Transport Minister Pam Beggs has responded to concerns about the impact of the Government's new transport policy initiatives on country area fuel distribution.
Mrs Beggs said the policy, announced in Premier Carmen Lawrence's economic statement, the WA Advantage, was designed to improve efficiency in the transport system and provide a sound basis for an increasingly productive and cost effective rail system.
The new policy came into force on July 1 and freed the freight transport system from 60 years of regulations that limited competition between road and rail.
Restrictions now applied only to major bulk commodities and these were under review.
Mrs Beggs said there now was real competition within the State's land freight industry and each sector could concentrate on those aspects of the total transport task to which it was best suited.
"Many people think road and rail services are interchangeable," she said.
"They are not.
"Road, rail and other forms of transport each have different cost structures and varying degrees of flexibility and access.
"The efficiency of the State's transport sector can best be improved by allowing each mode to do those things and develop markets for which it is best suited through open competition."
Mrs Beggs said contrary to some claims that the Government had not listened to country views, the new policy had been introduced after an exhaustive public consultation phase.
"There is no doubt that when you change restrictive practices that have been in place for half a century, not all the changes will be to everyone's liking," she said.
"But an open competitive system that most people have wanted for many years gives the greatest overall benefit to country areas and the State as a whole."
Mrs Beggs said once fully implemented, the latest reforms would result in savings of about $5 million a year to taxpayers.
Transport users also would benefit from lower freight rates through a more efficient Westrail and greater competition for transport services.
Savings to transport users through policy changes phased in since the early 1980s now were estimated at $60 million a year.
The latest changes also enabled the Government to abolish road transport licences saving a further $3.5 million a year.
Mrs Beggs said recent comments in some country papers on the impact of the policy on fuel transport did not reflect the realities of efficient freight transport and competitive markets.
"For example, there was a claim that the port of Albany would have less fuel cargo," she said.
"This is by no means clear and will depend on the relative cost efficiencies of other delivery options and the long-term distribution strategies of the oil industry.
"Certainly the recent downturn in fuel cargo through Albany had nothing to do with transport policy changes and the introduction of block trains to service BP's fuel needs to Katanning so far have not affected Albany port's fuel receivals.
"While the Government is anxious to promote the future growth of regional port trade, it is not in the business of promoting one form of transport over another by interfering in competitive market pricing.
"If we want to reap the cost efficiencies and improve user choice available from removing unnecessary regulations and promoting vigorous market competition, there will be changes to distribution patterns and the use of different transport modes.
"The bottom line is that Westrail, the road transporters and the shipping and port systems reassess their opportunities and concentrate on developing long term markets rather than markets underpinned by pricing distortions that are common in regulated systems."