Freight fears for Tasmanian farmers

TASMANIAN farmers fear they will be slugged even higher freight charges as a result of moves to privatise the Port of Melbourne.

Port of Melbourne

Port of Melbourne

The Victorian government announced yesterday it would offer a long-term lease for the Port of Melbourne to a private operator to take advantage of a federal government financial incentive for states that offload state-owned assets. 

Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association chief executive Jan Davis said the news sent shock waves through farmers who had no choice but to use the Port of Melbourne to deliver produce to the mainland or the rest of the world. 

``Farmers fear there will be steeper increases in charges for handling their produce than if the port had stayed in government hands, yet there is no alternative port available,'' Ms Davis said. 

Tasmanian exporters have already been hit with big increases in shipping their goods across Bass Strait due to a Port of Melbourne fee increase in 2012 and the absence of a direct international link.

Ms Davis said Tasmania was the biggest single customer of the Port of Melbourne with up to 30 per cent of freight passing through the port either destined for or dispatched from Tasmania. 

Nearly half of that _ 12 per cent of all movements _ comes from Tasmanian farmers.

``While a private enterprise operator might be expected to run a more efficient port administration, they would also seek to maximise profits,'' Ms Davis said.

``There is no incentive for savings to be passed through to farmers, or other customers.''

She urged Premier Will Hodgman to lobby his Victorian counterpart to ensure farmers and exporters were not exploited. 

The Tasmanian Liberal government yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to keep Tasmanian assets, including ports, in state hands. 

Asked if the Tasmanian government would seek a briefing from its Victorian counterpart about the implications for Tasmanian freight, Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff said: ``This is a government that always stands up for Tasmania.

``We know that freight costs for Tasmanian exporters are too high and that is why we have a clear plan to invest $30 million to bring those export costs down.''

The Liberals have promised to restore a direct international shipping service from Tasmania to Asia, to avoid going through Melbourne, by providing up to $11 million a year for three years to underwrite the service.

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