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Friday, 5 October 1984
Page: 1754

Mr MILDREN(12.08) —I wish just to correct a couple of items before commenting on the Bass Strait Sea Passenger Service Agreement Bill. Earlier, the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) indicated that Tasmania is entitled to exactly the same privileges as are enjoyed by every other State. I suggest that if that were the case it would rapidly become a terrible backwater. Tasmania requires more than that and it always has done. I also wish to comment on the Tasmanian freight equalisation scheme. It is true that the scheme has been referred to the Inter-State Commission, which is examining it to see whether it is doing what it was intended to do. I do not believe that it is proper to adopt the rather paranoid approach indicated on the other side of the House by implying that somehow or other this will result in a deliberate disadvantage to Tasmania. That is quite appalling. It is an appalling indictment of the Commission and of the Minister and I do not think those sorts of implications sit very well with the other side of the House.

The third matter is that of the Australian National Line challenge, as it was put. I would have thought that, as the upholders of the private enterprise system, members of the Opposition would have clamoured for the challenge. It is interesting that the Hobart Mercury and the Launceston Examiner both accept as desirable the possible continuation of a competing ship for ANL, especially for those times during the year when ferry services are extremely important. We cannot have a socialised private enterprise remaining a private enterprise. It is a case of competition, and that is fair enough. This is what the Hobart Mercury stated in an editorial on Wednesday, 3 October:

The Tasmanian Government, which purports to support free enterprise, can only welcome the news that the Australian National Line is considering challenging its rights to rule the tourist waves on Bass Strait with its new ferry, the Nils Holgersson.

I think that is extremely good. The Examiner made this comment:

What the ANL is now considering is exactly what the State Government was begging of the Federal Government last year-to provide another ferry for the Bass Strait crossing during the hectic six months when space prevents thousands of would be tourists from making the trip.

That is true; it has. Tourism is a tremendous industry to Tasmania. I also believe that tourism is a tremendous industry to my electorate of Ballarat. I have great faith in the development of the tourist industry. Tasmania requires as much as it can get. It requires as many berths across Bass Strait as it can possibly get. It has been stated that the purpose of the Bill is to approve an agreement between the Commonwealth and the State of Tasmania to provide a grant in excess of $25m to enable the Tasmanian Government to acquire the German ferry , the Nils Holgersson. In the long term the ferry will replace the Empress of Australia and will provide the opportunity for a much improved Bass Strait sea passenger service and freight service between Tasmania and the mainland.

The grant will enable the State Government to purchase the ferry and to make necessary modifications to it and to terminal facilities in both Melbourne and Devonport. The Tasmanian Government has given an assurance that it will accept all the responsibility for the operation of the vessel for a period of not less than 10 years. The Government is quite certain that the ferry will run profitably. That statement by the Tasmanian Minister for Transport, Mr Groom, was reported in the Hobart Mercury on 31 August. In addition, he is reported as stating that the financial viability was such that it would withstand competition, provided that ANL continued to operate the Empress of Australia. He really believes that it will be a financial success and, of course, we wish the venture well. It will be a great boon to Tasmania to have the Nils Holgersson. It will also enable Tasmania to adjust the service across the Strait as it sees fit.

The Tasmanian Liberal Party members of this House say that the Hawke Government neglects their State. That is nonsensical. My colleague the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Chynoweth) detailed the sorts of assistance we have given and will continue to give, and that statement could not be further from the truth. The problem of a modern and adequate passenger transport service between Victoria and Tasmania has existed for years. It was obvious long ago that the Empress of Australia could no longer meet the demand on its own and provide the level of comfort and convenience required by modern tourists.

I congratulate the Minister for Transport (Mr Peter Morris) on his concern for the welfare of Tasmanians and his willingness to come to grips with this problem of the inadequate Bass Strait passenger service. The fact that little was done over the seven years of the previous Government to speed up the response to the needs of tourists is an indictment of that Government and also of the Tasmanian members. The Opposition does not appear to have a uniform policy on the welfare of Tasmania, and my colleague the honourable member for Flinders has pointed that out. The anti-Tasmanian statements of a number of members of the National Party of Australia over the past few months-that includes the Opposition's spokesperson on transport, the honourable member for Hume (Mr Lusher)-probably partly explains why Tasmania did so badly during the seven years of the Fraser Government.

I commend the Tasmanian Government for taking over the responsibility for the ferry. As we know, the ANL is moving out of this enterprise until such time as it determines whether it will maintain a service. It could not have done it alone. The assistance of the Commonwealth Government was essential, even though not all Tasmanian politicians will accept that. For instance, many people do not recognise that the honourable member for Franklin-I must repeat this because I think that Tasmanians certainly need to understand it-sometimes speaks without giving sufficient thought to the consequences of his statements, and I am being kind to him. I repeat what he has said:

We in Tasmania realise that we have to be sensible and have to realise, once and for all, that we cannot be continually propped up by the mainland.

I believe the words 'propped up' are most inappropriate and inexact. Of course the service will constantly require subsidisation. We know that, so let us not get ourselves lost in that maze of fiction. I believe that the service will require Federal assistance for many years to come, and I suggest that the island State would become a very sad social and economic backwater if it did not receive assistance. This action by the Federal and State governments will help to avert that fate for Tasmania. According to the advice received by the Federal Minister from his counterpart in Tasmania, the ferry should commence operations in March 1985. I hope that that time schedule is kept. The 900 passengers and 440 cars capacity of the ferry is twice the capacity of the Empress of Australia and should greatly assist the country.

I must say that had this debate been held last night the only Opposition representative on the speakers list was the shadow Minister for Transport, the honourable member for Hume, who is not here today. Not one Tasmanian politician was prepared to make one comment in support of this cross-strait ferry.

Mr Groom —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. In fact on our list on this side there were three Tasmanian speakers. I am happy to talk today if the honourable member wants to hear me.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Darling) —Order! There is no point of order. I would like to make a comment regarding the frivolous points of order which Opposition members have been taking this morning. I refer honourable members to Standing Orders and ask them not to abuse them. The form of a point of order is to raise a legitimate mistake by an honourable member who is not sticking to the Standing Orders. They are being abused and I ask honourable members to cease abusing them or the Chair will have to take action.

Mr MILDREN —I will bring my speech to a close. There will be good representation from Tasmania following the next election. The new members will be Vicky Buchanan in Bass, Greg Peart in Braddon, David Llewellyn in Lyons, John Devereux in Franklin, and Kaye Spurr in Denison.

Mr Groom —Madam Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The honourable member has now sat down but what was the relevance--

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is not a point of order. Will the honourable member please be seated and in future take note of the comments of the Chair.

Mr Groom —Madam Deputy Speaker, may I make my point? My point was that the honourable member who has just sat down read out the names of the Labor candidates in Tasmania. I ask you: Was that relevant to the Bill we are debating ?

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr Groom —Do you suggest that that is relevant to the--

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I call the honourable member for Franklin.

Mr Groom —What an absurd ruling!

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Braddon will not reflect on the Chair. I ask him to act maturely, observe the courtesies of the House, and not act in such a kindergarten manner. It reduces the level of debate in this House. I call the honourable member for Franklin.