A $30 million gift to Tasmania has been “under discussion for quite some time” and is not pork barrelling ahead of a by-election, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said.
Mr Turnbull has made a flying visit to the hotly contested Tasmanian electorate of Braddon in the state’s west to announce the federal contribution towards a $160 million upgrade of tourism facilities at Cradle Mountain, despite no mention of it in last week’s federal budget.
Braving the icy 4 degrees Celsius conditions at the remote Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Mr Turnbull looked the part in a fleecy Cradle Mountain wind-breaker, purchased after he had found it “a bit colder than I expected” during a visit with wife Lucy years ago.
“This is a just another mild, balmy Tasmanian day,” he said.
“I’m thrilled that we’re able to provide $30 million to support the construction of the cableway which is going to transform the tourism infrastructure at this iconic location,” Mr Turnbull said.
The upgrades, announced in 2016 under the Cradle Mountain master plan, were prompted by negative feedback from tourists and a drop in visits to the location.
The Federal Government was criticised in the lead-up to the 2016 election for only offering up $1 million dollars towards a feasibility study.
Mr Turnbull defended today’s announcement and dismissed suggestions it was pork barrelling ahead of the Braddon poll, which is yet to have a date set.
“No, this is a cableway to get people up here, to deliver 60,000 more visitors and many more jobs in Tasmania,” Mr Turnbull said.
“It’s been under discussion for quite some time now but, obviously, the timing is very appropriate given that at long last we’re actually having a by-election in Braddon.”
PM Malcolm Turnbull with Premier Will Hodgman at Cradle Mountain for funding announcement, May 16, 2018. (ABC News: Laura Beavis)
The Cradle Mountain cold even got the better of local Will Hodgman, with the Premier stopping midway to announce his “mouth had stopped working”, prompting Mr Turnbull to pull him close for a hug.
It is the second high-level visit by the federal Liberals to the state’s north-west in two days, and a sign the party is desperate to see Brett Whiteley win back the seat he lost to Labor’s Justine Keay in 2016.
Not to be outdone, Labor are jetting in Deputy Labor Leader Tanya Plibersek into the electorate to help campaign alongside Ms Keay.
Ms Keay held the seat of Braddon by a slim margin of 2.2 per cent.
However she was among those caught up in the dual citizenship scandal, and resigned after her colleague Katy Gallagher fell foul of the High Court’s ruling on her eligibility for Parliament.
Tasmania’s tourism industry has high hopes for the Cradle Mountain development. (Supplied: Cradle Coast Authority)
‘Tasmania won’t be a cent worse off’
On Tuesday, federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann dropped into Turners Beach to announce $4.8 million of funding for the Cradle Coast pathway.
The West Australian Liberal senator was also grilled about the Productivity Commission’s much-awaited review of the GST carve-up, which was handed to the federal Government yesterday.
Flanked by a nodding Mr Whiteley and independent senator Steve Martin, Senator Cormann was careful with his wording.
When asked if the report would be bad news for Tasmania, he said:
“The guarantee that we can give to all Tasmanians is that Tasmania will not get a cent less than what has been committed after we have responded to the Productivity Commission report.”
Senator Cormann was asked to clarify if Tasmania would be worse off.
“What I have said is the Government gives this absolute guarantee to Tasmania that Tasmania won’t be a cent worse off at the end of this process,” he replied.
He then reiterated the federal Government’s commitment to what was in the budget — $190 million extra in GST revenue.
An artist’s impression of interior upgrades to the Cradle Mountain visitor centre. (Supplied)
‘Cormann’s being a little disingenuous’
Treasurer Peter Gutwein, who in October said Tasmania would be up to $1 billion worse off under changes to the GST formula, seized on Senator Cormann’s comments.
“The Finance Minister of this country has today given a cast-iron guarantee that Tasmania will not even be one cent worse off and we intend to hold them to that,” he said.
Economist Saul Eslake was less enthusiastic about Senator Cormann’s comments.
“I think Senator Cormann was being a little disingenuous,” he said.
The budget papers only contain details of GST revenue sharing for next financial year, stating that estimates beyond that were dependent on the Productivity Commission’s review into the GST distribution — something Mr Cormann yesterday was yet to read.
“Senator Cormann isn’t giving any guarantee, and he can’t give any guarantee on what Tasmania’s share of the GST is in 2020 or beyond,” Mr Eslake said.
Mr Eslake said although the Treasurer would not be worried about the implications for next year’s state budget, they should be worried.
“The possibility of adverse changes to Tasmania’s GST share arising from changes to the formula … are the biggest potential fiscal risk that the Government faces here over the medium term.”