Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1768

Senator GRIMES (Tasmania) - I rise to support the State Grants Bill 1974. 1 oppose the amendment moved by Senator Rae. The purpose of this Bill- which has been discussed tonight so far as I can remember only by Senator Everett- is to provide an extra grant of $ 1 5m for this year to Tasmania, the outcome of which will be that Tasmania will be removed as a claimant State before the Grants Commission. I think it should be emphasised that the grant of $ 15m is not simply a one-year grant. Provision for this amount to be increased in future years, dependent on such things as population increase and wage increase is incorporated in the Bill. It is not simply a one-year grant- a one-shot effort. The importance of the Bill for Tasmania lies in the fact that, as I have stated, it removes from the State the necessity to apply for special grants before the Grants Commission. It is equally important in that it does not affect the ability of the Grants Commission to assist local governmenta desirable reform which was instituted by this Government.

The necessity for the Tasmanian Government to consider the levels of charges and social services in the so-called 'standard States' before it legislates and applies these taxes- a factor that has been important in Tasmanian legislation- to avoid a negative adjustment by the Grants Commission has been considered a constraint by Premiers, including the previous Liberal Premier, Mr Bethune. The Premiers also felt constrained by having to go cap in hand to the Grants Commission explaining why they needed more grants and why they should not receive lower grants. It has made it difficult for the State to progress in the way it wanted to. Although for more than 40 years the system of the grants has helped the States considerably, times have changed. The demands of the States have grown more and more different from what they were before. In fact, problems in each State are frequently different. Freedom to legislate with respect to social security, health matters, transport costs and transport charges has been a very difficult problem for those Tasmanian governments which have been in power.

New methods of raising revenue have been considered by previous governments. The most publicised, of course, was the notorious consumer tax on cigarettes. This proposition was conceived by a previous Liberal government and was put into effect by a Labor government. It was found to be ineffective. It was a regressive tax with which I did not agree and with which many people did not agree. Out of this arose the present agreement whereby Tasmania can be freed of the constraints that it felt were difficult and which made matters difficult for that State in general.

Much has been said of this Government's treatment of Tasmania. Indeed, in the debate on this Bill in another place the whole time was spent in denigrating the efforts of the Australian Government in Tasmania. It was heartening to many Tasmanians that the Liberals had suddenly discovered that Tasmania existed. I think it is necessary therefore to make some reference to both the efforts of this Government in Tasmania and some of the efforts made by the previous government. I think firstly we should look at the record of the previous Government- the LiberalCountry Party coalition Government. Acknowledgement of the practice of the previous Liberal-Country Party coalition Government to ignore Tasmania is contained in a statement of the Leader of the Liberal Party in Tasmania, Mr Bingham, M.H.A. On his return from the Liberal Party conference this weekend he was quoted as saying:

There has been a tremendous change in the attitude of the Liberal Party to Tasmania.

One assumes that he means it is a change for the better. Therefore one assumes that the previous attitude of the Liberal Party was inadequate. The second indication of the fact that the previous Government's attitude to Tasmania was inadequate is best demonstrated, I think, by the attitude of the electors in Tasmania over the years. In 1949 when the Liberal-Country Party Government came to power, Mr Duthie, the member for Wilmot, was the lone Labor member from Tasmania in the House of Representatives, and he sat there alone until the present Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) won the seat of Bass. Then shortly afterwards, in 1956, the year in which the Australian National Line was formed, Mr Davies won the seat of Braddon. Some time later Mr Sherry won the seat of Franklin, and finally in 1972 the Labor Party had won all seats in Tasmania in the House of Representatives. In May of this year this clean sweep was confirmed. This surely demonstrates the concern that Tasmanians felt at the neglect of the Liberal-Country Party Government. I hope that the attitude of the Liberal Party to Tasmania has changed, but I wonder whether the people of Tasmania can really trust such a change in attitude in a very short time.

I think that we must put into perspective the treatment that Tasmania has received from this Government compared with the treatment that it received from the previous Government. I believe that under the present Government Tasmania has not been treated ungenerously, but this does not mean that I will not fight for further and more generous treatment. I think that the example relating to transport, which was one of the examples that Senator Rae used, is an interesting one because it demonstrates the attitude of the previous Government to Tasmania and the attitude of the previous Government to its own members. Senator Devitt has given some figures to illustrate what happened between 1 970 and 1 972, but I will repeat some of them. In August 1970 there was an increase of \2lA per cent in all Tasmanian general cargo freights. In July 1971 there was an increase of 12V4 per cent in freights between Sydney and Tasmania and an increase of 8 per cent in freights between Melbourne and Tasmania. In August 1972 there was an increase of 25 per cent in freights between Melbourne and Tasmania, caused by the removal of concessions on dense cargo. There was an increase of 12 per cent in freights between Sydney and Tasmania, again due to the removal of concessions on heavy cargoes, and a surcharge of 20 per cent was applied to hazardous cargo. This problem was recognised by all Tasmanian senators, including the Tasmanian Liberal senators who, on a motion moved by Senator Rae, moved for the referral of the question of the Tasmanian freight problem to a select committee of the Senate.

