A special Government task force will move quickly to evaluate the transport requirements of the people in Western Australia's North-West.
Transport Minister Eric Charlton announced today that the port towns and other centres would be fully consulted on the type of quality services they required to replace Stateships.
The Western Australian Coastal Shipping Commission had been forced to cease its operations as a direct consequence of the irresponsible industrial action by the Maritime Union of Australia.
Mr Charlton said the task force had drawn representatives from the Department of Regional Development, Treasury, the Crown Solicitor's Office and Stateships - under chairman Stuart Hicks, the Director General of Transport.
Members would visit coastal towns and inland communities to discuss the replacement needs and assistance necessary to fill the Stateships' void.
"The Government has no intention of entering into any direct contract arrangements with any transport operators," Mr Charlton said.
"In other words, the Government will not be inviting expressions of interest for future transport services to the North-West, but simply discussing proposals to service this important region."
The Minister said he was encouraged that the communities at Christmas and Cocos Islands had indicated a willingness to establish their own shipping line to serve their specific needs.
"Stateships had provided that transport link in the past, without any contractual commitment to do so," he said.
"The responsibility had always rested with the Federal Government.
"Keep in mind that as soon as the MUA started flexing its industrial and political muscle, the State Government acted speedily in co-operation with Sealink, to maintain a continuity of service to the Island communities."
Mr Charlton said the groundwork had been laid already for exports from WA's North-West to South-East Asia. A number of options would be explored to ensure these niche and mainstream markets were sustained.
Since 1990, this shoddy Labor economic experiment had inflicted on WA taxpayers leasing costs to Stateships in the order of $7 million a year. To date the lease arrangement had cost the Government a ridiculous $27 million.
At the end of the lease period, the Government would not own the ships. The vessels would be offered to the Government at a purchase price around $9 million per ship.
Mr Charlton said he was eager to bring to an end another shameful episode of ALP financial mismanagement. Despite the misguided bleatings from the Opposition, the WA public was still waiting to hear them condemn their disgraced party colleagues, who committed the State to this foolhardy scheme.
Media contact: Ian Hasleby 321 7333