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Thursday, 1 May 1980
Page: 2075

Senator TATE (Tasmania) - I rise to support very briefly the proposal put forward by Senator Rae. I do so with some misgivings despite my belief that the Senate committee system is worthwhile and can produce useful results. It is a pity that we have not developed in Australia such organisations as airline consumer participation committees as exist in the United States, for example. Such a committee had the most dramatic impact in the pressure it put on the Government which eventually banned the flights of the DC 10s after their unfortunate run of accidents. There is no such body of consumers using transport services in Australia which could feed into government the views of consumers as to pricing, frequency, quality of services and so on. I would hope that out of this inquiry might come some proposals or ideas as to how such consumer participation might be stimulated. In the absence of such bodies, I believe that it is appropriate that a Senate select committee does inquire into and report on problems facing Tasmania in the field of air and sea transport, regarding both passengers and freight, because the two are inextricably linked, even in the one ship movement. As I will point out later, that has an effect on pricing and quality of service.

It is amazing that an island with a population of a mere 400,000 people is nevertheless so travel conscious and so attractive to mainland and overseas tourists that there are over a million movements of people into and out of Tasmania each year- some 1 12,000 of whom come by sea, on the Empress of Tasmania. There is a very high proportion of movements in and out of Tasmania per head of population. It has a tremendous impact on the social, commercial and economic life of that community. For that reason certainly I would welcome some expression of concern by this Senate in a practical, concrete way such as would be evidenced by an inquiry into a matter which is of great moment in Tasmania and which is causing a great deal of worry right throughout the community and in a bipartisan way.

I recall that when the Federal Cabinet met in Hobart in early October of 1979 a Tasmanian case for a new deal on air fares was presented by the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition, and by Tasmanian civic and business leaders. They put forward a 13 -page Government submission on Tasmanian transport problems. The proposals included a relaxation of the two-airline policy and that a third operator be permitted to engage seriously in the Tasmanian airline trade. I think that shows that Tasmanians feel that they have a common interest in achieving improved services by way of sea and air transport to the mainland, and then overseas. In early February we had the situation where, as a result of the Government's fuel parity pricing policy, a tremendous increase in the cost of air fares to Tasmania was imposed on the Tasmanian community. In that first week of February, a massive 9.5 per cent increase in air fares was announced whereas in the same week air fares to Western Australia went up by only 1.7 per cent. Therefore, one can understand the misgivings and questions within the Tasmanian community which led all sides of politics to condemn that situation as being evidence of a crazy system which needed review. An improvement in respect of fares was required.

Senator Raesaid that there will be instances -he referred historically to the case of shipping services to Tasmania- where Commonwealth Government policy, legitimate in other aspects, might have an adverse effect on a specific part of the Commonwealth- in this case, Tasmania. Where a Commonwealth policy such as the fuel pricing policy does have such a dramatic effect by way of curtailing possible use of the transport system to the mainland, by Tasmanians or by those on the mainland wishing to visit Tasmania- sea and air being the only means of getting to Tasmania- it is only fair that the Commonwealth should establish a mechanism whereby it can review the situation. Proposals might emerge which will help to balance the effect of singling out the island State with a particularly adverse result flowing from perhaps an otherwise legitimate policy.

I will not go over the examples cited by Senator Rae, except to mention a matter of concern to me, as the north-west coast senator, which is the fact that the fast ferry service that we thought might replace the Empress of Tasmania seems to have been definitely decided against by the Australian National Line. As honouable senators know, over the last year there has been considerable discussion as to whether even a jetfoil or a semi-submersible catamaran might be used in a service across Bass Strait, completing a round voyage every 24 hours. These ideas had their attractions as recently as 18 months or two years ago. But, with the fuel pricing situation as it is, both those services in feasibility studies have proved to be quite uneconomic. We are now in a situation where the Chairman of the Australian Shipping Commission, Mr N. G. Jenner, has announced that a super-fast passenger service across Bass Strait, in reasonable comfort and with sleeping accommodation, for example, as a possible option, has been negatived. The new ship will be built and used for the rapid transport of freight; passengers would be almost an extra, sitting in deck chairs- presumably under cover- or aircraft-type chairs as an addition to the major purpose of the vessel, which would be to transport freight across Bass Strait.

Senator Chipp - Who negatived that proposal?

Senator TATE - As I understand it, that was done by the Australian Shipping Commission in an announcement by Mr Jenner on about February 11 1980. He said:

.   . the emphasis would be on cargo, with passengers carried in deck chairs.

Interestingly enough, he predicted also that the replacement for the Empress would be an oil burner because coal for ships on a rapid shuttle run is impracticable. It is clear that the cost of fuel has determined that decision which is of great concern to the tourist industry in Tasmania and especially within my home port of Devonport. It may be that the arguments put forward by Mr Jenner are logical, but they are arguments that Tasmanians will find hard to accept having had the luxury- perhaps it was a luxury, over the years- of three passenger ferries. We now look like having a freight service with deck chairs to carry a few passengers as something of an afterthought.

I feel that the proposed Senate Committee can achieve a good end. It would have been preferable had long term machinery been available to review this type of problem which has been well delineated by Senator Rae. The 1975 Inter-State Commission Act, which was an Act of the former Labor Government- the Inter-State Commission has laid with potential since the Constitution set out its possibilities in 1 90 1 -provides that an Inter-State Commission could be established and that would initiate investigations into the provision of transport services throughout Australia. In effect, it would constitute an on-going royal commission. With this authority derived from the Constitution, I believe such an inter-State commission would have the ability to coordinate and oversight the provision of transport services and, for that matter, interstate freight services.

If I have any misgivings about this committee, it is that it will be another ad hoc committee inquiring into a problem and therefore will lack that comprehensive national view that should be the mark of any coherent transport policy view that should be the mark of any coherent transport policy appropriate to Australia's needs, including all parts of the Federation and taking particular note of those communities with peculiar difficulties and geographical locations, like Tasmania. Given the absence of consumer participation committees and an on-going authority such as an interstate commission, I believe that a Senate select committee can work well and can report to this Parliament in a way which will be helpful in the formulation of policy from the points of view perhaps of both the Federal and State governments. For that reason I support the proposal.

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