Passengers will never again pay another dollar to get their vehicle across the Bass Strait if Tasmania's peak tourism body has its way.
The federal election is looming, and the Tourism Industry Council Tasmania is already knocking on the doors of federal politicians across the spectrum, asking them to promise that they will permanently extend the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme.
Under the scheme, the Commonwealth pays Spirit of Tasmania operator TT-Line a subsidy for every vehicle transported across the Strait in lieu of a federally-funded highway between Victoria and Tasmania, like there is between other states.
The federal government this year gave the scheme a $6 million boost and called it the Free Car Fares initiative, which entirely covered the cost of vehicles until about halfway through the year.
TICT chief executive Luke Martin said the initiative had successfully filled the Spirit of Tasmania's ships for six months, inspiring the TICT to launch its 'Fill Our Spirits in 2022' campaign.
"This is about equality for Tasmania, while turbo charging our state's economic recovery from COVID," Mr Martin said.
"We saw during those six months just how effective this initiative was in stimulating demand for the Spirits and ensuring Tasmania can compete with the other States for the driving holiday market."
Mr Martin said restoring the value of the BSPVES was about fairness.
"The BSPVES was introduced by John Howard on the simple principle that it should cost the same to take your vehicle across Bass Strait, as it does to drive the same distance anywhere in Australia on the Federally funded National Highway Network," he said.
"Unfortunately because the BSPVES was not indexed for over a decade it has lot some of its relative value.
"Today taking your car across Bass Strait is significantly more expensive than driving the same distance between Victoria and South Australia.
"This is unfair for Tasmania, and for our tourism industry in competing with other destinations on the mainland."
Mr Martin said covering the costs of vehicle would not only benefit regional tourism, but also help increase the supply of hire cars in the state.
We know visitors who arrive by sea, stay longer, spend significantly more and disperse further into regional Tasmania.- Luke Martin, TICT
"We have two magnificent new Spirit of Tasmania ships being built that will need to be filled, and in the meantime the current ships can do more daytime sailings to meet demand.
"Right now, making it cheaper to bring your own vehicle across Bass Strait will immediately alleviate the problem with limited hire cars in the State that is presenting as a real hand break on our COVID recovery."
Bass Strait travel first became more affordable when the scheme was introduced by John Howard in 1996, a move which Mr Martin said had "kick started" the emergence of the modern Tasmanian tourism industry.
'The opportunity presents now for Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese to define their own piece of history and pave the way for a new generation of tourism investment and jobs in regional Tasmania," he said.
The Commonwealth has already set aside $53 million to spend on the scheme in 2021-22, and Mr Martin estimated the cost of extending it would add a further $20 million each year.