Travellers call for a fair go on Bass Strait costs

THEY were meant to be enjoying their holiday - instead, interstate and Tasmanian tourists united yesterday to protest against the cost of travelling across Bass Strait.

About 50 travellers and tourism operators met at the Longford Riverside Caravan Park to share their frustrations and sign a petition calling for Bass Strait and the Spirit of Tasmania ferries to be totally subsidised by the federal government as part of the national highway system.

Canberra's Trish Tarlinton, who organised the meeting, said it was becoming increasingly difficult to visit her Launceston-based daughter and grandchildren.

``It's not the same as it used to be, it's ridiculously expensive. When we went to China to visit our other daughter, it cost us $1500 - it cost us $1800 to bring our caravan here and we've spent spent $3500 here since we arrived,'' Mrs Tarlinton said.

``If we decided to drive from Canberra to Perth it would just cost us petrol and we could pack up and go that afternoon, but here we have to book months in advance and we lose money if we have to make a change.''

Mrs Tarlinton said if Bass Strait was part of the national highway and there was a continuous ferry service - without the Spirit of Tasmania's ``unnecessary'' luxuries - more people would be encouraged to visit the state.

Caravan park owner Anne O'Hara said she had seen the cost of travelling across Bass Strait stop many from travelling to Tasmania - including her own family.

Former Southern Midlands mayor Colin Howlett said he had seen the cost of travel have an enormous impact, both as an Orford bed-and-breakfast owner and a Queensland property owner.

``People in Orford and Queensland often tell me that their biggest handicap and obstacle to coming here is travelling that stretch of water,'' Mr Howlett said.

A spokesman for federal Infrastructure and Transport Minister Anthony Albanese said the existing model provided the best deal for the state's economy and tourists.

``Indeed, under federal Labor, the scheme has been revamped with the introduction of annual indexation of rebate that's available to tourists,'' the spokesman said.

``Over the last five years we have increased the rebate by 20 per cent and paid out more than $140 million in assistance.''

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