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Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1754

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) -I shall depart somewhat from my normal commencement of a speech in this chamber by complimenting Senator Marriott, my predecessor in this debate, on the capable, competent and very fair minded way in which he has put the position to the Senate. I suppose it would be reasonable enough to say that we on this side have a very high regard for the way in which Senator Marriott conducts himself in matters of this kind. He has taken a statesmanlike stance on this matter and has given, as he has indicated to the chamber, the support of his Party to this measure. He has put on record some of the historical background of the matter that we are now considering. I would like to take a few minutes to complete the record, if I can put it in those terms so that the significance of this measure is understood now and in time to come when somebody reads the debates, particularly as they relate to the great problem in Tasmania of having one system of transport, if one disregards the air services, for trade and commerce. The other States in what we choose to call the mainland of Australia have alternatives open to them. So the business of shipping services is very important to us.

I wish to acknowledge at this stage that the decision to increase shipping freight rates was not unexpected. We all know that in the course of conducting businesses in this country, and in any other respect of human endeavour, costs are rising all the time. We have the alternative of funding adequately the operations of the Australian National Line or sending that operation out of business. In that circumstance we in Tasmania would be far worse off than we believe we are at present. So it was reasonable to increase the shipping freight rates to enable the viable operation of that service. We were very concerned with the implications to the Tasmanian trade and to the general economy of that State. That is what occasioned us to work with such alacrity in approaching the Minister which we did on 4 occasions during the week in which that announcement was made. Subsequently my colleagues in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party- 10 of us who were joined in this venturehad 4 meetings with the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) and also had a long meeting with the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) in which the position of Tasmania was put clearly and succinctly. Immediately the Minister was seized of the importance of this proposition he was not unsympathetic. He was aware of the difficulties that would result to Tasmanian trade as a consequence of this position. He was very amenable to the approaches which we made to him. Because the implementation of a decision to change the present arrangement meant an Act of Parliament, very quickly the assistance of the draftsman was sought and the Bill was prepared.

At this stage I would like to mention that because of a statement which was made in Tasmania a week or two ago a popular misconception now exists in the community and I would like to correct it. Possibly due to a misunderstanding, the State Opposition shadow Minister for Transport by imputation said that the Government of the day was holding up this legislation. He said that it had passed the House of Representatives and that the legislation was being held up. I want to place the facts on record. I am quite certain that if the member of the State Parliament concerned studies the history of this matter he will acknowledge that what I say is correct. I hope that he will make some public acknowledgment of the fact to clear the record. Members of Parliament come in for a good deal of criticism. I refer not only to Government members of Parliament but also to those who sit opposite. We are especially vulnerable to criticism when we make statements which are subsequently found not to square with the facts.

The fact of the matter is, of course, that the Government as fast as it possibly could produced this Bill, introduced it in the House of Representatives and, as is the normal course in such matters, the adjournment of the debate was secured by the Opposition. In this instance the motion for the adjournment of the debate was moved by the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party, Mr Sinclair. The following week Parliament was not sitting. The matter was placed at the top of the notice paper in the House of Representatives. The legislation was duly debated yesterday which was the first sitting day after the recess. The Bill was passed by the House. I am grateful to Senator Marriott and his colleagues on the other side of the chamber for agreeing that this legislation is urgent and that we need to put it into effect as quickly as possible. We have therefore dispensed with the normal adjournment procedure in this House so that we can hopefully- it looks as though this will be the case- pass this Bill so that it becomes law. The people of Tasmania were not being conned at all, as has been stated by that member of Parliament in Tasmania. We, with all expedition, set out to correct a matter which we considered to be one of very serious implications for Tasmania.

As honourable senators are aware a committee has been established to inquire into the general shipping situation in Tasmania. It is called the Nimmo Committee. I understand that Mr Nimmo is overseas currently examining situations comparable to those which exist between Tasmania and the mainland of Australia. The last I heard of his movements was that he was studying the relative situation between Nova Scotia and the mainland of Canada. We hope- I am sure we all hope- that when that report comes down it will cover for a great deal of time the question of the disabilities suffered by Tasmania in the relationship of its freight rates to the cost of freight per ton mile in the mainland States of Australia. This is what we are attempting to achieve. If we adopt a system of the kind I envisage Tasmania will not be under a disability because of the fact that it has one system transport available to it whereas the other States have 3 systems of transport available.

