Devil in ditched plan

The Liberal Government says it will upgrade existing passenger ferries rather than allow TT-Line to buy two freight-only ships for the Bass Strait crossing, and the change in plan is angering Tasmanian farmers and food exporters.

The previous Labor Government’s plan for the state-owned ferry operator would have increased freight capacity on the route between Tasmania and mainland Australia.

But the government now wants to spend $10m next year upgrading passenger facilities on the two existing Spirit of Tasmania ships. It denies ditching the freight ferry plan will be bad for Tasmanian exporters.

However, the Farmers and Graziers Association is seeking an urgent briefing. Chief executive, Jan Davis says farmers need the daily service to the mainland for products like milk and fruit.

 "We need to be sure the changes will not affect our shipping options across Bass Strait,” Davis said.

 "We also need to be sure there is a clear contingency plan in place for the period when one ship is out of service being fitted out next year for their new roles."  Fruit growers are seeking similar assurances.

The Government says it is working on measures to help food exporters cope with the reduced freight capacity while the ships are being refurbished.

 Labor spokesman Scott Bacon counters that the Government has provided no information about how the new plan will impact Tasmanian exporters.

But Infrastructure Minister, Rene Hidding said exporters have not been sidelined.  "TT-line currently has some 20% of the Bass Strait freight market. We've said to them, you're not to lose one scrap of that."

Premier Will Hodgman says the ferry upgrade is part of the Liberals' aim to improve Tasmania’s economy by attracting 1.5 million tourists per year by 2020.