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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2749

Senator COOK (Minister for Resources)(8.29) —As Senator Calvert has observed, I am not the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. I am the Minister for Resources, representing the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. It is a delicious irony for me to have the opportunity to represent this august portfolio in answering these questions. I have to say, therefore--

Senator Hill —I hope the quality will improve.

Senator COOK —I do not think it is possible for the quality to improve. It can be matched, but I do not accept that it can be improved. Senator Calvert has asked a series of questions in what, may I say without any criticism of him, was a fairly long dissertation. I tried to keep track of all of the elements of his questions and I will now attempt to answer those that I can pick out of his dissertation. Let me say first, so that I do not have to dwell on it in dealing with each point he made, that he made quite a number of political references. He cast a slur on the reputation of the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories, Senator Richardson, concerning Antarctica and the answers that he gave in this place. The answers he gave are the answers that he gave at that time and they answered the issue and disposed of it. Senator Calvert may wish to continue making it a political point, but I refute and reject it. For the benefit of tonight's proceedings, I do not wish to contest it beyond making a simple rejection of it. We had a lot of useful business to transact rather than descend into a political point scoring activity.

Having said that, let me go to some of the issues the honourable senator raised. The first was a direct assertion that the Minister somehow insinuated himself into the tender process and had some influence on the outcome. That is a very serious allegation. It is not an allegation that we accept. The Minister did not interfere in any part of the tender process. I think the honourable senator should be very careful about making such an assertion without checking exactly what happened and how strongly based his evidence is because, as I say, it is not true.

The next matter deals with the charter of this vessel for a 10-year period. The basic price for charter was $10.8m per season. It varies because of currency fluctuations. As we all know, there have been some currency fluctuations. The present price in Australian dollars is $10.7m and, according to the terms of the contract, that is bedded down as the firm seasonal price. It is now impervious to any further downward pressure on the currency. I was asked whether I can give an all up price for future charter, given what the inflators might be and so on. The basic price is $10.7m and the final price, as adjusted by inflators, will be settled over the whole period when the inflators determine the price over the whole of that period. That answer may not be the one that the honourable senator sought but it is the one that can be given. There is the question of further adjustments according to the inflators.

Senator Calvert asked a series of other questions, including when this vessel will commence service. It is now estimated that it will commence somewhere between 15 December this year and 15 January next year. It could be delayed a little, I should caution. That is the best estimate of commencement that I can give. I am advised that the Department is taking action to provide an interim vessel at a lower cost for the period that the new vessel is delayed, so there will be a stopgap measure to cater for any lapse in fulfilling the program. There may have been some other questions asked but, in terms of taking down all of them in the honourable senator's long dissertation, they are the only ones I have identified and thus answered.