9 October 2002 – A bid by the Victorian National Party to block Australia’s subsea Basslink cable connecting Tasmania to the national electricity grid in Victoria has failed after other opposition groups chose to support the project.

The National Party, which objects to the use of overhead pylons to carry the Basslink cable through Gippsland, had hoped to secure the support of the state Liberal Party to block planning amendments for the project. But the opposition refused to support the move on the grounds it would jeopardise the project connecting Tasmania.

However, Victorian opposition leader Robert Doyle said a Liberal government would attempt to have the cable placed underground, and pledged to spend up to A$70m ($38.22m) of taxpayers money to do so. He said the money would be spent under a deal with the Basslink developer. “We would be prepared to make a budgetary allocation to underground that cable, but on the basis that it is an agreed proper commercial arrangement,” Mr Doyle told reporters.

Victorian National Party Leader Peter Ryan, who is also the member for Gippsland South, said the opposition’s failure to support his party on Basslink would lead to a backlash against the state opposition at the next state election. “Gippslanders will feel betrayed by this,” he said. “The Liberal Party has made promises for literally years about this issue and now was the time to honour them.” Premier Steve Bracks said Mr Doyle’s commitment to spend taxpayers money on burying the cable was hard to justify. “To simply give money to a private company for what is a Tasmanian project would be an extraordinary step I would have thought,” he told reporters.

Basslink Pty Ltd welcomed the Liberal Party’s decision, but committed only to discussing “issues concerning this vital and historic infrastructure project” with any future Liberal government. Basslink received final approval from the Victorian and federal governments last month, after earlier getting the go-ahead from the Tasmanian government.

Amendments to the planning schemes of two Gippsland municipalities were the final hurdle for the project. The Basslink Joint Advisory Panel said placing the 600 MW power cable underground along its entire route through Gippsland would cost more than A$95m and the cost was unjustified. However, anti-pylon campaigners argue the technology is available and cost-effective. Basslink will allow Tasmania to export hydropower, and give Victoria greater electricity security during the summer months.