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Wednesday, 16 October 1974
Page: 1774

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - I would like to take a moment or two to make some observations on one or two aspects of this debate which have been left somewhat in the air. In the first place, the $ 1 5m which the Tasmanian Government has secured from the Commonwealth Government to meet its financial commitments is not meant to cover the tobacco tax which the Tasmanian Government decided not to continue with. I know that we are fairly heavy smokers in Tasmania, but I would not imagine, and I do not think anyone would accept, that we would need $15m to offset the loss of revenue consequent upon the discontinuance of that tax.

I think something which ought to be acknowledged and which ought to be well understood right across the Commonwealth of Australia is that for the first time in its history the Government of Tasmania is able to implement its own political philosophy. Up to the present time this has not been possible because it has been tied to the performance of the standard States- Victoria and New South Wales, or one or the other as the case may be. From time to time other States in the Commonwealth have come into this system of receiving financial help to enable them to carry on their services. They have dropped out of the system as soon as they possibly could because naturally they want to assert their own political independence. It would not matter what sort of political philosophy was current in the party governing the State of Tasmania over these very many years, because it was not possible for the Government to exercise its own political judgment in doing the things that it wanted to do. For the first time in its history, it is now possible for the Tasmanian Government to implement the policies which it believes in and which are designed to meet the requirements of the people.

I can recall the occasion last year when Queensland became a mendicant State and claimed $10m which it was not otherwise able to obtain. I issued the warning then that it would not be possible for that State to go its own independent way and to do the things which it believed in its own judgment were necessary to be done for the benefit and development of Queensland. This happened in Western Australia and South Australia. Tasmania has been measured against the performance of the stronger States of the Commonwealth. I think that Senator Everett covered the situation very well indeed today when he referred to the fact that because New South Wales had poker machines and Tasmania did not, Tasmania suffered a disability under the Grants Commission formula for determing what moneys it should receive. This is almost like the reports we are receiving now about the rally in northern Tasmania yesterday. It reminds me of the wonderful gesture of the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) when he gets on the public platform and puts his arms up expecting to receive the applause of the whole community. To me it merely represents the credibility gap between him and the rest of Australia. He seems to have a faulty smile-switch which flicks on and off for the most incredible reasons which nobody has been able to work out.

Let me refer to the shipping position in Tasmania. When this Government inherited the destiny of Australia it found that there was an inadequate shipping capacity to meet the needs of this country. It immediately got to work to correct that situation. Orders have now been placed for additional ships to ply the Australian coast. In fact the Government has implemented overseas shipping services as well. Some figures have been supplied to me by the Australian Shipbuilding Board. They show that on 2 December 1972 there were 39 vessels on order or under construction in Australia and on 7 October 1974 there were sixty-eight. At December 1972 there were 7 vessels on which tenders had closed but no order had been placed and at October 1974 there were 13, or almost double that number. On 2 December 1972 there were 2 vessels on which tenders had been called, and there were six on 7 October 1974.

Senator Rae - The only reason for that is that there have been so many strikes that there are a whole lot more orders because of uncompleted vessels.

Senator DEVITT - The Opposition is still pursuing the policy which Mr Snedden is trying to ram down the throat of every Australian. He says that we should stop Government expenditure. If we stop Government expenditure how can we put ships on the Australian coast and how can we provide the financial underpinning for the States? The Opposition can have it one way or the other. It cannot have it both ways. Of course, Senator Rae is becoming rather angry about this matter because he set out to rubbish the Australian Government and he has been well and truly done over in the course of this debate. It is not my fault if he leads with his chin. If he sticks his neck out someone will have a crack at him.

The Government has never resiled from that situation. If somebody wants to take us on we will get up and get into him. I can remember occasions since we have been in Government when the Opposition has proposed matters of public importance and before the 3 hours for the debate were finished Opposition members had run for cover. They had finished it half an hour early. We had been waiting to go and debate the matter but they had received such a belting and such a hiding in the course of the debate that they had run for cover.

Senator Marriott - I rise to order. I do not want to take up the time of my colleague but I think that it is against the Standing Orders to refer to another debate in the same session.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- I ask Senator Devitt to confine his remarks to the States Grants Bill.

Senator DEVITT - That was a fair way of getting under cover. If the Opposition is as sensitive as that, of course I will not go on with the matter. I do not want to hurt honourable senators opposite unduly. I have referred to the situation as we find it at the present time. As one of my colleagues in the House of Representatives said recently, it appears that Mr Snedden has suddenly found Tasmania. He has waited a long time. As Senator Everett pointed out, the Opposition has had 5 ducks in each of 2 innings. It has not a member in the House of Representatives from Tasmania. To suggest that there is some fault on the part of the Labor Party is the strangest reasoning I have heard for a long while. The fact is that the people of Tasmania suffered for a quarter of a century under a government that did not give a damn for them. Now they have found that there is a government that will do something for them.

