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Thursday, 7 November 1985
Page: 1720

Senator KILGARIFF(12.55) —Today's Dateline, the news digest prepared by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library, refers to two matters relating to the Northern Territory which arose yesterday. The first was a statement at the Northern Australia Development Conference in Darwin by the Northern Territory Chief Minister, Mr Ian Tuxworth, who indicated that work would start on the Alice Springs-Darwin rail link in 1987, although formal agreements were yet to be signed. This is a very interesting concept of private enterprise and a combine which will finance it. However, it is not that matter that I wish to discuss today but the item which states:

The Federal Treasury and Finance Department would be asked to look at grants to the Northern Territory to make it more responsible in spending taxpayers' money, according to Finance Minister Senator Peter Walsh.

This statement has emanated from a question asked yesterday relating to Ayers Rock and recorded on page 1651 of the Senate Hansard. That has received some attention in the media, such as today's Australian and possibly other newspapers. In light of the statements that have been made and the tone in which some remarks have been made recently, I think some opportunity should be provided for some of those statements to be corrected. I have here a paper from the Northern Territory Executive entitled `Response to Senator Walsh's answer to Senator Bolkus's question in the Senate on 6 November 1985'. As time does not permit me to go through this paper, I seek leave to have it incorporated in Hansard.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Walsh —There were two documents. I agreed to have one incorporated, but not the other.

Senator KILGARIFF —I think Senator Walsh agreed to the incorporation of the smaller one.

Senator Walsh —I agreed to the incorporation of a four-page document, but not a 20-page one.

Senator KILGARIFF —I seek leave to have incorporated the document of four pages.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Senator B. Kilgariff

7 November 1985


(a) The Casinos were acquired following the failure of Federal Hotels to honour a commitment to sell under an executed contract which provided for a price to be set by an average of 2 valuations.

This occurred at a time when the N.T. Chief Minister had expert independent and still uncontested advice that Federal Hotels were experiencing severe, possibly catastrophic, financial problems and faced receivership.

Subsequent events bore this prognosis out. The acquisition and the generous price paid saved Federal Hotels.

(b) Failure of the Federal Treasurer to grant F.I.R.B. approval to the arrangements with the new operators, when the F.I.R.B. had itself recommended the approval forced the Northern Territory Government to settle with Federal at a price $2.5m higher than it would have paid but for the blatant political interference of Paul Keating.

The delays also caused an interest overrun which the Territory was obliged to pay. In any event the N.T. Government is confident that these amounts will be recovered eventually.

(c) The projections, which are yet uncontested, show that whilst gambling tax was less in the first few years, the gross return to the N.T. over a 15 year time span was in the order of $30m higher.

(d) If these projections prove optimistic, the primary reason will lie in the failure of the Federal Government to honour its promise to build the Darwin Airport.

Speaking of scandals-what about the $20m plus spent by the Commonwealth on the Darwin Airport redevelopment and now abandoned-$20m the price of a cheap political playback orchestrated by Senator Walsh himself.

(iii) Guarantees and Contingent liabilities on other projects (Yulara/Sheratons).

(a) The N.T. Government has performed a political rarity by disclosing the full extent of its difficulties with these projects. It has rationally discussed the source of the problems and has outlined its proposals to fix them up.

(b) Look at page 4 and 5 of the statements-the majority of the assumptions upon which the commitment on Yulara and the Sheratons were based involved the Federal Government honouring its own commitments-airports at Darwin and Alice, facilities at Kakadu and Uluru, and some control (the Commonwealth's responsibility) over real interest rates.

(c) The proposals in the statement, of Ian Tuxworth attached, to remedy these problems are already yielding success. The measures announced in the 1985 N.T. Budget include the Territory acquiring infrastructure at Yulara that in every other major development of this kind would be provided by Government-e.g. Government services, township, water, sewerage etc.

(d) The panel of independent advisors has been working closely with the special N.T. Government task force called the Tourist Infrastructure Advisory Group and progress is solid with real optimism that a range of initiatives under discussion will dramatically reduce the N.T. Governments exposure.

(e) The Sheraton Alice is open and operating-initial results are better than forecast and this together with optimum financial structuring will result in this development being successful.

(f) In all this what is the Federal Government doing to help-nothing-non stop criticism, budget cuts, failure to provide vital and promised Commonwealth infrastructure upon which much of the N.T.'s tourist development strategy was based.

Should not Senator Walsh be careful than an inquiry might well become one into Commonwealth deception, expenditure scandals, interference with F.I.R.B.

(g) The N.T. has had considerable support from the financial and banking communities. Support for the N.T. is high because they trust the N.T. to sort out its own problems; if they have any concerns at all they are that Senator Walsh, in his moments of pain and madness, and his Labor colleagues are determined to undermine the N.T.'s efforts in this regard.

(h) In any event, with courage, a commitment etc etc the N.T. would not have obtained such magnificent world class assets which are a credit to the N.T. and Australia and will be profitable.

(iv) Senator Walsh talks about $300m. This figure assumes that all the guarantees will be called on the same day. Even a high school level examination of documents tabled in the Legislative Assembly show that such an acceleration of indebtedness is impossible. This is scandalous scare tactics, more productive of hatred and divisiveness than the N.T. Government's position on Uluru which Labor's own G.N.O.P. Poll showed 76% of Australian's supporting, and designed by Senator Walsh maliciously to denigrate the Northern Territory's financial reputation.

