Storm brews over TT-Line fares

THE Tasmanian Liberals have pledged to drive down Spirit of Tasmania fares by 20 per cent in a bid to turnaround falling passenger numbers.

The tourism industry welcomed the change in focus to increasing visitor numbers across Bass Strait, while Labor rubbished the policy as ``the dumbest idea they have had so far'' which put the future of the business in jeopardy. 

A Liberal government would formally instruct the state-owned TT-Line to forgo profit and set prices with ``the aim of increasing the number of visitors to Tasmania carried on the Spirit of Tasmania ferries''.

Liberal leader Will Hodgman estimated cheaper fares could attract an extra 120,000 visitors a year to Tasmania on the ferries. 

``There have been a number of recent examples of Tasmanians and visitors to our state being charged well over $1000 for two adults and their car,'' Mr Hodgman said. 

The business posted a $15 million profit in 2012-13 after collecting passenger revenue of $100 million, but almost 28,000 fewer people boarded the ships than the year before. 

Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin welcomed moves to reduce charges, but said ensuring the company remained viable in the long term would be a challenge. 

Mr Martin said the company also needed to deal with capacity constraints in the busy summer months and manage its freight load. 

TT-Line is understood to have proposed running freight-only ships across Bass Strait to free up room for more tourists but the government failed to make a decision before entering caretaker mode. 

Neither major party will reveal its plans for vessel refurbishment or replacement before the state election, frustrating the tourism industry and exporters. 

Labor Infrastructure Minister David O'Byrne said a 20 per cent drop in passenger fare revenue would plunge the company into the red and force taxpayers to cover the cost of new or refurbished vessels needed in 2017. 

``Labor has a well-established policy in government that it does not collect a dividend from TT-Line. Any profit from the Spirit of Tasmania is reinvested for the purpose of funding the replacement or refurbishment cost of its two vessels,'' Mr O'Byrne said. 

However, Mr Hodgman expected the business, which made a $25 million profit in 2011-12, to remain viable. 

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