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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 5072

Senator REYNOLDS(3.20 p.m.) —Senator Ian Macdonald has a very selective memory on this issue. He says that the tourist industry has had a difficult time over the past 13 years but not nearly as difficult as it will have with a 500 per cent increase through this tax. Senator Macdonald kept talking about it as an environmental charge. Make no mistake about it, it is a reef tax. It is discriminatory because it only applies to visitors to the reef.

On four occasions the Howard government has refused to debate its massive reef tax hike. It has had that opportunity in the House of Representatives and on four occasions it has refused to debate it. Notwithstanding the fact that the north Queensland members are very loud in their criticism when they are in the north, when they come south of course they are scared to speak out within the party room because they know that they will have absolutely no influence.

What will this reef tax do to tourism in the north? James Cook University Professor of Tourism, Phillip Pearce, has backed tourism operators in condemning a 500 per cent hike on reef visitor charges. He said yesterday that the new arrangements increasing an environmental management charge from $1 to $6 per visitor per day to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park clearly represented a tax—not a user fee, not an environmental charge but a tax.

Professor Pearce also said the lack of consultation with the industry was to be condemned and would damage relations between operators and reef researchers. The charge introduced in 1993, which was directed to reef research, will now supplement funding to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Senator Macdonald talked about the need to retain budget integrity. Fine, Senator Macdonald. Find something in the south to tax instead. I have some figures here that show precisely what kind of subsidy is going to different museums and community cultural education facilities in the south.

Perhaps Senator Macdonald could increase by 500 per cent the entry fee to the Canberra National Gallery. If it is good enough for visitors to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, why not to the Canberra National Gallery? After all, the Canberra National Gallery gets a $19 million—100 per cent—subsidy here in the south but that is not a privileged position that we get in the north.

What about the Canberra War Memorial which gets $16 million or more in subsidy from the government—again a 100 per cent subsidy? The Sydney Maritime Museum gets a 94 per cent subsidy. The Canberra National Science and Technology Centre gets about a 90 per cent subsidy. The Canberra National Museum gets a 99 per cent subsidy. What does the Townsville Great Barrier Reef Aquarium get if Warren Entsch does not succeed in selling it? No government subsidy whatsoever and, in addition, this hike in a reef tax.

What do the northern members say about this particular tax? Warren Entsch, without consulting the member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) suggests that we sell the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium. John Lyons, who is the chairman of the aquarium's advisory board, says that selling the Great Barrier Reef Aquarium would be like shooting the guide dog. He said that the government should meet any shortfall—

Senator Ian Macdonald —It will not happen, Margaret. Don't waste your precious time.

Senator REYNOLDS —This is John Lyons. I thought John Lyons was someone you agreed with, Senator Macdonald. He cited the government's support for the National Gal lery, the War Memorial and the Maritime Museum, which receives appropriations from $19 million to $14 million. Government has the resources for those southern based cultural facilities: why discriminate against the north, introduce a reef tax, discriminate against visitors to the reef, discriminate against northern tourist operators? If the budget integrity is to be maintained, look southwards, Senator Macdonald. Get your colleagues to find the shortfall here in the south where there is always money. Do not discriminate against the north