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Thursday, 19 September 1996
Page: 3584

Senator ABETZ —My question is directed to Senator Alston. I ask the minister: can you indicate what has been the response after the announcement of the government's Bass Strait passenger vehicle equalisation scheme?

Senator ALSTON —Probably the Hobart Mercury said it all in its headline which was `Bookings bonanza'. Since the announcement of this scheme on 23 August, there have been an unprecedented number of inquiries to take up this new initiative. Bookings for sea travel across Bass Strait have gone up by 45 per cent. TT-Line reported that more than 19,700 ticket inquiries had been made since the announcement of the subsidy. As former Premier Ray Groom said, in the 13 hours following the announcement more than 7,500 calls were made to TT's central reservations office in Devonport. This has been an enormously successful initiative to which Senator Newman was a prime contributor. It clearly demonstrates the superiority of our approach on this important issue.

The scheme provides for a rebate of $150 for a single trip and $300 for a return trip in the peak holiday season, slightly lower rebates applying in other seasons to reflect the lower cost. The scheme will reduce a driver's net fare when sharing a standard cabin to a similar cost to that notionally incurred in driving an equivalent distance on a highway.

The scheme has been given the thumbs up by industry, certainly by the Tasmanian government—Premier Rundle and Ministers Cleary and Groom—TT-Line and the chairman of the National Sea Highway Committee, Mr Peter Brohier. In other words, everyone who has looked at this proposal says that it is infinitely superior to the Labor alternative.

There has been some criticism, as you would expect from a carping, negative, going nowhere opposition. Of course, what they fail to recognise is that the funding for this proposal is not capped. It will be demand driven. The scheme therefore fulfils a key election commitment to Tasmania and represents an ongoing recognition of equity for Bass Strait travellers.

Labor's very second-rate alternative approach to this was to put a very large bucket of money on the table in order to enable a second ferry to be built. That would make absolutely no difference necessarily to the level of cost of fares. It would simply be putting money in the pocket of a new owner. That is far from attractive to consumers.

Labor's funding would have miserably failed to cover future operating costs, would have provided no guarantee that travellers would have benefited from lower fares and would not have provided any competition. In other words, we are giving assistance where it is needed. It goes to the consumer; it makes travel more affordable. It is very much in line with an approach that is sensitive to consumer needs rather than simply the old Labor handout mentality.

I would have thought now that we have seen the reaction—universal acclamation from industry, from consumers—that the least that people like Senator Sherry should do is perhaps follow Senator Schacht's example and put out a corrective statement admitting that this is yet again another very successful budget initiative. As you would know, the recent Morgan survey indicated that our budget was the most popular since 1978. One of the reasons for that is that we very carefully ensured that consumers are the beneficiaries. We did that in Tasmania in spades, and the citizens of Tasmania are very, very grateful. They certainly will not appreciate your going around carping at the margins, making yourself even more irrelevant and simply not facing up to an infinitely superior approach.