Island shipping row escalates

THE row over King Island’s shipping services has escalated despite a visit by TasPorts boss Anthony Donald. Mr Donald visited the island last week and is understood to have met key customers such as Group 6 Metals and Saputo. However the TasPorts boss did not meet King Island Mayor Julie Arnold. Mrs Arnold has been a fierce critic of the new arrangements.

Under new arrangements, shipping with Bass Island Line sees items needing to travel between King Island and Victoria transshipped via Devonport. Correspondence between Mr Donald and Mrs Arnold suggests the pair was unable to reach agreement over a meeting.

Mr Donald indicated he was prepared to hold a one-on-one meeting with the mayor however she suggested the appropriate course of action was to meet with the Shipping Executive. This group is tasked with formal communications regarding shipping on King Island. “This would show respect for the communication progress the business community on King Island is asking to be adhered to,” Mrs Arnold.

Mr Donald is planning further trips to King Island and said he had since contacted the chair of the King Island Shipping Group to arrange a meeting. “I have suggested a number of dates for that meeting to ensure there is sufficient time for group participants to attend and a relevant agenda be developed,” Mr Donald said. “Bass Island Line is a commercial operation subject to competition law and competes in an open market.

“Importantly, since the new operating model was introduced, the average number of TEUs carried by the service has doubled.” Ongoing concerns over costs and reliability as reported by the King Island Courier prompted Braddon Labor MP Shane Broad to raise the matter in State Parliament last week, targeting the Government’s handling of the matter. “It is clear the Deputy Premier has made a complete mess of shipping to King Island,” Dr Broad told parliament.

“Bad decisions by him and TasPorts are costing King Island businesses thousands of dollars, adding delays to their freight schedules and hurting their competitiveness. “Your Deputy Premier has apparently misrepresented the mayor, who is now demanding a public apology, and TasPorts is refusing to meet the King Island Shipping Group. Fast, reliable, affordable shipping is essential for King Island to thrive.” Dr Broad urged Premier Jeremy Rockliff to “step in and fix the mess.”

Mr Rockliff told Parliament he understood the angst and interest from islanders in respect of shipping. “There are not too many times I have attended the island over many years when shipping and freight logistics does not come up in conversation because it is very clear that King Island relies on regular and reliable sea freight services including for the key commodities such as fertiliser, coming inbound and livestock outbound,” Mr Rockliff said.

“While the nature of shipping on Bass Strait can be volatile and unpredictable, the John Duigan has operated for King Island since 2017, when the former commercial service by SeaRoad Mersey was withdrawn due to its replacement being too large to berth at Grassy. The John Duigan is owned by Bass Island Line, a subsidiary of TasPorts.

Other commercial freight shippers also service the island, including to and from Victoria. “As last year’s TasPorts annual report shows, the service has come under significant financial pressures, with low cargo levels and vessel utilisation.

During 2020-21, Bass Island Line made a net loss of some $4.4 million which was a significant factor in TasPorts’ consolidated loss of $2.2 million for the financial year. “In light of these losses, a new operating model was established in early March this year.

“The Government, as we always do, will continually work closely with TasPorts as it manages Bass Island Line, as well as with the King Island community and customers of the service.” Mr Rockliff said he anticipated discussions on the island with Mr Donald to be “very fruitful”. “We are engaged in dialogue. I understand our Minister for Infrastructure and Deputy Premier Michael Ferguson has also engaged with the King Island mayor, and we will always work with the King Island community to ensure a regular, consistent and affordable King Island shipping service.”

The Mayor, however, has taken issue with a public statement issued by Mr Ferguson. In particular, a reference to calls for the Government “to intervene in a commercial market to set prices that undercut a commercial competitor”.

In an email sent to several MPs including the Minister, Mrs Arnold said she had never suggested this. “I have asked that there be an embargo on charging the new prices, ie Tasports continue to pick up the different in costs for three months until customers had a chance to change business supply chains where possible,” Mrs Arnold said. She has demanded the Minister provide evidence of her comments or provide a published apology.

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