Of course we make mistakes. Anybody who does anything makes mistakes. What happened in the past was that no mistakes were made because nothing was done. The Menzies doctrine came right down through the years. It said: What is, is good. Do not alter it because immediately you start to do something you run into trouble. You upset some sections of the community.' This Government is not frightened to do that because it believes that Australia wants a change and wants something new. Let us look at this innocuous amendment. I call it that for want of a better name. The parliamentary term is an amendment'.

Senator Everett - It is like a powder puff.

Senator DEVITT - As my colleague Senator Everett said, it is a powder puff. The motion before the House is: That the Bill be read a second time. Senator Rae has moved:

At the end of the motion, add- but the Senate is of the opinion that the proposed provision of grants to the State of Tasmania is inadequate--

After 25 years the Opposition has the gall to suggest that the provision is inadequate, especially when we consider that the Premier of Tasmania asked for $ 1 5m and received every red cent of it. But that is not satisfactory to the Opposition which did nothing. It did damn all, to use a common Australian term. Now we are told that it is inadequate. But it was not inadequate when the Opposition was in government. That is the incredible thing. The amendment goes on to say: The Government should forthwith'. There is no reference to the state of the economy or to the pleas of the Leader of the Opposition to cut down Government expenditure. It says: . . that the Government should forthwith make provision for further funds to enable Tasmanian people and commercial undertakings to enjoy a shipping transport cost no greater per ton mile than the rail freight applying in the other States of Australia.

Let us forget Mr Snedden for a moment, for God's sake, and think about it in sensible terms. The amendment says 'no greater per ton mile than the rail freight applying in the other States of Australia '. Is that not what the Nimmo inquiry is about? Does the Opposition not know about the Nimmo inquiry?

Senator Rae - Do you not know about the Bureau of Transport Economics report?

Senator DEVITT - Yes, I know about it. I reckon that your Government knew more about reports and inaction than any other government in the history of this country. What did your Government do to assist the situation? It let the shipping Une run down. Senator Grimes went into great detail, as I did earlier in the day on another matter when we were much more harmonious than we are now, about the increases that had taken place from time to time in shipping freight rates. I acknowledge that Senator Rae and his colleagues got on to the government of the day and said 'Look, you cannot do this', but it was not successful. It does not matter how much you protest; if you are not successful it is a wash-out. Immediately the quite justifiable 25 per cent increase in freight rates was asked for by the Australian National Line the Labor Party representatives from Tasmania went to the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones). I have not heard anybody suggest that the increase is not justified. If one is running a business one has to do it on the basis of the costs applying at the time. The senators and members of the House of Representatives from Tasmania immediately went to the Minister. We had 4 meetings with him in the course of that first week. We had a meeting with the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). As a consequence of that the Government decided that, despite the fact that it was waiting on the Nimmo report, it would do something immediately to alleviate the situation- not for the other States of Australia but to meet the legitimate requirements of Tasmania.

The Minister said: 'You have $lm to cover passenger services in Tasmania but, on the basis of what we believe to be a reasonable thing, we will provide $2m a year until the Nimmo report comes down, which will give a complete evaluation of the situation'. Then the Government will make a decision and implement a policy which Will meet that situation. But for the moment we believe that Tasmania is disadvantaged. I think everybody accepts, no matter what we may say, that Tasmania has this tremendous disability. I suppose every person who has graduated to this chamber and to the other place has at some stage or other delivered himself of words about the problem of transport in Tasmania and I guess we will go on doing it. But whereas in the past those Tasmanians who represented the anti-Labor government were quite unsuccessful in their approaches to the Minister of the day, we have been successful. I can understand that this is pretty galling to honourable senators on the other side. They are jealous and rightly so but in all modesty we must say that we came as a group- as a lobby, if you like- to the Minister and to the Prime Minister and got a response. After all, that is what the game is all about.

Senator Rae - Go on. He did not tell you about the increases -

Senator DEVITT -Politics is the art of being successful. If Senator Rae did not finish his remarks this afternoon, and that is understandable because he has not yet addressed himself to the Bill, I will move later on if the forms of the Senate allow it that he gets another go. But for the moment let us say that this amendment is completely innocuous. The Opposition is not going to vote against the Bill but wants to take something out of it. It wants to dissanguinate it in some way. So far as we on this side of the chamber are concerned we will not be in it. The Opposition may have the numbers to get this amendment through, I do not know, but it will not mean very much after all. If the Opposition gets a victory it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

Let me say- and I hope the people of Australia acknowledge it- that this Government has done more for Tasmania than any other. The figure of $500-odd per capita for Tasmania as against $300-odd per capita for the rest of Australia indicates that there is an awareness of the particular problems there. There is a sensitivity about it and there is a desire to do something to correct it. This is what this Bill is all about. I suggest to the Senate that it forget about this amendment which does not mean a darned thing. Let Nimmo bring in his report based upon the per tonne mile performance in other States against which the Tasmanian freight rates will be measured and in the meantime let us get on with the job of allowing this State to do its best.

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