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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1494

Senator MURPHY(7.20 p.m.) —I rise tonight to raise the plight of my home state and to appeal to the government, and in particular government colleagues from my state. I don't want to sound repetitive, but my state is in a very bad economic situation. It has the highest unemployment rate in the country. It has a declining economy, almost becoming a recessed economy.

Senator Panizza —It started in 1983.

Senator MURPHY —It has a Liberal government and has had one for some time. I guess a lot of Tasmanians who voted to elect Mr Warwick Smith to Bass and those others who voted conservative in the state of Tasmania would have taken a great deal of note of the Tasmanian package that the now Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, launched on 7 February. I would just like to remind government senators of it, and I hope the government in general takes note of what this package says. It says:

Tasmania has a unique place in the Commonwealth. The Federal Government has a special responsibility to achieve equality for Tasmanians in developing opportunities for their state. The Coalition accepts this responsibility and in Government will implement the initiatives detailed in the Tasmanian Package.

The Tasmanian package amounted to $67.15 million over three years. It made mention of a number of things, and there are two that I would like to draw attention to. One of those related to the issue of Commonwealth facilities in Tasmania. It states:

A Coalition Government will examine high profile capital works projects for Commonwealth departments and agencies already in the pipeline that could be located in Tasmania to redress the fact that the State has often been overlooked for relocation or establishment of federal agencies.

In this context the Coalition will review the Labor Government's decision to close HMAS Huon in Hobart.

Having said that, we know that we have been confronted by cuts in Tasmania as a result of the proposed cutbacks in the budget and in response to this so-claimed $8 billion hole, which seems to be disappearing at a rate of knots, almost like the fog on a good morning here in Canberra with a very strong wind blowing. We have had to confront the closure of the Family Court in Launceston and the closure of the tax office, and, most recently, we have had a major cutback in employment programs.

The only employment we can find that has been generated in Tasmania over the last three years has been as a result of Working Nation programs. We think that we can attribute almost 7,000 jobs to that. In Bass alone, which is where my office is based, I have sought information from all of the training and employment placement providers who have been acting on behalf of Working Nation programs—particularly the skillshare, jobskills, new work opportunities, jobtrain, joblink and jobclub programs. When you tally up the number of people who have gone through those programs in the last 12 months, the number is nearly 2,000. Also, the direct employment of the people implementing those programs is quite substantial. Regardless of what we have been told by the minister—and even though we have been told that some $30 million is being brought forward—we know that a number of jobs will go. I think that is, quite frankly, a total misunderstanding of what the program is about.

The other fact is that the Commonwealth Labor government committed some $14½ million to the AMC, the Australian Maritime College, for the Australian Maritime Engineering Cooperative Research Centre. They were told when the coalition came into government that that funding would be up for review. They have already commenced work but can proceed no further to obtain contracts for that work for when and if this thing is ever completed. To this day they still have not received an answer as to whether or not that funding will be forthcoming. This is in a state, and in an electorate—Bass—which has a very depressed economy. It simply is not good enough that a government cannot respond to the needs of Tasmania.

The other important aspect of this Tasmanian package was the $49½ million over three years for the implementation of what was called, I think, the Bass Strait passenger equalisation scheme. I want to refer to a few press clippings to indicate how some commentators in my state believe things are going in Tasmania. I refer to an article on 21 May which was in response to a plea from the mayor of the Tasman Peninsula—which was where the Port Arthur tragedy occurred—and the Tasmanian Premier to Mr Howard, as Prime Minister. That plea was a request to bring forward some of the funding that would be available under this particular election promise. A spokesman for Mr Howard evidently indicated that Mr Howard was sympathetic to bringing forward this subsidy and using it to assist with the very difficult situation that Tasmania—but, more importantly, the Tasman Peninsula—found itself in as a result of the Port Arthur tragedy, and also using it to assist in the general economic condition of the state. An article headed `Tourism Fear' in the Mercury on 25 May stated:

The crisis in Tasmania's tourism business is deepening because potential visitors are stalling their trips until the promised Bass Strait passenger subsidy starts.

With the state facing one of its toughest tourism winters, it is believed the wait for the Federal Government subsidy could be holding back a tide of visitors.

Further down in that article, a spokesman for the Minister for Transport and Regional Development, Mr Sharp, said that the subsidy was not likely to start until September. There are a host of those types of articles in the local papers.

I think it is very disappointing. The Tasmanian people must be totally disappointed in the actions of their federal government representatives. Not one of them has come out and made a public statement with regard to any of these election promises, any of the funding programs. I must say, however, that Mr Warwick Smith, the member for Bass, did say that if the coalition won the election then we would have a Family Court judge based in Launceston. I got an answer back today from Mr Williams, the Attorney-General, to a question I asked a week or so ago and he says that it is a matter for the Federal Court. He also implied in his answer to my question that Mr Smith did not say those things. I will dig out Mr Smith's public statement and send it to Mr Williams so that he will be aware of exactly what Mr Warwick Smith, the now federal member for Bass, said.

I want to go back to this subsidy and the time it was launched. I found it very interesting. Part of the document says how it will work. There will be a rebate that is payable for fares paid for the driver and the vehicle where the fare exceeds $150. It also says that the first $150 is paid by the driver. I thought I had better do some sums here and just ascertain exactly what that means. Under the current fare structure on the Spirit of Tasmania, a TT-Line vessel which operates across Bass Strait, the only way you could actually get a $150 rebate would be if you used the top two cabins—that is, the suite and/or the deluxe cabin. There is no way that you could get a $150 rebate on a one-way fare under the other three fare structures. Yet the dollar figure—$49½ million over three years—is based on every vehicle that crosses Bass Strait getting a $150 rebate on a one-way fare. I contacted Mr Sharp's office today and asked if they could explain to me how it worked. They said that they could not but that they would get someone from the department to ring me and explain it. I hope they do, because $49½ million over three years—(Time expired)