The difference between what happened then and what happened with the recent ANL freight increase is quite significant. The previous Government had no choice but to accept the referral of this question of these freight difficulties to the Senate select committee, but the previous Government did nothing about the matter. It applied no subsidies. In fact, after the committee was formed the previous Government continued to agree to the removal of subsidies on these freight lines. Recently ANL decided to increase its freight rates by 25 per cent. It did this on sound business principles, as it had to do under the Act which we are trying to amend. In fact, what happened was that Tasmanian Labor senators and Tasmanian members of the House of Representatives were justifiably concerned. We immediately went to the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones), who was sympathetic. The Minister, the Tasmanian Labor senators and the Tasmanian members of the House of Representatives went to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), and a fortnight later a $2m subsidy was announced. The legislation passed this afternoon will allow this subsidy to be applied. This is the big difference between the attitude of the previous Government and the attitude of this Government to Tasmania. Our Government was responsive to the difficulties facing Tasmania. We did not have to come into the Senate and move motions and amendments in order to get anything done. We got a quick response and, despite the remarks of some Liberal members of the State Parliament in Tasmania, we are not conning anybody; the money will be there. The provision of this money is an interim measure until the Nimmo royal commission reports on Tasmanian freight rates and Tasmanian freight difficulties.

The reason why it was necessary to set up the Nimmo royal commission to inquire into the freight difficulties facing Tasmania was that the previous 2 reports on this matter- the one of the Senate select committee and the one of the Bureau of Transport Economics- created difficulties and raised questions which had to be answered before some rational solution could be found. It is a sad fact that the first Senate select committee, which was appointed, I think, in 1903, dealt with Tasmanian freight problems and I think that there have been 6 similar inquiries appointed since then. This present royal commission, we hope and pray, will be the last. The reason why the subsidy was applied only to outgoing freights was that the 2 previous reports had stated, firstly, that as far as bulk cargoes were concerned Tasmania was not disadvantaged. The report of the Bureau of Transport Economics pointed out the difficulties in deciding how to apply any sort of a subsidy on inward freights. Many goods coming into Tasmania are subject to a price equalisation scheme which applies all round Australia. Many groceries, tobacco, cigarettes and some cars are subject to this scheme. To apply an overall subsidy would mean that this price equalisation scheme would probably have to be removed, and in many cases the only people who would benefit would be the companies which were sending goods to Tasmania. We hope, and we think, that the Nimmo royal commission will bring forward solutions to the Tasmanian freight problem.

But this freight problem will also be helped by the expenditure of $55m which this Government is prepared to spend on new boats which will be used for the Tasmanian trade. But Tasmanian freight problems do not relate only to the sea leg across Bass Strait. Freight has to be forwarded at each end of the trip. The Senate select committee report indicated that the cost of freight forwarding at each end represented about SO per cent of the cost of transporting goods from a place in Victoria or New South Wales to a place in Tasmania. Apparently in many cases ANL, in its trips across Bass Strait, has reduced its freight cost to 40 per cent or less of the total freight cost. I think that it is wrong for people to get the impression, and it is wrong for us to give the impression to people in Tasmania, that by reducing ANL's freight rates we will suddenly solve the problem and that all the freight rates will be greatly reduced. I think that the Nimmo royal commission will look at- and we will have to look at- the possibility of allowing ANL to be its own freight forwarding agent or, if that is not possible or desirable, of allowing ANL to contract its own freight forwarding.

Senator Rae - That was one of the recommendations of the Senate Committee.

Senator GRIMES -It was. This matter will have to be decided. But we cannot do things in one hit. It cannot be changed until the agreement finishes, I think in June next year. When it does finish I think it is very desirable that we make some change. Also we have to solve the problem of freighting in Tasmania. There may be some element in the report which suggests that in some way we have to rationalise our port facilities in Tasmania. The solution to Tasmania's freight problems will not come only from the Australian Government. It will not come only from subsidies. It will have to be a combined effort. Tasmanians from all areas will have to combine with the Federal Government to solve this problem which has been with us not for just 5 years or 6 years, as Senator Bessell said, but in fact, since Federation and before. Personal abuse, abuse between State and Federal Governments and abuse between various parties will not solve this problem. A lot of co-operation and a lot of thought will be required. Some people may even have to bury some of their differences to solve the problem.

Senator Bessellsuggested that the reason for the travelling to Tasmania by Ministers of this Government which has gone on since we were elected in 1972 was that we recognised that we were in some difficulty in Tasmania. That is not so. As Senator Everett said, Mr Whitlam and other Ministers travelled to Tasmania frequently before the election and they have travelled there frequently since the election. If visits of Ministers and other senior members of a party merely reflect a sudden interest in Tasmania, one can only say that it has taken 25 years for the Liberal Party to become at all interested. Despite the gradual erosion of Liberal Party representation over those years and the obvious signs that the Liberal Party might end up with the disastrous result which it obtained in 1972 and 1974, the efforts of Senator Rae, Senator Marriott, Senator Lillico and Senator Wright were to no avail. I suggest- perhaps immodestly- that the efforts of the 10 present Tasmanian Federal Labor Party parliamentarians bore fruit within a fortnight. Attempts to deride those efforts have been plainly unsuccessful, as is shown by the Bill which was passed this afternoon and by the money which will be coming forward very shortly.

