Tasmanian Times

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. No price is too high for the privilege of owning yourself. ~ Friedrich Nietzsche


The people’s case for transport equity

On the 28th of April 2016, the Prime Minister’s office confirmed that the Federal Government is not considering further changes to the operation of the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalisation Scheme (BSPVES). Also, it was meeting that day with the Tasmanian Government to discuss a joint approach to Tasmania’s economic future and that the Tasmanian Government have not raised the BSPVES as an issue or priority.

The Federal Government is currently running a media campaign demonstrating the importance of the billions spent on national infrastructure. Road and rail are covered. Ferries are not. This year is the 20th anniversary of a major federal scheme that was aimed at delivering a national highway connection to and from Tasmania, using ferries. The attached opinion piece demonstrates the failure of this scheme and its social, economic and national implications. This issue is timely, of national importance and involves four Prime Ministers. The matter has currently reached the Prime Minister’s office …

Marking the 20th anniversary of the Federal Bass Strait passenger and vehicle equalization scheme, introduced in August 1996.

In the early 1990’s, a group of Tasmanians called on the Federal Government to provide transport equality across Bass Strait.

The people and businesses of Tasmania sought a ferry connection to the mainland that would cost the same for people and passenger vehicles as travelling an equal distance on a road.

This was a reasonable request as all other states and regions were connected by the national highway network costing federal taxpayers billions of dollars.

Existing federal Bass Strait schemes had ignored the movement of people. Air services did not have to compete with surface travel as on other interstate links.

Over a century ago, convicts had been transported from England to Tasmania.

In 1901, Tasmania had joined with the other colonies to create a nation of equal states.

In the ensuing years, sea lanes that connected the colonies were largely replaced by land transport.

The island colony, the second to be established by England in the region, continued to remain reliant on sea connections.

With federal Bass Strait funding not being directed by Canberra to close the only interstate gap in the nation’s transport network, families and friends were needlessly separated over the shortest interstate inter-capital route in the nation.

Severe economic and social problems resulted.

People sometimes could not afford to leave the island with a vehicle after a year of saving. Some needed the support of charities. The costs of crossing by sea varied substantially.

Ferry services were no match for other, all-year consistently priced, interstate land connections.

The people trusted in the processes of democracy and in their political leaders.In the 1996, the people’s argument was very successful.

A multi-billion dollar national transport equalization scheme and promises of an equitable way forward were obtained. This covered the movement of both people and vehicles. The Coalition gave undertakings to ensure on-going interstate transport equality.

They said Bass Strait would be part of the national highway network.

After the Martin Bryant massacre, an equalization scheme was introduced. The cost of ferry travel reduced substantially and economic activity increased so much so that world attention focused on this reversal in fortune.

The people’s and Coalition’s story became largely the driver of the Bacon era’s success story.

Since then the interstate transport system proposed and well funded has been eroded. The Federal Government encouraged and indirectly funded and monitored leisure holidays with a vehicle by sea to Tasmania, but not every day, two-way access as if on a road.

Undertakings to deliver transport equalization through further sea-based competition failed to eventuate.

Today, there is almost no chance of a sea highway connection being directed by Canberra based on highway fare equivalence.

The equalization scheme the people obtained remains in name only. It largely now mainly benefits extraneous or far more limited interests. It is not fair that the benefits of the many thousands of hours of the people’s labour be directed to others.

Tasmania has the biggest population corridor in the nation at its doorstep. It could be largely self supporting if properly connected to the rest of the nation.

Instead, it seems Tasmania will now largely rely on Federal Government grants.
Is it fair that the natural and developed strengths of the island are to be continually wasted while federal taxpayers pay for subsidies?

It does not make sense to deprive service activities and industries needing people from direct access to the people that a national sea highway could bring. These activities currently generate about 75% of the gross product of Tasmania.

Over the years, the people of Tasmania have continued to ask for transport equality to be restored.

Few in Canberra seemed to listen.

Every possible ingredient, including uncapped, demand driven federal funding, and underutilized infrastructure capable of properly connecting the island with a national sea highway, is and has been in place for many years.

All that is needed is a simple change in a federal ministerial directive making funding conditional on national highway outcomes. Building a bridge is not needed.

With a highway-based ferry connection, economic and social change would follow rapidly.

Prime Ministers Keating and Howard tried to help by offering enough funding and policy capable of delivering a full national sea highway. Prime Minister Abbott even tried to establish a Productivity Commission inquiry capable of investigating the issue.

The inquiry failed to properly address the sea highway option by suggesting Canberra first clarify the purpose of its passenger and vehicle equalization scheme. Unfortunately, Canberra confirmed otherwise, ignoring the context under which the scheme was introduced.

