Bass Strait - a 250-350-kilometre wide stretch of water that separates our great state from the Australian mainland.
The stretch of water that for many years has been going to be added to, and accepted as, a part of the National Highway network of Australia. The stretch of water that the chairman of the former National Sea Highway Committee, and retired lawyer, Peter Brohier, has been highlighting through media articles for more than six years.
Peter recently said "the current National Sea Highway campaign began in 1992. By 1996, Paul Keating and John Howard gave it bipartisan support. The intention was to drop passenger and vehicle ferry fares to highway equivalence and also, to make Bass Strait part of the National highway".
In Tasmania's case, the federal government is not meeting its obligations to the people of Tasmania, by not providing the state with a fair maritime-highway-equivalent-link across Bass Strait. Over the past 20 years, the public policy supporting this transport connection has been changed substantially. Since 1996 the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme has been in place. It aimed to drop the price of ferry crossings by introducing sea-based competition. This never happened.
Since 1996 the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme has been in place. It aimed to drop the price of ferry crossings by introducing sea-based competition. This never happened.
In 2001, Howard had to reluctantly decline the introduction of a $50 passenger fare and now we are left with ferry fares that change every hour and every minute - depending on how much freight can be loaded onto the ship - and how much, or how little space, is left for passengers.
The whole focus of merging Bass Strait into the National Highway network has been lost, in favour of the BSPVES - which still results in a one-way trip for a family of four, towing a caravan to be in the thousands of dollars - and this is after the original $234 per driver, and $469 per caravan BSPVES payments are made. The passengers do not receive any BSPVES discount.
Now this per driver and caravan "discount" from fares, may satisfy some visitors coming to this state, but for the people of Tasmania who live here but rely on the Bass Strait crossing to live their lives, the BSPVES is not sufficient to bring national price equality to the crossing. The freight costs to cross Bass Strait are another issue worth looking at. It is often cheaper to have goods shipped from Asia, than from mainland suppliers. And now that we have direct shipping from international suppliers, it gives them an unfair advantage over mainland suppliers, who are also at the mercy of the heavy Bass Strait shipping costs.
This unfair advantage does not exist in any other state in Australia, as all mainland ports are connected to the national transport grid.
This is all we are asking for in Tasmania... equality with other states and territories under the National Highway network. We need the federal government to deliver the full National Sea Highway objectives as promised.
Put Bass Strait under Infrastructure Australia as part of the Hume-Midland corridor. Federal councils of both parties had a solution supported by every state branch which was a proposal for highway transport using ferries. Why, 20-plus years later, would it be so difficult to make this a reality?
Our government needs to stand up to their federal counterparts in this case and have delivered for their people the BSPVES that was always intended and was going to happen. This issue has again been in the spotlight recently, with the measures taken to stop the spread of COVID-19 resulting in a lack of tourists entering our state.
Tourism Industry Council Tasmania's chief executive Luke Martin has suggested a way to quickly rejuvenate the tourism industry after the COVID-19 pandemic - free travel on the Spirit of Tasmania.
This is just one of the initiatives put forward to the federal government for consideration in its tourism stimulus packages it is offering the states and territories.
This initiative has been supported by our Premier and might be just the ticket required to shine the spotlight on the importance of Bass Strait to the tourism industry in Tasmania. It would be a great temporary fix to an industry that has been devastated by COVID-19, but we need a long-term plan to ensure the health of the industry into the future. We need to remember that the main goal of the BSPVES was to make travel across, equal in cost to travelling the same distance on any of Australia's National Highways. This was promised by the federal government, to not disadvantage the people of Tasmania.
Temporary free travel would provide a great boost to our tourism industry, but the long-term effects of having the BSPVES adopted in its planned entirety would help ensure the future of tourism for Tasmania.
Now is the time for our government to take the battle to its federal counterparts.
- Ivan Dean, independent Windermere MLC