The state government’s decision to try to involve Australian and Tasmanian boatbuilders in the Spirit of Tasmania replacement project displays a welcome intent to support local manufacturing.
Over the past few months I’ve been conducting a Tasmania Back in Business campaign which has involved meeting and speaking with business and industry, local government and everyday Tasmanians about how we can recover from the COVID-19 economic crisis and capitalise on opportunities that arise from a dramatically changed global environment.
Supporting more local production and manufacturing has been near the top of the list for people I’ve spoken to. It’s therefore surprising that the initial reaction by much of the commentariat was to criticise the Gutwein government’s decision to establish a task force to give Tasmanian companies a chance to have greater involvement in the replacement of the Spirits.
We know the easy, status quo option for manufacturing is often to buy from overseas. We also know with COVID-19 putting many people out of work and pressure on local businesses, Tasmanians want to challenge the status quo and think outside the square when it comes to giving our manufacturers a chance. And that’s what the Tasmanian government’s decision does.
While there are no guarantees for Tasmanian businesses, the fact Incat has welcomed the opportunity to put forward options to be involved in a project worth $650 million shows the Gutwein government’s decision is worthwhile.
As we all know, and Bob Clifford confirmed, Australia doesn’t build 200-plus metre steel hulled passenger ships (Talking Point, July 24).
But is that the only option for TT-Line? The task force investigations give us the chance to find out. In a time of historic challenges for our economy, the potential pay-off of Tasmanian involvement is too big not to explore. Let’s remember the current Spirit of Tasmania ships are just 22 years old and only recently refurbished.
They are by no means past their use-by date. The project is not driven by a need to send the current vessels to the scrapyard, but to increase the capacity for passengers and freight.
So a question for the task force is whether replacing two steel-hulled ferries with two more steel-hulled ferries is the only option. Why not look at adding an Incat catamaran to TT-Line’s portfolio to complement the ferries?
This could provide many more freight movements – particularly fresh produce – into national and international markets every day. It would significantly increase capacity for caravans and RVs and provide a choice for passengers travelling with or without their car. As Bob Clifford says, catamaran technology has progressed a long way since the old SeaCat and DevilCat in the 1990s. Incat’s catamarans are sought all over the world for crossings not dissimilar to Bass Strait. Our tourism industry and exporters may benefit from TT-Line offering both a fast catamaran crossing and current offering. Let’s find out if that’s the case.
Even if it’s ultimately decided to go with a cruise ship-style replacement, we know the hulls will need to be built overseas, but there may be potential for the fit-out in Australia or Tasmania. Boatbuilders including Incat have experience fitting out other types of vessels. A joint venture could still produce significant economic activity when Australia needs it most.
A key recommendation of the Premier’s Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Committee report was that Tasmanian government agencies should purchase from Tasmanian business on an “if not, why not” basis. If that approach doesn’t start with the largest purchase in the state’s history to be made by a publicly owned business, when does it start?