Tuesday 15 April 2008
GOVERNMENT BUSINESSES SCRUTINY COMMITTEE B
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr Deputy President, thanks to the member for Pembroke for that part of the report because really it is a subject that seems so dry, the Public Trustee. Of course, there are so many interesting things that go on within that operation and, as you say, it is so important to our community when people need to be represented.
Also, my thanks to our secretary, Sue McLeod, and to our chair who has seen us through three hearings with the TT-Line, which I am going to focus on. I would like to contrast committee B's experience with the TT-Line on 5 December of last year with the two previous hearings. To sum that up, I think we have made great progress, it would have to be said.
I would also like to highlight that I thought we would be able to sort out the time line between when we actually do our investigations in the committee stage and then present our report to Parliament. Of course, I welcome the opportunity to do that work in early December. I thought it was a good time, with Parliament concluding then, we did seem to have the space.
Ms Ritchie - We didn't factor in the Premier's state of the State moving, did we?
Mr FINCH - That is right but I felt that the first week in December was a good time. I thought we were all pretty clear and we were able to concentrate on the job at hand.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - What about the school presentations?
Mr FINCH - I know, but they came a bit later in December. It did not interfere with any of mine. You have too many schools, that is your problem. You will have to put in a bid for West Launceston. I have nine schools in my electorate.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - I have 24.
Mr FINCH - How lucky am I?
We went through the committee stage and developed our reports in December, and here we are now nearly into May and just delivering our reports. I only highlight that because I feel it would be much better for us if we were to go through our committee stage and develop our reports, do our scrutiny and then present the report while it is still fresh in people's minds. I have just been reminded by the member for Pembroke of the interesting things that we heard about the Public Trustee. If that time line could be tightened up, it will be much better.
Mrs Smith - Perhaps we could sit in January.
Mr Aird - You've changed it twice.
Mr FINCH - That is worth a thought, isn't it? I remember almost two years ago - I will remind you while we are drawing on our memory bank to go back in time - our chair spoke of the nonsense of hiding behind the curtain of commercial-in-confidence at the GBE hearings. Of course, during this last December we were hearing the facts and figures in a much more open manner and it was a much better process.
In the December hearings, there was openness and transparency, the TT-Line had a good story to tell and -
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - It was the Christmas spirit. We were full of it.
Mr FINCH - the story got out - a record profit in hard times and an increase in passenger numbers of 35 000, despite increased competition from low-priced airlines.
One area of concern that has stayed with me since the hearing on 5 December concerns engine maintenance on the two vessels. Mr Simmons explained the maintenance policy on replacement of parts according to a schedule rather than because of wear or imminent failure. At the same time, he said the ships' turbo chargers were coming to the end of their working life and that was left hanging. He talked a lot about spare parts as well, but I am starting to wonder what is the present situation with the turbo chargers on Spirits I and II. Are they being repaired or replaced? That is something that I would like to have clarified.
Also we were told a lot about various aspects of security on the two ships at the hearings. Mr Simmons was at pains to point out that police were notified about any security concerns or suspected criminal activity, but the TT-Line staff had little power to intervene in most cases. For example, they cannot search passengers for drugs although all the vehicles are checked before boarding.
The committee understood that situation but we were nevertheless concerned about some aspects. In my mind I had the question of whether anything has happened in that area to cause the TT-Line concern about such things as potential drug smuggling. It should be on their radar and hopefully that is part of their thinking. A point that I brought up was about the storage of gas containers and we heard about the concern of some travellers, particularly those in caravans.
Mr Dean - The member for Rowallan was concerned about that.
Mr FINCH - He is not concerned at all, from past experience. The cylinders are contained in a certain area and, being novices in the handling of gas, the point was highlighted that it would be a sort of explosive opportunity if somebody were to do a mischief. We were assured by Mr Simmons that that was not the case, that they are quite safe in the way that they are stored and we can hope that that is acceptable.
We looked at potential medical emergencies while at sea as well. We were given quite a description of the arrangements there and those appear to be comprehensive and I imagine that they are constantly reviewed. At the hearings we were told by the CEO that extensions to the vehicle decks by Taylor Brothers to increase capacity by 50 to 60 vehicles was 10 days to two weeks away from completion so I am assuming and hoping the work was completed on schedule and hopefully that extra space is being used regularly.
They were just a few of the questions that I had. We heard from the minister that a loss had been converted to a $5.9 million profit in the 2006-07 financial year. That was a good report and hopefully that has been sustainable. In respect of the TT-Line there is always the spectre of the cheap airline flights. Isn't it funny how every cloud has a silver lining; in one way we welcome the opportunity for travellers to come to Tasmania, some perhaps for the first time because of the cheap air fares but it impacts back on another of our major operations, the TT-Line.
We heard that passenger numbers on TT-Line had increased by 35 000, which really is quite an achievement. Let us hope that the numbers are looking pretty good at this stage also. To get that sort of increase, particularly in a time when people are travelling by air, suggests that people are again thinking that Tasmania is a good opportunity and an area that they want to visit and come to for their holidays.
They are probably coming on a cheap flight first and then wanting to come back and take their time and that is when TT-Line reaps those rewards. It will be interesting to hear the next report and see whether those numbers are going up or down. What really stood out for me at the last hearing was that I was not pressured or browbeaten or vilified by the TT-Line chairman as at previous hearings, and that was a welcome relief.
Mr Wilkinson - He knew what to expect if he did it again, didn't he.
Mr FINCH - In spite of what I tried to provoke.
The GBE hearings are continuing to progress and are becoming more useful each time to the GBE themselves, to this House and I would presume the public as well as we make more progress with the exploration of the information that we get at scrutiny time. I enjoyed our work on the scrutiny committee this year.