The Howard Coalition gained Government on core promises that Bass Strait was to be part of the National Highway. Also, to give Tasmanians transport equality to build their state and much much more.
In nearly 20 years the Coalition’s well thought out equalisation plan and scheme, covering the movement of people and vehicles in both directions, has been all but demolished.
The Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme, BSPVES was introduced with minimal conditions. The conditions did not encourage the maximization of the passenger vehicle ratio. A short time later, the bureaucracy recommended against a national highway connection because of the expense.
Forward estimates of the cost of the scheme had even exceeded actual expenditure. The Keating proposal of the day offered low cost passenger and car fares for a fraction of the cost of the BSPVES.
Then came removal from ministerial directives of the road travel equalisation formula. Limited federal monitoring soon covered less than half of those crossing. Indexation of the scheme moved from the equalising the cost of all year highway travel to CPI. In practical terms, the scheme moved the shell of cars not the people inside, or foot passengers. Then an offer of $50 each-way passenger fares was rejected at a time when cars were carried free or at minimal cost.
Then under Prime Minister Abbott came the Federal Government’s response to Productivity Commission inquiry. It all but ignored the people’s campaign for transport equality for two–way movement of people and vehicles under the BSPVES. It virtually invited those wanting changes to start the campaign all over again – all this while federal BSPVES funding continues to flow liberally into Bass Strait.
Recently, exports were highway equalized. At the same time the chance of equalisation for the movement of people was being demolished by Canberra.
With 80% of Gross Tasmanian State Product generated by service industries needing access to people, destroying sea highway equalisation makes no sense whatsoever. Has Bass Strait, described by the Coalition as the single greatest impediment to growth of population, investment and jobs for Tasmania, somewhat disappeared?
The sea highway approach, offering consistently low, all year highway based total fares, was accepted by the nation as necessary in 1996. It was sound policy then – it is sound policy now.
Sea based competition to drive passenger fares down, expected by the Coalition under the BSPVES, did not eventuate. In the absence of this competition, sea highway community service obligations delivering highway based fares need to be introduced under the BSPVES.
Interstate transport equalisation schemes and arteries are critical long term infrastructure. They are vital for social and economic reasons and integrate the colonies into a national economy by facilitating the movement of both people and freight. They meet the very purpose of federation.
Is what has now become a failed equalisation scheme, to be the Coalition’s legacy?
Vigilant control across this prime transport artery is a clear Commonwealth responsibility. The responsibility of monitoring or protecting equalisation should not be delegated or left to others.
The impact of the Coalition’s BSPVES should never have been changed without widespread national business and community support.
The Coalition would not allow the Hume Highway to be diverted by a few. Why allow this outcome to occur with the National Sea Highway?
Tasmanians need fair surface access to the full national road network on the other side of the Strait. Retention of population in Tasmania is critically also dependent upon it. All other states enjoy equal air and surface links.
The private sector needs effective interstate infrastructure to build wealth – not a largely untargeted BSPVES or to have the BSPVES turned into federal grants, suggested by some, to be spent on activities in Tasmania or elsewhere.
Without a well functioning national sea highway many of these activities have every chance of failing because of lack of access to a critical mass of people. Interstate highways, on sea or land, build whole state economies.
A few weeks ago the Prime Minister was personally asked to restore the Coalition’s plan and scheme to provide comprehensive equalisation for people and vehicles and or to implement a full National Sea Highway, using shipping.
He should do so and also enquire into the demise of a sound documented Coalition BSPVES and plan aimed at doing for people movement what the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme TFES does for freight. Erode the BSPVES and the basis for TFES is jeopardized.
With recent public comment about Canberra’s possible reduced ability to access history and formulate new policy, it is time both sound national policy and history, backed by the people and business across Australia, was remembered, understood and maintained.