Senator Bessellmade some remarks about the vegetable processing factory on the north-west coast. In fact he suggested that Dr Cairns and, I believe, at another time myself were not being truthful in saying that the amendment to the Australian Industry Development Corporation Act would make a difference to the vegetable processing factory. In fact the vegetable processing factory may not come into being; but, as has been explained in this place and in the other place, it is not possible to use the AIDC Act as it stands at the moment to fund this vegetable processing plant. Under the amendment to the AIDC legislation this may be possible. I was at the meeting at La Trobe when Dr Cairns said: This may be possible'. I was reported as speaking and I was quoted correctly as saying 'It may be possible'. At least it will give us the opportunity to fund financially sound but not necessarily high profit making industries which may be necessary for the survival of other industries such as the vegetable growing industry in northern Tasmania. We are not making wild and rash promises. This may happen. We hope that it will happen. But without the modification to the AIDC Act it is impossible to see how this could possibly happen.

In summing up I point out that in some other fields Tasmania has not done as badly as the Opposition in its many attacks on this Government would like us to believe. For instance, per capita Tasmania receives from the Federal Government $572 a year as compared to some $273 a year, I think, in the case of the other States.

Senator Devitt - That is per head.

Senator GRIMES - Yes, per head or per capita. I do not object to this. In fact, I do not think that it is enough. Apparently Senator Rae does not think it is enough. I hope that he will be able to convince his Party, if it ever gets back as the Government, that that per capita allocation is not enough. I agree with the remarks Senator Wriedt made 2 years ago in a Senate Select committee report when he said that the allocation ignores many things. It ignores the fact that Tasmania does not have big Australian Government department offices and that it does not have big defence establishments as some other States have. But what concerns me and what should concern the people of Tasmania is that one of the greatest cries of the Liberal Party, and also of the Australian Country Party, is what it will do if it gets back into power. One of its biggest claims is that it will reduce government spending considerably. In a small State like Tasmania, with a small population which is spread across the State, some forms of social services, health and education cost more than they do in other States. I hope and pray that this does not mean that if a Liberal Government were in office Tasmanian expenditure would be cut drastically. But I cannot see how the Liberal Party could avoid this if it intends to cut Government spending drastically.

Senator Devitt - Would it not be cut? It was in the past.

Senator GRIMES -I am afraid that it has been cut in the past, as Senator Devitt said. And it would happen again. For instance, university expenditure by the Australian Government in

Tasmania this year comes to $20m. This is more than 3 times the amount allocated in the previous 2 years. For colleges of advanced education $14m has been provided, which is about 4 times the allocation of the previous 2 years. There is $2m for technical education which is 3 times the allocation for the previous 2 years. There is $ 1 6m for government and non-government schools, which is 4 times the allocation of the previous 2 years.

For public hospitals $ 1.6m has been provided. There was nothing in the previous years. The money is to go to meet half the cost of a new Launceston general hospital and to build a new women's hospital in Hobart. There is $2m for community health centres on which money had never been spent before and $3m for the school dental health scheme. This means that Tasmania gets more than 10 per cent of the total allocation for this purpose, although we have only 3 per cent of the population. Aid for housing has risen from $300,000 in 1972-73 to $20m in 1974-75. Recently an extra $2.5m was provided for public housing in the State. These figures show that this Government has not been ungenerous to Tasmania. They show that we are concerned about Tasmania. This does not mean that we are complacent about Tasmania. We have never been complacent and we never will be. The Tasmanian members of the Senate and of the House of Representatives will continue to fight for the necessary subsidies and benefits which this Government can give to a small island State which is disadvantaged in many ways.

In September 1972, before the election, we were assured by the then Minister for Education and Science and by Senator Rae that the removal of the Antarctic Division to Tasmania was impossible and undesirable. In the year following the election this Government after investigation found that it was indeed possible and desirable. Immediately there was great support from Senator Rae and other members of the Opposition who a short time before had said that the move was not a good thing. We have not had any complaints from them since. That is one example of how the parliamentary representatives of Tasmania by bringing the relevant facts to the notice of the Government can succeed in getting institutions and other aid for Tasmania.

This Bill will be of great benefit to Tasmania financially and the present amount of $ 15m will almost certainly be increased in future years. As Senator Everett has demonstrated, the amount represents a considerable increase on the provisions of past years. It will also be of benefit to the people and the Government of Tasmania psychologically. The Tasmanian Government will not have to go on behalf of Tasmanians to the Grants Commission to explain how, why and where it spends its money. It will be of great benefit to Tasmania in providing more efficient government. The Tasmanian Government will be able to apply charges, social services, taxes, transport costs and everything else without being concerned about how they compare with those in the standard States. It is a very desirable move that has been advocated by Labor and Liberal Premiers and governments. I commend the Bill and feel that it can do nothing but good.

Suggest corrections