Tasmanians demand Bass Strait link

Former National Sea Highway Committee Chair calls for basic transport equity across Bass Strait as he prepares a Canberra delegation

Tasmanians demand Bass Strait link
Tasmanians demand Bass Strait link

By Anna Game-Lopata | March 17, 2010

Basic transport equality over the Tasmanian-Victorian border is being ignored, according to Melbourne lawyer Peter Brohier, a long time proponent of equalisation.

‘Equalisation’ is the principle that travel by sea across Bass Strait should cost the same as travel on a national highway.

Brohier, who chaired the former Committee for Bass Strait Transport Equality and the National Sea Highway Committee founded the new National Public Lobby, which will meet with a senior federal government advisor in Melbourne on the issue this week.

The group plans to take a delegation of interested parties to Canberra to force Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s hand on equalisation.

"This is not about core promises not being met or a matter of funding, it is a matter of effective delivery of what was has already been promised and funded," Brohier says.

"Hard fought for Coalition promises obtained by the people of Tasmania in 1996, and continuing massive federal funding have not been taken advantage of, and sound sensible offers made by Prime Minister Howard, remain unused or rejected."

Brohier claims the current government’s "costly niche marketing" of the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme (BSPVES), which he helped introduce, is way off the mark.

"Niche marketing was not mandated as an alternative to providing basic interstate surface transport for all Australians across Bass Strait," Brohier says.

"Canberra no longer monitors or adjusts the BSPVES on the basis of interstate equalisation."

"This issue is now more pressing for Tasmania as recently the direct freight sea link to international destinations has been discontinued."

Brohier says the Commonwealth’s should apply the BSPVES to deliver comprehensive highway equivalence based on the principle that Tasmania and Victoria
should enjoy the same surface and air links as all other states.

"Full, consistently priced equalisation, for people, vehicles and freight can be delivered by Canberra in weeks by applying current equalisation policy, and utilising existing, adequate ferry infrastructure under its uncapped equalisation schemes," he says.

In addition Brohier says the federal government overlooked the Bass Strait interstate transport corridor
in its
plans for
AusLink and Infrastructure Australia, despite Victoria requesting
the inclusion.

"As Bass Strait is outside AusLink and Infrastructure Australia, it is now a matter for the current Prime Minister," Brohier says.

"However Julia Gilllard is yet to act while huge amounts of federal money continue to flow, relatively untargeted, into Bass Strait."

In a response to the issue, the Productivity Commission suggests enhancement of the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme would require an export subsidy and might contravene Australia’s international treaties.

"This interpretation makes as much sense as requiring a subsidy for the federally-funded Hume Highway’s facilitation of international freight from say Albury to the Port of Melbourne," Brohier says.

"The Hume would not be classified as an export subsidy, nor should the National Sea Highway."

Brohier argues comprehensive equalisation delivered by BSPVES would allow Tasmanian industries to enjoy immediate access to a larger domestic market as compensation for any new equalisation of southbound consumables.

"The Prime Minister has a clear obligation here, and Victoria and Tasmania have major economic and social reasons to fight for a fair outcome," Brohier says.

"There is already high level interstate business and political support obtained by the National Public Lobby for a fair and comprehensive Bass Strait link.

"The Committee for Bass Strait Transport Equality and the National Sea Highway Committee united the whole of Tasmania to fight for transport equity.

"Without it, limits are placed on the sound economic case for combining the strengths of the Victorian and Tasmanian economies."

Brohier says without a basic and fair surface transport link to the rest of Australia, the international press describes Australia’s islanders as ‘modern-day convicts’.

"What would the rest of Australia say if the Commonwealth paymaster managed the Hume Highway in this way?"

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