The Coalition Government under Abbott refused to follow the lead of Howard and Keating unnecessarily dividing our nation and savagely limiting growth in the Tasmanian economy. Will the Government under Turnbull choose a wiser course?

Peter Brohier, Convener of National Sea Highway Groups, largely responsible for the introduction of the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalization Scheme BSPVES said today, “Tasmania is the only state not connected to the National Highway. In 1996, the Howard Coalition accepted that Bass Strait was the greatest barrier to the growth of population, investment and jobs for Tasmania. It offered to make this link part of the National Highway and to lower and maintain the cost of travel, by shipping, to that of road travel.

Despite massive ongoing federal funding from 1996 under the BSPVES, the scheme no longer delivers any form of equalisation and the Abbott Government refused, despite its name, to restore equalisation using it.

Recently the Government rejected the two way highway equalisation intentions of the scheme to move people and vehicles, while it equalised more freight movements. Contributors of 80% of gross state product need access to people but are denied fair access to the mainland population at their doorstep. Under the current Government, the nation may need to wait perhaps another 20 years to have the critical Bass Strait barrier removed. This approach is not reflective of a working democracy and sound economic management.

Policies for free and fair trade, competition between air and sea travel, and freedom of movement of people across the Victorian – Tasmanian border are neither addressed nor considered. Coastal shipping reform can never offer the certainty and fairness of access required on an inter-capital interstate route without sensible highway equalisation policies. Canberra could not survive without both fair air and surface links, nor can Tasmania.

The Coalition Government seems to prefer that federal taxpayers fund the inefficient movement of the shell of cars, at $430 return, without addressing the cost of travel of the people inside or foot passengers. Howard and Keating policies tried to efficiently address both. Today there is every resource to start fairly linking our nation and closing the only interstate gap in our National Highway. Canberra’s responsibility under federation is to integrate the nation’s economy through the interstate movement of both people and freight.

Federal governance that allows a publically initiated and supported scheme with initially clear Coalition equalisation objectives to be redirected to largely benefit others, with almost no controls and inadequate monitoring is unacceptable. Bass Strait equalisation schemes offer limited coverage and are now a disgrace and Canberra’s way forward has been no better.

Sound sea highway policies, not those that lack vision or transparency and encourage further waste are needed. New leadership under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull can and should make this a priority for change. Labor should also not remain silent.”