Interview on Tasmania Talks with Brian Carlton

4 May 2016

Topics: Federal Budget, University of Tasmania, Cradle Mountain masterplan, Tasmanian Liberal Senate pre-selection.

CARLTON: There's virtually not a media show anywhere in the country today that won't have a federal Liberal politician talking about the, or a National, talking about last night's Budget. Ours is Senator Richard Colbeck, the Federal Minister for Tourism and International Education - at least for the rest of the week presumably.

Senator Colbeck, how are you going?

COLBECK: I'm well thanks Brian.

CARLTON: When will the writs be issued?

COLBECK: Very good question. There's one person who knows that and that's the Prime Minister and he'll make that decision relatively soon I'd have thought.

CARLTON: Yeah, I would have thought pretty much straight after the Opposition Leader's budget reply speech on Thursday. So I assume that for news cycles etcetera that Friday would probably be a good day to do it.

COLBECK: Well we've got Budget Estimates Thursday and Friday so that's a little bit of an issue.

CARLTON: Oh okay. So Friday afternoon maybe - late?

COLBECK: Sorry to blow your theory.

CARLTON: Well we'll wait and see. Okay, umm.

COLBECK: There are still some processes to complete yet.

CARLTON: I understand. Senator, do Tasmanians have a right this morning to wake up and feel like we've been a little neglected by the Federal Turnbull Government?

COLBECK: Oh absolutely not, I think the Budget really does work for Tasmanians and it's not about huge fists of money, it was never going to be a fists full of money budget and we said that in the lead-up to it.

It was about a strategic document that sets the economy up for the future and you'll have heard me say that before, that's what I want to do for Tassie, to make sure that we've got a strong economy that can stand on its own and provide strong employment and job opportunities for our local communities.

That's the important thing and that's what this Budget does, it banks on our small businesses, almost 37,000 of them in Tasmania and gives them a bit of a leg up. It encourages them to employ people and our employment package encourages them to employ unemployed youth.

So we're really looking to go to the people and the businesses that actually do generate economic growth, to provide them with the opportunity to do that.

No government has ever spent an economy into prosperity. What we do is we set the frameworks for businesses to grow and prosper and to build that economic growth and prosperity through the economy and that's exactly what this Budget does.

CARLTON: There's a very real argument to suggest that even if the Government had done basically nothing for the past couple of years, that businesses would have cracked along at pretty much the same rate. Let's leave that aside.

Total payments to Tasmania, this is some good news, $3.5 billion up from $3.3 billion, so there's a little bit there. We've got just over $1 million for the Royal Hobart Hospital and Launceston General, there's some funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme transition which is not too bad, some aerial firefighting money again not too bad.

But look, Senator, the big ticket items that we've been talking about vigorously on this show and others have all over the state for some time, the UTas move in both Burnie and Launceston - no money for that.

The Federal Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten, came out and said he'll guarantee $150 million worth of funding if the state can come up with $75 million for that to happen. Crickets on that one and we've got crickets on the sewerage for Launceston, the second Bridgewater Bridge, and nothing for tourism our biggest industry. It's a little sad in those areas isn't it?

COLBECK: Well look as I said, it was never going to be a fist full of dollars Budget. I never expected that going in and it's a strategic Budget that sets the ground work for the prosperity of the country and therefore Tasmania into the long-term.

We could go through a project list all we like, that's not necessarily going to help. You know, Bill Shorten stood out the front of the University in Hobart last week almost at the end of the news cycle and made an announcement which really I think was an attention grabbing exercise, with respect to the University. I happened to be with the Vice Chancellor at a function at that particular point in time, so I'm not sure that was a strategic or any sort of sensible process.

Can I tell you, I've had a number of conversations with both the Premier and the Treasurer about the University and I met with the Vice Chancellor last week specifically on it. Education in Tasmania took up a considerable amount of our conversation at the Joint Commonwealth Tasmanian Economic Council last Thursday with the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Premier. We're looking at making strategic decisions that benefit Tasmania into the future and there are a number of other elements that I think we can benefit on.

One of the things in the Budget that we talked about is the broader defence plan and how does Tasmania benefit out of the Defence Plan in a strategic sense building high-tech jobs and really innovative jobs. I think there's an opportunity for the University through the Australian Maritime College to participate in the process. We might not build any of the subs but we could very well be the brains for the outfit. So how do we strategically leverage that with the work that the University of Tasmania's doing?

They're the sorts of things that we're working on so we can make some really sound, strategic decisions that are just not about a bricks and mortar exercise for the University, but they can provide some inspiration for the region, the opportunity to innovate, grow high-tech knowledge based jobs and really start to change the basis of the economy in Tasmania so it's not just a cargo-cult mentality, it can be a knowledge-based economy.

We're at the leading edge of a whole heap of things we're doing through the University at the moment. We've got high tech agriculture and things that are coming out of Sense-T are now being spun off into high tech businesses that are attracting investment from overseas.

I was at the launch of The Yield in Southern Tasmania last week and that's attracted $2.5 million in investment from Bosch. So, the really pointy end stuff, the smart things that we're doing in Tasmania, we need to be able to set the scene for them to be leveraged. Now that was off the back of a $1 million grant from a Commonwealth, $2.5 million coming in from a global leader in technology and they're the sort of strategic things that we want to set-up and that's what we're working on.

CARLTON: Okay. Cradle Mountain Master Plan, right in your portfolio area, for the next few days anyway, as Minister for Tourism. Nothing there either. It's a modest amount of money and yet the potential flow-on for tourism into the North and North-West is huge.

COLBECK: Well I wouldn't say $30 million is necessarily a modest amount of money. I've sat down and had a conversation with the Premier and the Treasurer about this. It's an important project for us but it actually doesn't have a project proponent yet and it's going to take at least $100 million of private sector funding to get it up.

I said to the industry, I'm happy to do what I can to work with our agencies here at a federal level to look at who a private sector investor might be so we can encourage someone into that and then we can all work together on the development of the project.

I think it's a very important project and I've had a lot of conversations with the sector about it, but it's not just about us riding in with $30 million, the State Government has to be prepared to put some money up as well.

The bulk of the money's going to come from the private sector and again, us setting a good economic framework for the state is the thing that's going to encourage a private sector operator to come in with that sort of money and that is a lot of money; $100 million.

CARLTON: Okay, your Tasmanian Liberal colleagues decided place you fifth on the Senate ticket. How confident are you of winning that seat now that we are likely to go to a double dissolution election?

COLBECK: Well I have to be confident and I have to do everything that I possibly can to harness the Liberal vote and to maximise that so that I do get back. If we get the same primary vote that we got at the last election, I'm fine.

I will be out there working hard amongst the communities, doing everything I can to harness the vote for the Liberal Party because I've got unfinished business and we've just talked about some of those things. The sorts of visions that I have in trying to build the economy for Tasmania, to encourage business to grow and provide jobs for our communities, and make some of those strategic decisions that are going to underpin that.

So I'm very keen to do all those sorts of things so I'd really like to get re-elected when the election does come around.

CARLTON: Well I'm sure we'll have a chance to chat during the campaign, probably more than once. Appreciate your time Senator, thank you.

COLBECK: Thanks Brian, good to be with you.

ENDS.

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