Strait highway recognition vital

BASS Strait must be recognised as part of the national highway, otherwise the latest inquiry will do nothing to address the  freight costs and problems faced by Tasmania, according to the National Sea Highway Coalition.

The coalition was represented by Devonport Mayor Steve Martin, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association's Robert Bayles and the Real Estate Institute of Tasmania's Robert Harrison at  the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Tasmanian Shipping and Freight public hearing in Launceston yesterday.

Alderman Martin said that without the federal government recognition of the strait as a continuation of the highway, the exorbitant cost and related problems for businesses in Tasmania would continue.

He said there was no equity in the system and Tasmanian businesses and people suffered because of it.

``The cost of doing business across Bass Strait is what's holding us back,'' Alderman Martin said.

Mr Bayles said previous statements about the state becoming the food bowl of the country could never happen under the present system because the freight equalisation scheme didn't go far enough.  It wasn't only an issue for sea freight but also that carried by air. Alderman Martin said that if the strait was recognised as part of the highway,  the scheme wouldn't be needed  because there wouldn't be massive cost differences.

Bell Bay Aluminium general manager Ray Mostogl told the inquiry that the business was paying considerably more than other locations to get the same material to market.

Mr Mostogl used  examples of the associated costs for exporting from the state compared with Gladstone, WA. He cited towage costs in Gladstone as about $8000 against Bell Bay's $33,000. 

Wharf access in Gladstone was  $8350, but Bell Bay was $18,000. ``This is for the same ship, same load and same journey,'' Mr Mostogl said.

``The Tasmanian economy is the most trade-exposed in Australia.

``We need to have a freight system that is competitive and effective and continues to grow the economy, because without it, it could be a very sad state of affairs.''

The hearing continues in Launceston today and Canberra on Monday.

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