Ire over silence on Spirit future

TASMANIA'S tourism industry is frustrated that voters will go to the election not knowing the major parties' stance on the future of the state-owned operator of the Spirit of Tasmania ferries.

Labor and the Liberals have baulked at making a decision on TT-Line's vessels that are due to be replaced in 2017.

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said that wasn't good enough given that the Bass Strait ferries were a critical economic lever within the state's control.

``In previous state elections, it's been a major vote-changing issue particularly in the North-West,'' Mr Martin said. ``It would be extraordinarily unusual if we go to an election and neither party is going to present a direction on one of the most critical pieces of infrastructure to the state.''

``It's going to be a major investment for the state in the next four years.''

Mr Martin said passengers from the ferries were crucial to stimulating regional economies.

Labor confirmed yesterday it would make no policy announcements on TT-Line before March 15, despite being handed the business's final proposal in December.

Infrastructure Minister David O'Byrne has said more time was needed to work on it.

The Examiner understands the government had been considering approving a trial of one or two freight-only vessels which would allow the ferries to boost passenger numbers as well as provide quick delivery for fresh produce.

Liberal infrastructure spokesman Rene Hidding said his party could not make a decision without access to the full information provided by TT-Line and Treasury.

``However, we will be having more to say about passenger transport across Bass Strait before the election,'' Mr Hidding said. That may include changes to fares and the level of services.

The Greens have proposed a $100,000 feasibility study into replacing the existing ships with a large, superfast catamaran.

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