(v) RE: The Uluru campaign advertising costs. It would cost a State the same or lesser amount to run the same campaign and it is intellectually dishonest to draw comparisons based on per capita calculations. It costs the N.T. more to run a campaign because of the inordinately high cost of airfares (which is a direct of morally bankrupt Commonwealth policy)-but then the Commonwealth should know this because it spent $400,000 or more on a party at Ayers Rock which less than a quarter of all Australians supported and which the Prime Minister and most of his senior Ministers were too embarrassed to attend. Senator Ryan was there sitting next to Mr Holding at the Press Conference but she looked pretty embarrassed and uncomfortable about it also.

Regarding Senator Walsh's comments that the N.T. Government attempted to incite racial hatred and prejudice in Australia, it might well be observed that if the Territory sets the fire it is Walsh and the Federal Labor Government which pours petrol on it and no way can they talk about inciting racial hatred and prejudice.

(vii) Finally, will Senator Walsh show his even handedness and also inquire into contingent liabilities in the States; will he control the fiscal irresponsibility of N.S.W. that subsidises unprofitable railways to the tune of $1 billion of taxpayers money per annum, or inquire into the Adelaide Hilton, or the North West Shelf project, or the scandal of Labor's own Bicentennial excesses, or the $20m wasted on Darwin Airport, cost overruns on the FA-18 and other defence purchases; the National Superannuation Debt, the level of Commonwealth overseas borrowings; the destruction of the Northern Territory's meat industry by blatant Commonwealth support for the B.L.F. of the meat industry, the A.M.I.E.U. and the incompetence of the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin.

Senator Walsh has an open hatred for the N.T. which is affecting his judgment as a Minister of the Crown. Nonetheless if he wants to clean up what he calls fiscal irresponsibility there are some bigger houses to get in order first-or will he attack the Territory because it is not a State-would the other States tolerate this-definitely not. This is a State's rights issue.

Senator KILGARIFF —I thank the Minister. I do not need to refer to the document. I believe that it answers the various matters that were raised in the answer to the question and I suggest that people who are interested in this matter should avail themselves of today's Hansard so that they may see the situation.

I have before me another document, a statement to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly by the Chief Minister, the Hon. Ian Tuxworth, about three weeks ago, I do not have the exact date. It concerns the Government commitment to tourist development projects in the Northern Territory. As honourable senators realise, various comments have been made within the Press and throughout Australia as to what is the true situation relating to Ayers Rock, Uluru, the Sheraton group, the Federal hotels and such. Many charges and counter-charges have been made against the previous Chief Minister and the present Chief Minister and I believe that, all in all, until this statement was made to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, many people did not understand the truth of the situation and what was happening. I believe that is still the case. The question that Senator Bolkus asked yesterday and the remarks that have been made in various places indicate that perhaps people do not understand the truth of the situation. This document, produced by the Chief Minister and tabled in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, gives a complete outline of all the ramifications of the matter and the negotiations that have taken place between various private enterprise groups, the Northern Territory Government, the Yulara authority and such.

I believe that this statement is to be commended. It is a quite courageous statement because it opens up completely, from A to Z, all those matters that have occurred and it perhaps answers the criticisms. Perhaps there is room for criticism, but at least this document opens the book completely to all those who are interested in the true facts of the situation relating to tourist development projects in the Northern Territory. It refers to so many things. The consultants' studies, the feasibility studies for Yulara and the Sheraton investigations in Alice Springs and Darwin are conducted, it says, by well regarded professional accounting firms. It relates to all the various matters that make up the financial arrangements and how those financial arrangements were arrived at. It covers statistics and the investigations that took place to bring about all these negotiations which, I believe, will ultimately bring a successful conclusion to the whole situation. The aim of the tourist development projects in the Northern Territory is to have one million tourists visiting the Northern Territory annually, the target being the year 1994.

Time does not permit me to go through this document completely, as we have only a limited time in which to speak in this debate. So that all honourable senators and people who read the Senate Hansard will have the opportunity to understand the matters that have received so much criticism from the media and others in the last few weeks, I seek leave to have this speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave not granted.

Senator KILGARIFF —I regret that leave has not been granted, because this matter has been discussed throughout Australia, within the industry and within governments. Charges have been levelled at the Northern Territory Government, and so many things have been said in the Senate in which the characters and the names of people involved have been attacked. These people have not been given the opportunity of responding in this chamber, and they have had the courage to produce this open document, which covers all those matters that have been criticised. All those matters that have been criticised are dealt with in this document.

I would have thought that, having in mind the seriousness of some of the charges that have been made, for the sake of the people within this Parliament and Australia generally having an adequate understanding of what has happened, the Government would allow the document to be incorporated in the Hansard. I do not think that is very much to ask. The Minister has said that it cannot be incorporated in Hansard, but he is one of those who have been attacking the people who are endeavouring to have this matter cleared up. Surely this is the time when the Federal Government should show some grace and allow the document to be incorporated in Hansard. I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter and, having in mind the explanation that I have given, to agree to having this document incorporated in Hansard.

Leave not granted.

Senator KILGARIFF —Mr Deputy President, I do not have to repeat myself, but this document will be available from my office for those who wish to understand the problems and the way in which the Territory is endeavouring to get out of them. At some stage, as much as I wish not to hold up honourable senators at a late hour, I will have to read it in an adjournment debate. To bring some continuity to what I have said and to the document that I have had incorporated in Hansard, I seek leave to table this document.

Leave granted.

Senator KILGARIFF —The Minister is most gracious in acceding to my request, and I thank him for it, but of course there is a difference between tabling a document and having it incorporated in Hansard. Whilst I, not begrudgingly, thank him for allowing me to table the document, I think it would have been much fairer if the matter could have been incorporated in Hansard. I would ask people before they listen to any more criticism of this matter relating to the Northern Territory, which has caused a lot of problems in the Territory because of the misreporting and misrepresentation, at least to look at the document that I have tabled. However, if that is not possible, I can assure them that there are many documents available from my office.