THE state Liberals will not back an $8 million upgrade to the Burnie port, saying that the priority is restoring an international shipping link.
At the weekend, Resources Minister Bryan Green announced that TasPorts had bought the former Gunns woodchip loader at Burnie and that tenders would be called this week for a Burnie port upgrade.
The upgrade, to be funded by government- owned TasRail and TasPorts and transport company Toll, will increase port container capacity, expand the railyard and improve port security and traffic management.
TasPorts chief executive Paul Weedon outlined to a parliamentary hearing a similar plan in 2011, which he said should be signed off in early 2012.
The upgrade comes despite the Tasmanian Exporters Group saying in December that the existing Bell Bay container facility was dormant.
Further, the minister in charge of TasPorts, Infrastructure Minister David O'Byrne, told the 2011 parliamentary hearing that Burnie would eventually be unable to handle demand and Bell Bay (near George Town) was the long-term option.
Yesterday Opposition infrastructure spokesman Rene Hidding did not directly answer questions regarding possible Liberal support for the Burnie expansion.
Mr Hiddings said Labor and the Greens were "no friend to industries that rely on freight", but the Liberals had a $33 million plan to restore an international shipping link.
He said that "only the Liberals believe in a future for Bell Bay".
Mr O'Byrne said yesterday that the Burnie upgrade would fix safety issues, increase productivity and make better use of its existing spaces, and was a response to market needs.
"Our support for the Bell Bay port, which saw some 180 predominantly bulk commodity port calls last year, is unwavering," Mr O'Byrne said.
He said the government was upgrading the port's railway and he was hopeful that an international shipping link could be re- established at Bell Bay.