New push for sea highway

Written By miftah nugraha on Kamis, 14 Februari 2013 | 19.55

Bass Strait forces an extra impost on travel and export that no other state has to deal with. Image: Google Maps

A 20-YEAR fight to have Bass Strait treated as part of the national highway system will play out on the national stage next month.

Denison Independent MP Andrew Wilkie will present a motion to Federal Parliament on March 18 for the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation scheme to be extended to include all people, freight and trade.

Veteran sea highway campaigner Peter Brohier said the cost of extending the scheme was "trivial" compared with the billions spent on interstate road links.

Mr Brohier said the parliamentary motion was a significant step forward and put the sea highway debate in the context of the federation of colonies and the national economy.

Mr Brohier said Bass Strait was Commonwealth water and the cost of the initiative should not be borne by any one state.

The Australian Greens say they will now submit a proposal to the Parliamentary Budget Office to estimate the costs of extending the TFE scheme.

Senator Peter Whish-Wilson said the costs associated with Bass Strait freight had plagued Tasmania since before federation and successive state and federal programs had failed to provide a sustainable long-term solution, such as a self-funding model.

The Bass Strait freight equalisation scheme cost taxpayers more than $100 million last year alone.

If that continued the bill for freight subsidies would top $1 billion dollars during the next decade, Mr Whish-Wilson said.

Foot passengers, passengers in vehicles, some vehicles, southbound consumables and international exports from Tasmania are not covered by the existing equalisation scheme.

Mr Wilkie's formal notice of motion was seconded by Queensland Independent Bob Katter.

It includes a call for Canberra to acknowledge that transport across Bass Strait is currently disproportionately expensive and was a disincentive to the movement of both people and freight.

The proposed extension of the TFE scheme would include the affordable movement of all trade intended for both domestic and international import and export.

Mr Brohier, who is based in Melbourne, first started his campaign for transport justice for Tasmania in 1992.

"The existing federal Bass Strait equalisation schemes are not delivering comprehensive equalisations or the equivalent of even the worst road in Australia," he said yesterday.

Mr Brohier said a new sea highway would give Tasmania the ability to more effectively contribute to the Commonwealth.

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