Feds coy on equalisation

The federal government once again stops short of delivering equal freight transport links between Victoria and Tasmania

Feds coy on equalisation
Feds coy on equalisation

By Anna Game-Lopata | June 7, 2011

The federal government has once again stopped short of delivering equal freight transport links between Victoria and Tasmania, the nation’s equalisation lobby says.

The National Public Lobby, a group pushing for equalisation across Bass Strait last week met with senior federal government advisors in a push for movement on the issue.

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

Melbourne lawyer Peter Brohier, who founded the National Public Lobby as a long time proponent of equalisation, says the
delegation received an airing but no answers.

In four separate meetings with federal government and shadow transport representatives, Independent Member for Denison Andrew Wilke and Australian Greens leader Tasmanian Senator Bob Brown, Brohier says he received in principle support but no promises.

"Our impression from both Transport Minster Anthony Albanese's deprartment
and the opposition is that it’s an on-going process but a decision is on the agenda," Brohier says.

In one of the meetings, Brohier says he was questioned about the Tasmanian government’s position on equalisation.

"While we are in talks with the Tasmanian government, its position has not yet been made fully clear to us," he says.

"We would hope the Tasmanian government supports the concept of equal access to all states based on distance not terrain for the benefit of all businesses in Tasmania."

One positive outcome of the Canberra meeting however, was the recruitment of Tasmania’s Freight and Logistics Council CEO Rob McGuire to the cause.

Brohier’s National Public Lobby is calling for the existing Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme (BSPVES) across Bass Straight to be adjusted to include both freight and passenger vehicles.

Currently the BSPVES, which Brohier helped introduce, only applies to tourism-related transport.

"We need ferries across Bass Strait to be incorporated into a comprehensive all-year scheme which delivers a link to Victoria which is comparable to other interstate highway systems," Brohier says.

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

"We don’t see Bass Strait equalisation purely as a tourism initiative, we see it feeding into the development of Tasmania by encouraging investment and jobs."

"Low fares to Tasmania, which is a federal responsibility, will make Tasmania accessible and therefore increase freight volumes across Bass Strait."

The issue has become more pressing for Tasmania as the direct freight sea link to international destinations has been discontinued.

"Tasmania no longer has a direct link to Asia, so most imported and exported goods have to go through Melbourne," Brohier explains. "Tasmanian and Victorian businesses don’t have equalisation for the freight transport of consumables either north or south bound.

"We therefore don’t have fair trade between the two states."

As SCR reported earlier this year, Julia Gilllard is yet to act, despite federal money flowing, relatively untargeted, according to Brohier, into Bass Strait.

Brohier claims it’s not a matter of lacking resources given billions of dollars are going into the roads network.

"Current equalisations schemes aren’t delivering an appropriate remedy to this gap in our national surface transport network," he says. "We need to close the gap."

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 says a similar system is in place between the Canadian mainland and nearby Newfoundland.

"Rigorous controls and policies are in place to allow a process of consultation between all the stakeholders that link Newfoundland to the Canadian mainland," Broher says.

"If it’s working over there it ought to work here. Let’s fix this once and for all."

The National Public Lobby will once again travel to Canberra late in June to take up the issue with Liberal leader in the Senate Eric Abetz and Labor Senator for Tasmania Nick Sherry.

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