnus Cormack - Senator Cavanaghwas in this too, you know. Give him a mention in despatches.

Senator RAE - Thank you, Senator Sir Magnus Cormack. I will come to him also. I do not like lying and I do not like people who lie. I should like to categorise in that way what Mr Jones said but I am not allowed to do so by parliamentary procedure. I simply say that I will proceed to demonstrate the lack of truth in the statement that he made. On 23 August 1973 in a debate in the Senate, I said:

I have visited the Island since the decision to restore the Straitsman' to the Island service was taken by the Tasmanian Government, following the very considerable pressure which we applied to get it to take the decision, and I have had discussions with a number of representatives of the various organisations and bodies on the Island.

I should like to pick at random a few of the questions that I have asked. On 15 March 1973 I asked this question:

I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Is it a fact that one or more reports have been received by the Government relating to the investigation of the suitability of the ship 'Straitsman' for the King Island shipping service, to the appropriate type of ship to provide for the service and to considerations relating to the viability of a shipping service to King Island? If so, will the Minister make those reports available to all interested persons, particularly the residents of King Island, by tabling them in this chamber?

The Minister, Senator Cavanagh, said, amongst other things:

The Australian National Line has been instructed to purchase the 'Straitsman '.

Senator Cavanaghcame to regret that statement afterwards because if I remember correctly, he was caught in a change of policy. He said in good faith- I do not for a moment impute other than good faith to Senator Cavanagh- what he believed at the time to be the fact. But the Government had changed its mind, and we have come to expect this of the Government. As fast as it makes a decision one way it changes its mind, and without telling anybody it is off in a different direction. I felt somewhat sorry for Senator Cavanagh, but I felt all the more sorry for the people of King Island who were so totally confused about this matter. But on 15 March 1973 Senator Cavanagh concluded his answer- I again say he said this in good faith because he was saying what I have no doubt the Minister for Transport had obviously told him to say was the Government's policy, but that policy was quickly reversed- by saying:

I can assure the honourable senator that the service will be operating in the future.

What he did not say perhaps was how long the future was to take. It took a long time.

There are all sorts of other quotes to which I could refer. Perhaps I could refer to the question I asked on 14 March 1973, which was the day before the day on which I asked the previous question to which I have referred. I asked the Minister:

My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Transport. Bearing in mind that the ship 'Straitsman' was built especially for the service from King Island to Tasmania and Victoria, will the Minister lay on the table all documents relating to the negotiations between the owners of the ship 'Straitsman' or their representatives . . . and the Government in respect to the reintroduction of that ship into the service for which it was built at a cost of $ 1.5m?

The Minister, Senator Cavanagh, who in this chamber represents the Minister for Transport, Mr Charles Jones, stated:

I will refer to the Minister for Transport the matter of laying papers on the table and ascertain whether he is prepared to do so.

If the Minister in this chamber did not do that, then perhaps Mr Charles Jones could be excused. But if Senator Cavanagh, as I would expect him to do, relayed that matter to the Minister whom he represents, then Mr Jones has no basis of fact upon which he can make his statement. I cite another example. On 8 May 1973 I again asked the Minister representing the Minister for Transport about the serious shipping shortage. The Minister said that he would refer my question to the Minister for Transport to see what could be done. That question was answered on 5 June by the Minister providing an answer which was supplied by the Minister for Transport. On 16 May 1973 1 asked:

Can the Minister representing the Minister for Transport indicate what is happening in relation to the proposal to restore the ship 'Straitsman' on a temporary basis to the King Island service? Is the Minister aware that the position in relation to Bass Strait island shipping to King Island and Flinders Island is now becoming extremely serious?

Mr Deputy President,I remind you that those were my words in this chamber on 16 May 1973 when I was referring to the extremely serious nature of the situation and seeking some action by this dilatory Government. Mr Jones, on 4 December last- just a few days ago- said in the House of Representatives:

I did not receive one word of representation from a member of the Liberal or Country Parties . . . Not one of them made any representations to me. They could not give a damn what happened to the 'Straitsman' . . .

