The SeaLink ferry running to Kangaroo Island during the bushfires. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)
The South Australian Premier and the operator of the Kangaroo Island ferry have both acknowledged the high cost of getting to the island discourages many tourists from visiting.
- SeaLink and KI Connect operate ferries to Kangaroo Island
- The SA Opposition wants the State Government to subsidise the SeaLink service to drop the cost for tourists
- SeaLink says it would help but it will not do it without government aid
However, neither Steven Marshall nor SeaLink has committed to lowering the fares from the mainland, as businesses call for tourists to return once the island’s devastating fires are contained.
Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas yesterday urged the State Government to provide a subsidy to lower the cost of the SeaLink ferry by 30 per cent.
The Premier today said he recognised cost was a major deterrent, and said subsidisation was among many suggestions that would be considered at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting today.
“We’re looking at all options … there is nothing that has been taken off the table,” Mr Marshall told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“We’ve had a huge number of suggestions that have come into the Cabinet. We’ve also been out talking to people about their ideas.”
The SeaLink ferry from Cape Jervis to Penneshaw costs $98 return per adult passenger, plus $98 per vehicle each way.
“It is a reasonable sum and I think anything we can do to bring that down would be terrific for tourism and for the island,” chief executive Jeff Ellison said.
“I think now, under these challenging times, the most efficient, direct and probably fast way to really help the islanders and the economy is to look at lowering the fares.”
SeaLink announced last week that it would donate $200,000 to bushfire relief, and is also transporting donated goods free of charge.
It will also offer free ferry travel to all Kangaroo Island residents in January, and $2,000-worth of ongoing free travel to residents who have lost property.
SeaLink made $16.9 million in profit from its South Australian business in 2018–19, but Mr Ellison said the company would not lower its fares without government subsidies.
It receives subsidies for some of its interstate services, such as to the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory and Bruny Island in Tasmania.
Mr Ellison said Backstairs Passage had some of the roughest conditions around Australia and the Kangaroo Island ferries had to be specially built for the crossing.
Infrastructure the problem, says rival
A rival ferry operated by KI Connect costs about $50 return but does not take vehicles.
Owner David Harris said improving docking facilities at Penneshaw and Cape Jervis were bigger priorities than subsidising SeaLink.
“There’s a huge opportunity but we just cannot get infrastructure necessary to run the service properly,” he said.
“I spoke to the Premier on Saturday and said ‘don’t think about putting a subsidy on before putting the infrastructure on’.”
A sandbar at Cape Jervis affected the KI Connect catamaran ferry in 2018, forcing it to either moor at the local jetty or stop operating at low tide.
Former bus driver Dan said the cost of the ferry was “crippling the island”.
“When people ask if they should go to the island or not, I give them the same answer every time: ‘I would live on that island if the ferry wasn’t so ridiculous in cost’,” he said.
“It’s just astronomical and it cripples that island.”
The Country Fire Service (CFS) is asking for tourists to delay unnecessary travel to Kangaroo Island.
Crews are still battling flare-ups on Kangaroo Island as authorities urge locals to stay vigilant in today’s hot and gusty conditions.
The CFS said it was battling a flare-up near Vivonne Bay and Seal Bay which started earlier this morning.
Water bombers have been called in to help the firefight.
Premier encourages tourists to go to eastern end
Mr Marshall took over as Tourism Minister from David Ridgway on Saturday.
He said it was not because Mr Ridgway was not up to the job, but that his trade and investment portfolios would take him overseas too much to focus on tourism.
Mr Marshall said tourists needed to realise that much of the island was untouched by bushfires.
“It’s a very big island — I mean 4,500 square kilometres — it is massive, absolutely massive,” he said.
“A lot of people — when they think of Kangaroo Island — think of Remarkable Rocks and think of getting down to the western end, but [there are] superb beaches all the way around, superb wildlife on the eastern end, as well as the western end.
“We’ve got to be able look at the total asset which exists on Kangaroo Island.
“We need to look at options to activate assets on the eastern end of the island while the western end is being rebuilt.”