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Abetz has his head in the sand on freight equalisation.



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Duncan Kerr SC MP

MEDIA RELEASE

21 June 2005

ABETZ HAS HIS HEAD IN THE SAND ON FREIGHT EQUALISATION

Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Eric Abetz, is wilfully burying his head in the sand on allegations the Freight Equalisation Scheme is open to rorting, Denison MHR, Duncan Kerr, said today.

"In every public comment made since a gaping loophole in the TFES was revealed in the national and local media last weekend, Senator Abetz has chosen to pretend nothing is happening, and that the system is perfect.

"It clearly is not. The Tasmanian Transport Association (TTA) and one of the state’s major traders, Tas Grain Elevators, have both expressed grave concerns that the TFES is being rorted.

"The hard data contained in statistics released by Centrelink-which administers the scheme-shows that assistance per tonne of timber shipped out of Tasmania, increased by 20% in the 2003-04 financial year.

"Warwick Counsell, former Executive Director of the TTA, has pointed out that there is no obvious reason for this, other than that the claims being put in are for higher amounts. All Tasmanians ? Senator Abetz included ? need to make absolutely sure the

TFES is as efficient, and operated as transparently, as possible.

"The Freight Equalisation Scheme is the lifeblood of Tasmania’s export industries. Without it, we cannot compete with mainland producers.

"Senator Abetz is also fudging on the audit announced by Transport Minister John Anderson late Friday. This scandal has been years in the making. The audit was announced at the eleventh hour, at lunchtime on Friday, only after it became clear to the Minister’s office that the media were investigating the rort allegations," Mr Kerr said.

Duncan Kerr believes the KPMG audit team should work closely with a properly empowered TFES Review Authority. Earlier reports reveal the Authority had tried to close the loophole which has now emerged, to ensure the TFES is not exploited to the disadvantage of taxpayers and Tasmanian producers.

"Everyone knows there IS a loophole, and experts in the industry say the scheme is open to abuse. Senator Abetz needs to talk to some of those experts, and stop denying the bleeding obvious.

"The Australian Federal Police investigated at the request of the TTA, not at the instigation of Mr Anderson’s office, or Department. They confirmed there is a loophole and suggested that Tasmanian Transport Association try to get the Ministerial Directions amended - to plug the loophole.

"A very straightforward amendment to the Ministerial Directions governing the TFES could put this matter to rest, and ensure there is absolutely no hint of abuse or maladministration of the TFES.

"Taxpayers and Tasmanian producers deserve better than the line they are being fed by Senator Abetz," Mr Kerr said.