State spending at full steam: O’Byrne

Nanjing Night Net

INFRASTRUCTURE Minister David O’Byrne has defended the state government’s transport achievements, saying Tasmania’s rail freight network had suffered decades of neglect in the hands of private owners.

Mr O’Byrne said this was why the government had bought the network back a few years ago and was spending record amounts to bring it up to standard.

This included $400 million in Tasrail’s below-rail infrastructure and rolling stock plus putting $77 million into a world-class road-road and road-rail container facility at Brighton.

Also, the state government had combined local port authorities into one state-owned company, Tasports, to provide more consistent pricing and record investment into infrastructure.

Mr O’Byrne said the Tasmanian Freight Equalisation Scheme was crucial for Tasmanian industry, and he was pleased federal Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese had affirmed his support for it.

On the issue of the trend to bigger ships, Mr O’Byrne said it was unlikely that smaller regions like Tasmania would be able to attract these larger container ships.

Tasports chief financial officer Geoff Duggan said the recent Deloitte report, based on information from the 2011 financial year, noted Tasports’ low level of debt when compared with other ports and its greater capacity to take on additional debt once profitability returned.

Mr Duggan said Tasports’ financial performance was significantly influenced by the state economy and reasons for the decline in revenue and profits included:

A drop in freight from 16.2 million tonnes in 2008 to 11.2 million tonnes in 2012, primarily woodchip exports.

Increased commitment to asset maintenance and renewal.

The need to maintain non-commercial assets which don’t provide a financial return but are seen as important to the Tasmanian community.

He said despite the financial restraints, Tasports spent $13 million on infrastructure and maintenance last financial year and was committed to spending on new capital projects, including the Devonport Airport upgrade and redevelopment of the Macquarie Wharf No. 2 in Hobart for cruise ships and Antarctic support services. All of these projects were funded from Tasports’ cash reserves and cash flow with no debt funding.

Mr Duggan said that in recent years Tasports had reduced debt from $33 million to $20 million, which supported a prudent balance sheet in tough economic times with enhanced capacity to gear-up to meet future challenges.

Mr O’Byrne said on the issue of dilapidated roads, more than $800 million would have been invested in roads in the six years to 2013-14, including the East Tamar Highway, Brighton bypass, Kingston bypass and North-East freight roads.

On the issue of building a world-class freight system, Mr O’Byrne said that with the exception of Tasrail and some freight on the TT-Line, the government’s role was not to provide a freight movement system, that was what private sector road, aviation and shipping companies did.

A spokesman for Mr Albanese said the way for Tasmania to regain an international shipping service was to increase freight volumes through a single port.

The spokesman said some of the federal government’s recent $20 million payment to help firms affected by the loss of international shipping could be used to improve the depth of port channels.

David O’Byrne

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