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Tuesday, 10 September 1996
Page: 3169

Senator ABETZ(6.57 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

As this is the first time I have been on my feet tonight, I congratulate Senator Brown on his first speech in this parliament. The reason I wish to make a few comments in relation to this document—

Senator Bob Collins —Did you agree with all the forestry bits?

Senator ABETZ —It is funny Senator Collins should ask whether I agreed with all the forestry bits because in the document I am about to address we are dealing with the forest industry special assistance scheme, payments to forest related businesses in significant hardship. What this advance to the minister relates to, of course, is the mismanagement of the whole woodchip export licence issue by the previous government.

Senator Margetts —Another subsidy?

Senator ABETZ —No, it is not another subsidy. The purpose of this provision is to provide interim hardship business assistance to forest industry businesses which had incurred additional costs and financial hardship as a direct result of the previous government's decisions early in 1995 not to release certain coupes for woodchip exports.

It will be recalled that on 25 September 1995 the previous government agreed to provide up to $300,000 in ex gratia payments to forest industry businesses under the scheme to be administered by the department of primary industry. The agreement by the previous government to change the eligibility criteria in December 1995—something which, I might add, I fully supported—is producing more generous assessment outcomes, which have resulted in the $300,000 allocation being exceeded by $638,000. That is how much the previous government was going to short-change those people within the forest industry who were so hardly done by by the previous government.

Of course, this particular advance will allow an extra $19,690 as a final payment to three Tasmanian logging businesses who have met the eligibility criteria of the scheme. These three logging businesses were among a total of nine that received advance payments in mid-December 1995. Really, what it is doing is putting to rest part of the legacy of the mismanagement of the forest industry by the previous government, which I am very pleased to say has been corrected by this government with its new approach. That approach has breathed new life into the forest industry and, as Senator Murphy, coming from Tasmania, would know, has included an initiative by the Tasmanian country sawmillers that represent the small operators in the forest industry to develop a new investment plant and new jobs.

Senator Murphy —They got belted up by the major companies. That's what happened to them.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Murphy is interjecting undoubtedly because he does not like the prospect of our government's initiatives resulting in real jobs for Tasmanians. The other matter I want to refer to in this document relates to the advance being made by the federal government—the sum of $2.5 million—by way of financial assistance to the Tasmanian government for the redevelopment of the visitors centre at the Port Arthur historic site. Possibly Senator Chamarette might want to interject again and say that this is some sort of subsidy to private enterprise.

Senator Margetts —On a point of order: I would like to remind Senator Abetz that Senator Chamarette has resigned.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Childs) —There is no point of order.

Senator ABETZ —Senator Margetts, you will be following Senator Chamarette very soon if you continue along those lines. I simply say on behalf of the people of Tasmania that this advance from the federal government to the Port Arthur region and to the people of Tasmania is truly appreciated by the people of Tasmania.

Senator Murphy —You have short changed them every step of the way. You promised them $67 million and what did you give them—$33 million?

Senator ABETZ —The fact that Senator Murphy should interject by way of opposition to this grant and assistance to the people of Tasmania is really something which ought be condemned by most people. Out of this tragedy the federal government has come to the party to assist. I would have thought all Tasmanians would appreciate that gesture by the federal government.