Over the years, despite supporting documentation, the people have faced a campaign of vilification, rejection and denial in continuing their fight for transport equality.

Even though the principle of free and fair trade across the world is advanced by Australia, It is not delivered between Victoria and Tasmania.

The Federal Government recently enhanced its Tasmanian freight equalization scheme to cover exports. However, consumables and some imports that the people of Tasmania need to just live and do business have been excluded from that scheme for three decades.

In the absence of sea-based competition, Canberra is still refusing to act to equalize the movement of people and vehicles.

Freight used in the production process is covered by the Federal freight scheme. Under Prime Minister Turnbull, will people now need to be transported in freight trucks, to qualify for equalization?

In Malcolm Turnbull’s new economy are people to matter least?

It seems the campaign for equitable transportation of people should now fade into history or not even remain in the history books of the nation.

Billions of dollars are flowing into the transport network around Australia but they are not being directed to deliver transport equality to and from Tasmania.

Is it fair that a group of people who gathered a quarter of a century ago start their campaign again? Should they wait another quarter of a century to make the most reasonable of requests a reality in a working democracy?

A simple ferry system, delivering all-year travel costs based on the cost of highway travel, would be sufficient to promptly drive the whole Tasmanian economy. It would also benefit Victoria.

Tasmania is supposed to be an equal state in a federation.

It has been largely founded through transportation. Its people have family links throughout Australia. It is ironic that it cannot now obtain sufficient transportation to effectively integrate its peoples and economy into the rest of the nation. This surely was, is and must be the very purpose of federation.

Must those on the island now ask the Queen to use the royal prerogative to commandeer sufficient ferries to equitably link the island?

Or, in the absence of justifiable and proper transport links, should the people ask to unravel the federation of the nation and seek to return to the governance of Westminster?

Prime Minister Turnbull, surely sound commercial sense could be added to commonsense, national business and political support and mandates to fulfill the Howard promises for transport equality given two decades ago?

Or, is there no place in the new economy to just give all Australians fair access to the whole of their country, not just part of it?

The democracy that worked well for Tasmania and the Coalition in 1996 is now turning very sour.
*Peter Brohier: Winner of the AHA Tasmania award for outstanding services to tourism, and for achieving a national sea highway. Peter and his team were described as the lobbyists that had beaten the nation’s best in 1996 (Sydney Morning Herald). Acknowledged as the person most responsible for the introduction of the Bass Strait Passenger Vehicle Equalization Scheme by Tasmania’s Premier Lennon ( Hansard, House of Assembly, Tasmania). Peter is a Tasmanian by birth and is now based in Melbourne.

Author Credits: [show_post_categories parent="no" parentcategory="writers" show = "category" hyperlink="yes"]


  1. A.K.

    May 2, 2016 at 10:38 am

    #5, canola oil (rapeseed) produces one of the least amounts of oil from seed, less than 25% and requires specific growing conditions, chemical fertilisers and good quality land to produce even that amount of oil.

    On the other hand, a weed like wild radish which grows on just about any land in tas, produces over 50% usable oil.

    When devising a service like this where you are going to make long runs, like to Singapore, a smart operator would ensure they had supplies of oil along the route. It would be easy to get Aus farmers to grow good seed oil plants as a secondary crop to feed the freight ferries and as they would be using unprocessed oils, costs are even lower. There are tropical seed oils which could easily be grown around the route which produce huge amounts of burnable oil, what most people forget, is the seed used for cooking oils etc, are not the best for use in engines and we could also collect used oil round Aus for fuel.

    By utilising our used cooking oils, we could also reduce out dependence on fossil oils until we got the technology right for a better form of shipping propulsion.

    It’s one thing to do some research to debunk an idea, utilising 19th century understanding and not lateral innovative thinking. That’s our major problem, minds stuck in the sand and determine to go down with the ship, to protect their primitive ideological insanity. Which is where our political and elitist system sits.

    Of course, I’m sure others have mush better ways to reduce costs, increase income, keep our money in the state and provide for a future which will see fossil fuels become unviable within just a few short years.

    Actually, Doug, I have a viable alternative for every aspect of our society. Which is easy to do, if you are capable of stepping outside denialist programming and into the future.

    You can be sure that the Aus political system will continue to put Tas at the bottom of the list and that goes for everything. So we either take care of our own future, or we sink and that’s where our political system is taking us. Along with the refusal of people to step out of their fearful enslavement to fantasy and delusion.

    Naturally, this wold take a couple of years to set up a proper supply line, because of the speed we could deliver freight to and from Singapore and Aus ports, we would be have to develop it using fossil fuels to begin with and still make a good profit.

