Tasmania 'can't afford' to buy Pacific National

The future of Tasmanian rail is in jeopardy, after claims the State Government cannot take over Pacific National operations

The future of Tasmanian rail is in jeopardy, after claims from the Greens the State Government has no money to take over Pacific National and the Melba rail line, which is set to close on June 30.

According to Greens infrastructure spokesman Tim Morris, the Government struck a deal with Asciano on February 23 to take over operations on the Melba line from July 1.

This is something Tasmanian Minister for Infrastructure Graeme Sturges denies and says the only deal made with Asciano was to negotiate a transition in rail ownership to June next year.

"The Greens claims are wrong, on both counts," Sturges tells ATN.

"We have considerable funding for rail in this State and the only agreement this government made with Asciano in February was an agreement to negotiate an orderly transition of rail through to June 2010."

Morris claims Tasmanian Treasurer Michael Aird would not confirm if Infrastructure Minister Graeme Sturges made a submission to the latest Federal Budget in regards to purchasing Pacific National’s Tasmanian assets and the line which carries 30,000 tonnes of bulk minerals each month.

"I directly asked Treasurer Aird in Parliament today whether or not the Infrastructure Minister bothered to apply for any state budget funding for rail purchases," Morris says in a statement released yesterday.

"For some reason the Treasurer failed to answer my question."

"The Bartlett Government are [sic] slated to take over the Melba line in just two weeks time, but there was no money in the State Budget for rail purchases, so how are they going to fund this acquisition?"

Morris says the money from any possible sale of betting company TOTE by the Government must be used to purchase Pacific National’s train set as well as the rest of the rail network.

The Greens want the revenue from the TOTE sale to be funnelled into an infrastructure fund to buy the State’s rail network and Pacific National’s assets.

Sturges says his government will meet with Asciano this week in order to accelerate negotiations regarding the company’s revised timeline for an "orderly and smooth" transition of rail in the state, but would not elaborate on what the meetings could result in.

"We go into these negotiations with an open mind, and all options on the table, however, it is not appropriate to publicly reveal the basis for our negotiations while these meetings are still to occur," Sturges says.

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