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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 1218

Mr PETER MORRIS (Minister for Transport)(11.50) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to approve an agreement between the Federal and Tasmanian governments relating to the future of the Bass Strait sea passenger service. This agreement is a milestone, marking the beginning of an improved Bass Strait sea passenger service which will greatly assist the Tasmanian economy and people. The Government's approach to the future of the service has always been to achieve a solution which best meets the needs of Tasmania.

The Bill is a very simple piece of legislation containing four standard clauses . It brings into effect the agreement which forms the schedule to the Bill. It provides for payment of a grant to the State in accordance with the agreement. Moneys for the purpose are included in Appropriation Bill (No. 2). The agreement is a straightforward document setting down the terms and conditions of a grant of financial assistance to the State. The grant will assist the State in meeting the capital costs of acquiring the vessel Nils Holgersson and putting it into the Bass Strait service. It will also assist the State Government to make necessary terminal alterations in Melbourne and Devonport. A total of $26m is to be provided to the State for this purpose. As explained in the agreement, approximately $958,000 was provided in June 1984 to allow the State to enter a provisional purchase contract for the vessel. The remainder is provided in this year's Budget.

For its part the State, in return for the financial assistance, has agreed to provide the Bass Strait sea passenger service for a period of not less than 10 years. It will have full operational and financial responsibility for conducting the service. This is a major feature of the agreement. Henceforth, the State Government will be the master of its own destiny as far as the Bass Strait sea passenger service is concerned. Successive State governments have consistently argued that the sea passenger service should be improved. They have often complained that the standard of service and facilities provided are not appropriate. This agreement allows the State Government to tailor the service to meet the needs it perceives for the service.

Tasmania is the major beneficiary of service. The Tasmanian Government, which is closer to the service, should have the ability to decide how the service should be conducted. This includes the type of standard of facilities as well as fares and charges. This is consistent with our overall approach to the question of a successor to the Empress of Australia. Our aim has been to achieve a solution which best meets the needs of Tasmanians.

The previous Government made very little effort to address this question. When we came into office we found that there were no well-developed proposals aimed at ensuring the continuation of this important link between Tasmania and the mainland. Over the seven years it had been in office, the previous Government had consistently avoided the problem of the long term future of the service, hoping a commercial solution would come forward. We have worked quickly with the full co-operation of all parties involved to address this problem.

No doubt, many people would be disappointed to see the end of the Australian National Line's direct 25-year involvement in Bass Strait sea passenger services ; however, selection of the operator of the vessel is a matter for the Tasmanian Government. It is not readily appreciated that the Line has had a very difficult job to do in recent years. It has had to operate an outdated ship with the bare minimum of financial assistance. This has been in the face of a lot of criticism beyond the Line's control. It has not been possible to meet that criticism with the Empress still in service in the absence of leadership or real interest from the previous Government. It had what I describe as a Clayton's policy on this matter-the kind of policy you have when you have not got a policy. That Government just hoped that the whole matter would go away. It was not concerned about the fact that the vital interests of Tasmanians were being threatened.

The agreement would not have been possible without the Line's involvement. The Line's officers worked closely with the Tasmanian Government in its initial investigations that led to the identification of the ship finally selected by the Tasmanian Government. This agreement marks an end to a new beginning. It brings to an end the long period of uncertainty about the future of the Bass Strait sea passenger service. It marks the beginning of a new service with vastly improved capacity, facilities and promise. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Fisher) adjourned.