Tasmanians are dependent on the freight capacity of the two Spirit of Tasmania ships that move products - and people - across Bass Strait every day. However, over recent years, it has been increasingly clear that the capacity of these ships has not been keeping up with rapidly growing demand.
In 2017, the state government announced that TT-Line would purchase two new Spirit of Tasmania ferries with 40 per cent greater capacity to meet the growing needs of our tourism and freight sectors. These new vessels were expected to be delivered in 2021/2022.
For time-sensitive businesses like berries, fresh vegetables and salmon, this was welcome news.
Pre Covid-19, the Spirits were already at capacity for six months of the year. Many sectors were experiencing significant bottlenecks in moving freight and space for tourists was at a premium. With air freight capacity almost non-existent at present, sea freight is the only means of getting products to market and inputs into the state.
However, the government announced recently that the arrival of the new ships has been pushed out to 2028, leaving agriculture and aquaculture businesses in limbo and putting job creation on hold just when we need it most.
Agriculture is the key growth sector in our state economy and independent reports consistently confirm the high levels of investment in agriculture and aquaculture. This means that there will be growing demand for freight services to deliver increasing quantities of fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, dairy products, meat, wine, nuts - you get my drift.
The Spirits are not like the Tardis - you can't just open the front door and keep pouring more tourists in without impacting on freight services. Industry needs to understand the precise details of the plan to secure our freight services and to ensure that there is sufficient capacity to meet increasing demand. Importantly, we also need to understand the level of consultation that had taken place with the private shipping lines that service Tasmanian freight requirements.
The Bass Strait route is our highway for Tasmanian industries. Farmers - and many other businesses - have few options for transporting the top quality produce that has made our name in markets overseas. And there is no time to waste. Time, tide - and perishable produce - wait for no one.