Tasmanian exporters push for extension of freight equalisation support

By: Rob McKay

Transport through Melbourne backed over direct shipping option.

Tasmanian exporters push for extension of freight equalisation support
Tasmanian infrastructure minister Renee Hidding backs Bell Bay.


Tasmanian exporters have urged the State Government to press for extended freight equalisation support rather than continue searching for direct shipping links with Asia.

A grouping of five major organisations, the Tasmanian Logistics Committee, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, the Tasmanian Minerals and Energy Council, the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania and the Tasmanian Industry Group (TIG), has called for the move, which was a recent Productivity Commission recommendation.

In Opposition, Tasmania’s Liberal Party pledged to tackle the extra costs exporters faced due to having to ship through the Port of Melbourne, with new infrastructure minister Rene Hidding reiterating the case for direct shipping after March’s state election.

Eight months later, such a deal is yet to emerge.

Now, following the visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping and the signing of a national trade liberalisation agreement, the groups have publically backed exports through Melbourne as the best option due to regular and frequent sailings to Asian market.

The intervention complicates the State Government’s efforts to return Bell Bay to prominence as a container port, as almost all Tasmanian container trade is conducted through Devonport.

That push gained impetus two weeks ago when rail operator TasRail awarded developer Hazell Bros the contract to build the $7 million Bell Bay intermodal terminal, in a move that federal infrastructure and regional development minister Warren Truss and Hidding hailed.

"The terminal will provide current and future customers with more freight options, which will boost economic productivity," Truss says.

"The fact that this significant contract has gone to one of Tasmania's largest construction companies, Hazell Bros Pty Ltd, delivers a further boost to Tasmania's construction industry."

Hidding cast the project is an example of the state investing in infrastructure to help grow the economy.

"The Tasmanian Government is investing $1.8 million in the terminal expansion, with the Australian Government providing $5.2 million through a national partnership agreement," Hidding says.

"The Bell Bay intermodal terminal is already shovel-ready, with works expected to start within weeks."

TasRail has been responsible for progressing the project, including completing design works, negotiating with adjacent landowners for land acquisitions and completing tender documentation.

 "A number of the State’s key exporters have already indicated they would be unable to utilise a direct service in their submissions into the Productivity Commission’s Tasmanian Shipping and Freight Review.

"Delay in getting goods to market and existing contractual arrangements, limited global port access, concerns over access to equipment, limited warehousing in Tasmania and market competition were some of the large causes for concern that a single ship solution raises."

The group is concerned that, without support from key exporters, doubt remains over the viability of such a service.

"Extension to the TFES is fundamental to leveraging new opportunities and investments in Tasmania. With the great success of the TasInvest initiative, together with the signing of MOU’s with China and the recently announced free trade agreement, we need to solve the freight bottleneck that will hold these opportunities back," TIG executive director Daniel Leesong says.

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