TASMANIAN premier Jeremey Rockliff has expressed “extreme disappointment” with an intransigent Victorian shire council preventing the shipment of critically-needed stockfeed to drought-stricken King Island.

Just months after the Colac Otway Shire forbade shipping company Bass Strait Freight from using the small port of Apollo Bay to unload live cattle shipped from the dry island to the mainland, the council has turned down the latest BSF request to load 500 tonnes of fodder and 200 tonnes of pellets on the small ro-ro Matthew Flinders IV.

The stockfeed has been sourced from Victorian farmers at Swan Hill by the Lions Club charity Need for Feed.

COS continues to insist Apollo Bay is a local port not a commercial port and the facilities are unsuitable and unsafe for the freight, which would loaded aboard the ro-ro by mobile cranes – even though BSF MD David Harris has pointed out the wharf was built to handle the company’s vessels. BSF is prepared to operate three back-to-back sailings to Grassy to move the cargo.

The Tasmanian Farmers Federation also expressed its anger, saying every part of the supply chain was being donated, all regulatory clearances had been obtained, and COS was displaying “a total lack of understanding of the dire situation in which King Island farmers find themselves in” – a decision which was even more ridiculous as it was without any explanation.

Premier Jeremy Rockliff said that while was disappointed that COS Council had now walked away from supporting Tasmanian farmers on King Island, the Tasmanian Government would continue to work around the clock to secure shipping for the much-needed feed. 

“Everyone had been working hard to get the arrangements in place to ship the hundreds of bales of hay secured from the mainland to drought-affected areas in Tasmania,” he said.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Council has made the decision to walk away, despite senior Tasmanian officials dedicating significant time and resources to work with the Council to address any concerns they had and to find a way to open the port in these exceptional circumstances. 

“While the Council did not notify our Government, or farmers of their intention to pull the pin before issuing a public statement, I have requested our officials to continue discussions with the Council while we search for alternative options as a matter of urgency.”

Council CEO Anne Howard said the council has received an independent engineering report that has assessed that freight movements of this scale present risks to the port’s infrastructure and operations. The hay could be shipped from a number of ports across Victoria, including Portland, Geelong and Welshpool.