I think it is accepted by most authorities, if not all, that shipping costs are higher than land based transport systems. I think the Government acted swiftly to try to overcome the immediate disability in anticipation of a proper report and a total evaluation of the situation by the Nimmo Committe. What the Government thought it should do was to grant a subsidy of $2m in addition to the $ 1 m that is already provided for the passenger service. In fact, what we will now see is a subvention of $3m a year for Tasmanian shipping to cover its disabilities. It will cover outward cargo from Tasmania other than bulk cargo and, of course, at the moment will exclude paper.

I understand an inquiry is proceeding at present to determine whether in fact some assistance ought to be given towards the cost of shipping paper. The State of Tasmania will be receiving $2m. Since about 1,000,000 tons of northbound freight each year will go out of Tasmania it will mean approximately $2 per ton on the particular type of cargo to which I have just referred. I think it is a reasonable proposition for the moment, at least, until, as 1 say, the whole system is completely revealed to us. It is consistent with an undertaking given by the Prime Minister in 1 972 during an election campaign and restated in 1974. I sincerely hope that the situation which exists in Tasmania at the moment is held.

This is not the first occasion on which we have had freight rates of this kind. I recall- I am fortified by some information I have before methat in August 1 970 there was an increase of 1 2 per cent in all Tasmanian general cargo freights. In July 1971 there was a 1 2 Yi per cent increase in freights between Sydney and Tasmania and an 8 per cent increase in July 1 97 1 in freights between Melbourne and Tasmania. In August 1972 the freight rates were increased 25 per cent on the freights between Melbourne and Tasmania by the removal of the concession on dense cargoes. There was a 12 per cent increase in SydneyTasmanian freight rates. There was then an increase due to the removal of concessions on heavy cargo which was the equivalent of a 22 per cent increase in freight rates for that cargo. There was a 20 per cent surcharge applied on hazardous cargoes and an 1 8 per cent increase due to the removal of the concession on industrial machinery and also a 1 7 per cent increase in the freight rates for newsprint. That is what happened in the past. On all those occasions it was not possible to get any sort of relief.

Here we have a situation which recently arose where a 25 per cent increase was applied by the Australian National Line. As a result of the urgings of the people who are the representatives of Tasmania in this Parliament we now have a situation which has been referred to by Senator Marriott and which I have covered where $2m a year will be provided to meet the situation in Tasmania until a total resolution of the problem can be found when the report of the Nimmo Committee is presented.

Senator Milliner - Is there another $lm for passengers?

Senator DEVITT -Yes. The sum of Sim will be provided for passenger services. This is a $2m subvention in addition to that. As I said, Senator

Marriott has covered a part of the historical situation relating to the position with which I have dealt. I have attempted to complete the record by saying what I have. I certainly hope that what I have said will clear up doubts which exist in the minds of some people in Tasmania who think that the Government, as it were, has been dragging the anchor and has not measured up to its responsibilities. I believe it has. I believe that what the Government has done is in the interests of Tasmania and will be of very considerable assistance to that State. I believe I should leave it at that. Honourable senators in this place have agreed to pass this legislation so that it can be put into effect.

In conclusion I would like to refer to a remark which sometimes one hears or reads in the Press in Tasmania in relation to the representation of its elected representatives in this Parliament. I embrace all honourable senators on both sides of the House in this remark whether they belong to a particular party or whether they are independent. Often comments are made at a public gathering- those who have used this expression must estimate it to be a way to popularity- that cast reflections on the work and capacity of members of Parliament and on the way in which they apply themselves to problems of this type as they arise. I think that is completely unfair. I want to debunk it. I say it is a cheap jibe and it does not square with the facts insofar as it relates to members of this Parliament. I say again that I do not relate these remarks only to Government supporters. What I have seen indicates to me that all members of Parliament work hard, energetically and apply themselves totally to the work of representing the State of Tasmania. I suppose it is because we do this sort of thing that ministries and governments are responsive to our approaches and we obtain the sort of relief that we have on this occasion. I commend the Bill to the Senate and I thank Senator Marriott and the Opposition for agreeing to the passage of this legislation.

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