Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Bass Strait Freight Equalisation
I rise to express my disappointment with the Labor Party and the coalition for their refusal to select my motion on Bass Strait freight equalisation for debate and a decision. That we in this place should be interested in and concerned with the affordable and efficient transport of people, vehicles and freight between the states of the Commonwealth should be a given. Moving things across Bass Strait in particular should be something that many federal members of parliament and, indeed, all Tasmanian members of parliament should be very pleased to engage in. But clearly it is not, because today we have learned that the Selection Committee, which has sat for months on my motion to fix the deficiencies in the Bass Strait freight equalisation scheme, has decided not to bring on the motion. It seems that the Labor and Liberal parties do not care about the difficulties of Bass Strait and, by implication, do not care about Tasmania.
Some members may think there is no need for any further discussion on Bass Strait freight equalisation because previous parliaments have looked at it. They may be satisfied that the 1976 Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme is sufficient for the needs of those who must cross Bass Strait. But that is simply not the case, because the current scheme is not funded to a level that allows for competitive trading by Tasmanian companies.
The result is that many Tasmanian businesses are doing it really hard right now, and some are going to the wall. Some businesses are even leaving the state. The plight of exporters in particular highlights a particular failing of the current scheme. In essence, goods made in Hobart destined for a foreign market attract no subsidy for the Bass Strait leg even though much of Tasmania's exports must transit through Melbourne. But, as I have said previously, the cost of the short leg across Bass Strait is often half of the total transport cost from southern Tasmania to destinations as distant as North America and North Asia. Clearly, to not be providing any assistance to these businesses is unacceptable, not to mention patently unfair.
In many cases, the statistics are staggering. I have given specific examples in this place before of real businesses and real people in my state struggling with the transport costs: for instance, when two-thirds of the total freight cost for items coming from Brisbane and Perth is being spent on the Bass Strait voyage alone or when three-quarters of the cost to export containers from Hobart to China is just to make the trip from Hobart to Melbourne, or when five to 10 per cent of the price exporters receive per kilogram or per litre goes to the transport cost for the disproportionately small trip just across the strait.
Besides business, there is an entire dimension that the current scheme does not even consider, and that is passenger transport. That is why my motion, which has been left to die on the Notice Paper, sought to bring Bass Strait into the national highway network and apply a subsidy to all freight, all vehicles and all people crossing the strait. From a social perspective this is necessary to reduce the isolation of the Tasmanian community from the rest of the country, but from an economic perspective this would cause untold gains for tourism in Tasmania by bolstering the inbound numbers that would travel around in their vehicles in Tasmania and would boost the flagging businesses outside Hobart and Launceston. The positive flow-on effects of genuine and effective cost equalisation to and from Tasmania are countless, and it is terribly disheartening, in light of all of these benefits, that neither major party wants to engage with the issue. What makes their decision not to entertain my motion even more disappointing is that there are many Tasmanian and Victorian members of this House who could have applied pressure to ensure that this motion was brought before the parliament. I would have expected those members in particular to fight for their communities and for local industries. With so little time left in this parliament, my motion is condemned to obscurity, and that is a great shame—not just because we did not have the opportunity to debate and to vote on it but also because of what this whole sorry saga tells about the commitment of the Labor and Liberal parties to the difficulties posed by Bass Strait and the welfare of Australia's magnificent southern state more generally.