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Tuesday, 11 September 1928

Mr SEABROOK (Franklin) .- I support the remarks of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) and the honorable member for Darwin (Mr. Bell). The latter put the case for Tasmania with particular clarity, and so did the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin). Tasmania has been in financial difficulty for a long time, and a number of facts, other than those mentioned by the Treasurer, have contributed to her present position.Her remarkable hydroelectric scheme has cost £3,500,000. . When the deputation of Tasmanian members of Parliament met the Treasurer last week, he said that the hydro-electric department was paying its way, and that, therefore,, the grant was to be reduced by £68,000. I am given to understand definitely that the department is not paying its way, but that it is showing a deficit of from £40,000 to £50,000. Therefore, the reduction in the grant on that account should not have been made. I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that a State that has done its best to straighten out its finances should not be penalized. The Commonwealth Government offers with one hand a grant which it says will put Tasmania on her feet financially, and with the other hand, it takes some of the money away. The Treasurer said that, under the bill, Tasmania would be better off financially than when it received a grant of £378,000. That is not so, because the Tasmanian Government is now budgeting for a deficit of £30,000.

Mr Bell - Even after effecting a number of economies.

Mr SEABROOK - Yes. Surely the State Government would not be budgeting for a deficit if it had been placed on an improved financial basis. The Tasmanian authorities are in a better position than the Treasurer of the Commonwealth to know the precise state of their finances.

I am not inappreciative of what has already been done for Tasmania. This Government has helped her to a great extent.

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - All Federal Governments have done that.

Mr SEABROOK - Particularly the present Ministry. Tasmanian members are alarmed, however, to see the grant cut down at a time when the State authorities are doing their utmost to solve their financial problems, and are reducing expenditure even on essential works. When I asked the Treasurer last week whether £220,000 would be the net amount of the grant, he replied that £12,000 must be deducted. We find that this sum is for forestry work and mining development in Tasmania. The State Treasurer now contemplates having to pay £24,824 for the work recommended by the Development and Migration Commission, and the honorable member for Darwin may well ask whether the results being obtained from the activities of that body are as satisfactory as might reasonably be expected. If we add the £12,000 to the £24,824, we have a total of £36,824, and, therefore, we are asking the Government to grant to Tasmania an additional £30,000. If the Treasurer will assure me that if the present bill is passed Tasmania will not have to pay the sum of £24,824 for the work suggested by the Development and Migration Commission, I shall be satisfied.

Dr Earle Page - I told the honorable member that £12,000 represented the expenditure necessary for mining, forestry and other works recommended by the Development and Migration Commission.

Mr SEABROOK - The Treasurer stated that £205,000 was the net amount of the grant. It now appears that that is not so.

Dr Earle Page - But it is.

Mr SEABROOK - The Tasmanian Government has budgeted to pay £24,824 on account of works recommended by the commission, and that sum is to be taken off the grant.

Dr Earle Page - That is not so. The sum of £78,000 was already available out of the preceding year's revenue for the first part of the work recommended by the commission, but, for the further work recommended, £12,000 had been provided by the Commonwealth as part of the grant of £220,000.

Mr SEABROOK - That is a different statement of the case. The £220,000 will now dwindle to £183,176.

Dr Earle Page - No. The honorable member misunderstands the position. I shall explain it fully when I reply to the debate.

Mr SEABROOK - Very well. The Treasurer said that £68,000 had been deducted on account of the hydro-electric plant, because it was a paying proposition ; but I am informed that it still has a deficit of between £40,000 and £50,000. Therefore, the deduction on that account should not have been made.

Dr Earle Page - The Tasmanian Government informed us that that scheme was returning interest and working expenses, after making provision for a sinking fund.

Mr SEABROOK - Evidently the Tasmanian authorities, after careful investigation, now find, that the scheme stands in a better position than formerly. As the honorable member for Darwin pointed out, it was unfair that neither the Federal Government nor the Tasmanian Government consulted the Federal members from that State concerning the grant. But, putting that aspect of the matter on one side, there is evidently a discrepancy in the figures mentioned. I hope that the whole matter will be further examined before a final decision is reached, and that on reconsideration the Government will see its way clear to make the grant £220,000 net.

Mr West - If the Treasurer will not do that, will the honorable member vote against the Government.

Mr SEABROOK - The State from which the honorable member who interjects comes is in a good financial position, but Tasmania is in dire need of assistance. The Prime Minister referred to Tasmania's surplus of £95,000 last year. He said that £40,000 of that surplus was deducted in fixing the grant, but that £55,000 was not considered at all. As a matter of fact, that £55,000 is nonexistent. I have no objection to deducting the surplus of £40,000 and the interest charge of £60,000, but I 'strongly resent the deduction of £68,000 in respect of the Hydro-Electric Department, and the reduction of the grant itself. I appeal to this Government to give Tasmania an opportunity to gain some measure of financial stability. The Government of that State has curtailed some very necessary works in an endeavour to improve the financial position. As has already been stated, we cannot move to increase the amount under discussion, but I ask the Treasurer to overcome the difficulty by fixing the amount of the grant at £220,000 net. Tasmania has a good deal of road-making to do, and has to provide 15s. for every £1 granted by the Federal Government for that purpose. The more we improve our roads the greater becomes the competition with our railways, and, therefore, the State revenues suffer in consequence. Tasmania is isolated from the mainland, and frequent stoppages of shipping have seriously retarded its progress. At times our goods have rotted on the wharves, and we have been unable to obtain materials from the mainland. Last week this House consented to the expenditure of £75,000 on the building of a road from Canberra to Goulburn. Roads cost money, and they cost more to build in Tasmania than they do on the mainland. Tasmania has spent more money on roads than has any other State, and that money has been provided principally out of revenue. I urge the Government to give to Tasmania the assistance necessary to enable it to carry out its financial obligations.

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