Island, shippers at loggerheads

DEPUTY Premier and Infrastructure and Transport Minister Michael Ferguson has committed the State Government to continue backing shipping services on King Island despite admitting it may continue to run at a loss. Mr Ferguson, pictured, visited King Island on Tuesday to hold talks with key stakeholders among ongoing concerns over cost and viability.

Some, including Mayor Julie Arnold, remain unconvinced the service will continue if it’s economically unviable. “I give my personal guarantee on behalf of the State Government that it will continue to support shipping services for King Island going forward,” Mr Ferguson said after the meeting.

“The Government will ensure that there is a continuation of service because the very reason that we’re in this conversation today is because the government intervened when SeaRoad withdrew its service a number of years ago. “So the service that’s being provided and the entire business that’s been created under TasPorts has all been about securing the shipping service, because it was disrupted and it was in doubt.”

Mr Ferguson was accompanied by state Liberal MP Felix Ellis and Federal Braddon MP Gavin Pearce to meet the King Island Shipping Executive. The Chief Operating Officer from TasPorts Stephen Casey also joined the group and met key customers. After a period of resistance, TasPorts CEO Anthony Donald met with King Island Shipping Executive last week. The discussions were around the changed service model by Bass Island Line (BIL) owned by TasPorts, which commenced in March. The John Duigan no longer provides a service to the mainland, instead sailing only between King Island and Devonport, which has led to increased costs to King Island residents and businesses.

Items bound for interstate destinations are transhipped via SeaRoad in Devonport. These changes were to mitigate BIL losses. Mrs Arnold had called for a three-month moratorium on freight prices and new charges so island businesses could have time look at their supply chain contracts and source Tasmanian suppliers, and to find solutions when some goods cannot be sourced in Tasmania. Mr Ferguson said the model had no choice but to change.

“BIL has been making very significant commercial losses. So it hasn’t been sustainable to continue that into the future,” he said. “We’ve taken a very careful stock of the feedback from the community, in particular key stakeholders who were involved in shipping and have a concern for the future success of reliable and affordable shipping services here. I’ve also agreed to return in coming months for further discussions. “There have been some different ideas put on the table today. But if we can work on those and report back to the community, that’s what I intend to do.

“It too will probably continue to make losses in the future, but that won’t be the basis to cease the service.” Mr Ferguson’s comments appeared to contradict the message Ms Arnold received from the meeting with Mr Donald. She said it had been made clear by Mr Donald that TasPorts and its subsidiary BIL were required to be a commercial driven entities. “They don’t see themselves with a social or community responsibility,” Ms Arnold said. “Provided it makes money they will keep a service going. If it doesn’t make money they will stop it.

“That is quite a different understanding to that the community holds. It is common for state owned businesses to have a social funtion, but TasPorts BIL does not see they have that function at all. Mr Ferguson said if there was an opportunity for a direct service to and from King Island and Victoria this would be explored and he would ask TasPorts to ensure that it was closely looked at.

Mr Morris said suggestions that came out of the meeting, included a once a month sailing out of Victoria and to take seriously the proposal to upgrade breakwater facilities at Grassy while the mine is in set up phase. “It was never going to be a viable service from the beginning with so many impediments and a ship that cannot handle the ocean,” he said. “I think the shipping group and the community needs to go with whoever prepared to provide an ocean-going vessel for our future. I think that’s the only way forward.”

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