    Look forward to hearing your ideas to overcome our shipping problems, rather than as most, who put down ideas and never have any themselves.

  2. Doug Nichols

    May 1, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    #1, Regarding your plan to run a fleet of large catamarans using seed oil, I just did some quick research on the Internet for some basic facts and figures.

    Canola oil production at its best yields about 1400 litres per hectare.

    A big catamaran uses nearly 7000 litres of diesel per hour. It would require more seed oil than that, but we’ll be kind and stick with 7000 litres.

    If you run it for 10 hours per day 365 days a year, it would require the output from around 180 square kilometres of cropping land.

    Tasmania has about 630 square kilometres of cropping land, so one catamaran would chew up about 30% of our cropping land. You want five or six of them.

    Do you have any other creative suggestions for our future?

  3. Richard Kopf

    April 30, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    I agree with Peter Brohier complettely. In terms of perceived hand outs, here is just one example that demonstrates that Tasmania is being unfairly treated.
    An unfair subsidy?
    There are precedents. In 2015 we were exposed to the “Infrastructure Prime Minister’s” Tony Abbot’s proposed expenditure on major highways in other States. One example of many, the Commonwealth is providing up to $6.7 billion through its Fix the Bruce Highway Policy over 10 years to 2022-23.

    Of Queensland’s 4.05 m population, 3.05m, all but 1.0m, live in the South East. Less than half of that million are served by the Bruce Highway.

    The Bruce Highway therefore services a population similar to that of Tasmania. They have an existing highway, we have none. They have trains parallel to the road, we have none. $6.7bn over 10 years would do wonders for Bass Strait Shipping and particularly the residents of Tasmania.

    Treating Bass Strait as a National Highway means that Tasmania should get a fair share of road funding, equivalent to its population size, not a handout at taxpayers’ expense.
    It can be argued that the Bruce Highway expenditure is justified by the fact that it carries more freight than the existing ships carry to and from, Tasmania. I contend that Tasmania’s potential is unable to be reached without a sea road just as Northern Queensland would suffer without their transport infrastructure.
    Our Senators have the ability to bring a proper Sea Road into existence, if they were truly State representatives, as was intended at Federation, not party hacks.

  4. A.K.

    April 29, 2016 at 10:19 pm

    #2, sadly you have the same negative attitude that is representative of those who have got us into the horrible situation regarding our freight and ferry services.

    Innovation and taking responsibility for our own future is the only way to go. As for infrastructure at ports, that’s a simple thing to overcome. Because of the shallow draught of the cats, it would be easy to install loading facilities within the cats. That way they could operate just about anywhere.

    The rest of your post is what you’d expect from those incapable of forward thinking and desperate to maintain the idiotic status quo driving us to oblivion.

  5. Chris

    April 29, 2016 at 12:55 pm

    Who will pay for the infrastructure for all these sea sick boats and how many seamen will have to be recruited at $2.50 an hour, or is it day, to compete with the “new” coastal shipping regime where Australian seamen have been replaced with overseas slaves to improve the profit of largely overseas shipping monopolies, do not expect the MT prime minister to be sympathetic to your ideas as the Cayman ports are shelters for money not produce?
    I think that a ferry service as envisaged by Peter is vital, but who expects any lieliberals to advocate a public service, rather subsidize a spanish takeover in an asylum seeker venue and hope they dont all go mad in the meantime, an idea that may have entered MT’s head as he shucked a “Tasmanian” oyster which could have been like a certain deceased refugee kilpatrick!

  6. A.K.

    April 29, 2016 at 10:38 am

    There is no way we can expect the Australian government to support Tas, we are at the bottom of the list for everything and will remain that way. We have to take the initiative and do it ourselves, so we can produce a sea transport system the envy of the planet and make money out of it.

    This is very easy to do, we get Incat to design and built 3-5 x 150+m fast cats, designed for freight and some passengers and 1-2 x 150m passenger/car cats which would do fast runs to Melbourne and keep at least on of the current ferries for cheaper overnight sailing experiences.

    The freight cats would operate all round Aus and to Singapore carrying freight at 3 times the speed of others and at a much lower cost, because we would fuel them with our own home grown seed oil fuel. This would reduce costs considerably, making our shipping service the fastest and cheapest around. We could have cats running each way round Aus stopping at every major port to collect and deliver freight, increasing our income and reducing costs dramatically. It would also keep all our money in the state and not constantly flowing out to greedy multinationals.

    There are no problems that can’t be solved with a little forethought and innovative long term viable idea’s. Relying on the current political system and the fatalistic fools running us into oblivion, is 19th century thinking and not 21st century.

Leave a Reply

To Top