I could go on for a very long time through this large stack of questions which I asked in this chamber without -

Senator Milliner - Success.

Senator RAE - Without success, it has been said. That is right. The Government was not responsive to the needs of the people of King Island. It could not give a damn, to use the words of Mr Jones. Eventually the Tasmanian Government responded to pressure placed on it by Liberal Party members, both State and Federal.

Senator Devitt - The words 'it could not give a damn ' were not the words of Mr Jones. That was said in relation to you people opposite.

Senator RAE - That is right. I said that 'could not give a damn ' were the words which he used. I simply say that it was the Government which could not give a damn.

Senator Milliner - Those are your words.

Senator RAE - Could not give a damn' are the words used by the Minister. On 16 May Senator Cavanagh answered my question by stating:

No definite plans have been presented to the Commonwealth in respect of any proposal to hire the 'Straitsman' . . .

The Minister went on with a number of other aspects of the matter. On 6 June another question was asked about the King Island shipping service when, in response, the Minister stated:

Prior to the election and since the election this Government promised to subsidise shipping services to King Island.

I wanted to refer to this aspect because I would like to know where the subsidy is. This brings me to the other point which I want to make tonight. What we have given to the people of King Island and the people of Tasmania is a pretty poor deal. The Government makes a straight out grant of $1.5m to Western Australia for its coastal shipping service, and a grant for the railway through Central Australia. I do not decry the needs or interests of the people of Western Australia, Central Australia or the Northern Teritory but I point out that for the people of Central Australia and the Northern Territory this year there is to be a subsidy of $6m. The Government is making a loan to Tasmania to enable the State to purchase the 'Straitsman'. No grant element is involved in it at all. It is a loan which has to be repaid and upon which interest is payable. It is, in effect, nothing.

Senator Bessell - It is a loan at 6 per cent over 1 5 years.

Senator RAE - Thank you, Senator Bessell. It is a magnificent gesture on the part of this Government to help King Island, is it not, because what is directly reflected in the result of this is a much higher freight rate than would otherwise apply if the Government had carried out its promise. I refer again to Senator Cavanagh 's answer on 6 June in which he said:

Prior to the election and since the election this Government promised to subsidise shipping services to King Island.

He went on to state later in the same answer:

I am sure that the Commonwealth would subsidise the operation by the Tasmanian Government of any shipping service it provides to King Island.

I would like to know the details of the subsidy. All I know at the moment is that what we have got is a loan to the Tasmanian Government to enable it to buy this ship. It is loan which has to be repaid and it is a loan upon which interest is payable. This must be reflected in the cost structure of the operation of the service. All sorts of other questions have been raised over the months. I do not take up the time of the Senate further, other than to say that if anybody would like to assert that there was any vestige of truth in the statement of Mr Charles Jones that we were disinterested, that we made no representations and that we did nothing about King Island, I will refer that person in detail to all the passages recorded in Senate Hansard, in addition to the Press cuttings, correspondence and the other matters which prove that in this respect Mr Jones was behaving as so many other members of this Government have behaved. They have behaved in a way that leaves a gigantic credibility gap when their statements are examined.

While I support this Bill, I do so with regret. I do so with reservations and with an expression of concern. My concern is that this money ought to have been made available, or at least a significant part of it, by way of grant if the Government were to act in the way it has treated other parts of Australia. I support the Bill with the regret that the Government has not seen fit to honour its promise that it would either direct the Australian National Line to operate this service on a basis of picking up the cost of any loss or subsidise the service. The best it has been prepared to do is to make available a loan repayable with interest. As I said, with regret I shall support the Bill. My regret is limited to the fact that the Government has not honoured its promises and given a reasonable deal to the people of King Island and to the people of Tasmania.

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