AN UNRESOLVED commercial dispute between the Australian Antarctic Division and TasPorts has seen the Western Australian Government renew its attempts to lure the AAD headquarters to Fremantle.

Tasmanian premier Jeremy Rockliff headed to Sydney late last week for talks with the AAD’s responsible minister, Tanya Plibersek, after a leaked letter warned stalled negotiations over long-term berthing facilities for AAD’s RSV Nuyina were putting the future of the Australian Antarctic Program’s base in Hobart in jeopardy.

The WA Government has not made a formal approach to their Federal counterparts but ports minister David Michael said he was ready for discussions.

At the weekend Tasmania’s Labor Opposition leader Dean Winter praised Mr Rockliff’s intervention but said the situation had been “developing for years as TasPorts arrogantly refused to negotiate in good faith”.

“But the Premier also owes an update to Tasmania’s critical Antarctic sector following his talks with the Australian Government yesterday,” Mr Winter said “He’s already broken his promise to deliver an Antarctic precinct and now TasPorts has effectively fired the starter’s gun for a Western Australian campaign to steal our entire Antarctic sector. We cannot afford to lose this sector and the jobs that go with it.”

In the leaked letter to the premier Ms Plibersek wrote of her concerns about the “exorbitant cost” of redeveloping aging facilities at Hobart’s Macquarie Wharf 6, where Nuyina current docks. She said TasPorts estimated the upgrades would amount to $515 million over 30 years, 14 times the current cost paid by the Commonwealth to berth Nuyina there.

In a statement TasPorts said it was committed to the Port of Hobart as the gateway to the Antarctic and Southern Ocean “and stands ready to continue negotiations with the AAD on commercial terms which are fair and reasonable”.

CEO Anthony Donald said the leak of the letter was yet another example of AAD and the Federal department avoiding commercial negotiations on what TasPorts believes to be a simple commercial deal. However, it was concerning to TasPorts that there has never been a representative of AAD with the delegation to negotiate, supported by available budget.

“The costs are reflective of the detailed design works, which are specific and a bespoke request by the AAD. The level of investment is reflective of the infrastructure requirements,” he said. “We are not simply talking about reparation of the wharf structure but a bespoke design that is very specific to their needs.

“The real question given AAD’s understanding of the costs of their bespoke design requirements is what has been included in the federal budget. This clarity will enable a negotiation to be had in earnest.”

Mr Donald said TasPorts had time and time again demonstrated flexibility and patience, in response to the changing requirements of AAD.

“The provision of the lay-up wharf at wharf 6 was in response to AAD’s urgent request for support given their failure to plan ahead. They have invested in a new, larger state of the art vessel without planning for where it could be berthed. We have been very clear about our concerns for the interim wharf asset, which cannot continue to safely provide an interim solution given its deteriorating condition,” Mr Donald said.

“It is misleading to attempt to compare what AAD pays today for a wharf that is end of life, to the costs of a fit for purpose bespoke design with a dedicated facility. They are two very different propositions.

“It would be a far better outcome for the project if negotiations could continue with accurate reflections of the requirements, knowledge of federal budgetary position and without leaks that contain misleading and inaccurate sums.”

Mr Donald said TasPorts has had a dedicated project team in place for two years who are ready to get started as soon as the commercial terms are finalised. The ABC reported that the Commonwealth recently signed a long-term lease keep the AAD located at its headquarters in Kingston, south of Hobart. It has also promised $240 million as part of the redevelopment of the Macquarie Point precinct, where a new AFL stadium is planned, although that funding is contingent on upgrading Macquarie Wharf 6.