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Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2194

Dr THEOPHANOUS —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Finance, concerns the great State of Tasmania. Does the agreement to provide interim financial assistance to Tasmania following the cessation of work on the Gordon below Franklin Dam provide for payments of financial assistance to be made by the Commonwealth to the State from time to time at 'the request of the State'? Can the Minister explain the delays in making the first payment under the agreement?

Mr DAWKINS —I appreciate the opportunity that I have to set this matter straight. It ought to be known by the House and, indeed, the people of Australia that the Commonwealth, having decided to take the action it did in relation to the cessation of work on the dam, always accepted its responsibilities flowing from that action. It has been made perfectly clear by the Prime Minister and other Ministers that there was no intention on the part of the Commonwealth to dodge in any way its responsibilities to those people who were adversely affected as a result of that decision. The Prime Minister made certain very clear undertakings about what the Commonwealth was going to do immediately following that decision. In fact, the Prime Minister handed to the Premier on 31 August the draft of a financial agreement which would have allowed for the first payments to be made to the State of Tasmania so that those people who were formerly employed on the dam could be provided with alternative job opportunities. The Premier of Tasmania decided not to sign that agreement for a period of six weeks. When he did sign it he returned it to the Commonwealth with certain changes. As soon as the Prime Minister had an opportunity to study those changes he then signed the agreement. The agreement has been in force for some ten days.

One of the provisions of the agreement-one assumes that the Premier is as aware as I am of what is in that agreement-states that the Commonwealth will provide non-interest-bearing, non-repayable grants to the State of Tasmania. The agreement states: 'Subject to the provisions of the agreement, payments of financial assistance shall be made by the Commonwealth to the State from time to time at the request of the State'. I, not unreasonably, thought that as soon as the agreement was in force the Premier would make a request and payments would be made to the State of Tasmania. Instead of making a request the Premier decided to take out very expensive newspaper advertisements in which he abused the Commonwealth for not having made any payments to the State of Tasmania. I repeat: First of all he sat on the agreement for six weeks. Then, once the agreement was in force, he declined to make a request. The Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania, Mr Wriedt, contacted me and said that he did not think a request would be forthcoming. Therefore I decided that I would act under another section of the agreement and make an advance to the Government of Tasmania. But let me make it perfectly clear that those advances are made only on the basis that requests will be forthcoming. Indeed, if no requests are forthcoming, we would have the power to ask for the repayment of those moneys.

Members of this House would be concerned about the fact that I should be responsible to this House for my obligations in relation to those expenditures. I am accountable to this House to ensure that moneys appropriated by this House are spent in accordance with the provisions of that agreement. That agreement indicates that requests will be made in respect of certain projects. Once the State of Tasmania provides us with details of those expenditures we will provide the funds. But I was not going to sit idly by while the Premier dilly-dallied and the people of Tasmania were disadvantaged as a result. Therefore I have arranged for $10m to be provided. But I want to make it perfectly clear, as I have directly to the Premier, that that is an advance payment. It will be a deduction against any further payments which become available to the Tasmanian Government as a result of requests which the Premier will be required to make under clause 5 of that agreement.

It is important to recognise that the Commonwealth has been absolutely dinkum, absolutely sincere and absolutely generous and prompt in dealing with the question which it recognises was not popular with the Tasmanian Government. But I think the very least about which we all ought to agree is that the people who were disadvantaged as a result of that decision should not become the playthings of people who want to make cheap politics out of this. We want to co-operate and we have made it perfectly clear that we will co-operate with the Tasmanian Government. I look forward in the future to the reciprocation of that co- operation from the Tasmanian Government.