Question mark hangs over Marinus Link under Rockliff minority government

Agreement with Liberal defectors sets role for Parliament on AFL stadium but is silent on $3.8 billion energy project
 May 22, 2023
Published:  May 22, 2023
Independent MP, John Tucker. Image: Bob Burton/TasNetworks

A deal between the Tasmanian government and two renegade Liberal MPs who quit the party does not address their concerns over the $3.8 billion Marinus transmission link to Victoria, with one saying there were “more questions to be answered”.

In an interview on ABC Radio Hobart on Friday afternoon, Lyons MP John Tucker - who, along with Bass MP Lara Alexander, quit the Liberal party earlier this month - said his concerns about Marinus Link were  “about the debt load and how this will play out for Tasmanian taxpayers”.

Tucker and Alexander singled out the financial risks to Tasmanian taxpayers of major debt-funded projects when they quit the government on May 12 and became independents.

They named the planned AFL stadium, TasNetwork’s Marinus Link and Hydro Tasmania’s Battery of the Nation projects as projects of concern and emphasised they wanted “full transparency and oversight” of the energy projects “through forensic assessment by the Parliament of these initiatives as Projects of State Significance”.

“If the Premier doesn’t meet our terms, which are about transparency with the stadium and also with Marinus Link — and that means releasing the contracts or everything that’s been involved in the deals with the federal government —  then we would have to reconsider our position,” Tucker said at the May 12 media conference.

Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff and Alexander and Tucker released a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Saturday that committed the government to designate the AFL stadium as a project of state significance. The MOU, which was agreed before Tucker’s ABC interview on Friday, does not explicitly mention Marinus Link.

Designation of Marinus Link as a project of state significance would require the Energy Minister, Guy Barnett, to obtain an order from the governor and support from both houses of parliament. The project would then be referred to the Tasmanian Planning Commission to assess, consider public comments and submit a final report to the minister. If Barnett then recommended the project proceed, the decision and any attached conditions would be made public and may, under certain conditions, be disallowed by a vote of either house of parliament.

Subjecting the Marinus Link to a Planning Commission assessment would be a significant change of course for the government. Its current position is that parliamentary approval of the project is not required.

As a result of an October 2022 funding deal, the governments of Tasmania, Victoria and the Commonwealth have equal equity stakes in the project, but the cost has not been finalised.

A mid-2021 Marinus Link project assessment report estimated the cost for the 1500 MW cable and associated transmission upgrades at $3.5 billion. Another $300 million was added in mid-2022 due to increased labour, materials and other costs.

Further cost increases are likely due to continued increases in construction costs.

In the next few weeks, Marinus Link Pty Ltd, a subsidiary of TasNetworks, will receive the final tender bids from four shortlisted companies to supply the cable and three other companies for the converter stations. A spokesperson for Marinus Link Pty Ltd said the tenders would “then go through a comprehensive evaluation phase”.

“We will carefully review the price and conditions of tenders, and this will inform the expected estimated project cost, taking into account any necessary adjustments,” the spokesperson said. “A full update of the project cost will be done to inform the submission to the Australian Energy Regulator well before the Final Investment Decision in December 2024.”

The current estimate for the link and transmission upgrades is more than five times that of the AFL stadium, but it remains unclear whether Tucker and Alexander will insist the Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation are also designated as a Project of State Significance.

A comment was sought from Tucker on his discussions with the government on Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation, but no response has been received.

In August last year, Tasmanian Inquirer revealed that Marinus Link had appointed a Canberra-based PR firm, 89 Degrees East, DPG Advisory and the Tasmanian firm Font PR to run a $1 million campaign to build public and political support for the transmission project. The two-year contract ran until late March 2023 with the option of a one-year extension. A Marinus Link spokesperson confirmed the contract was not extended.

Bob Burton is a Hobart-based author, researcher, editor and freelance journalist. He is the Editor of CoalWire, a weekly bulletin on global coal industry developments for the US-based non-profit group Global Energy Monitor. His freelance journalism has been published in a wide range of news outlets from the British Medical Journal to the US-based PR Watch.

How you can support independent Tasmanian journalism

Make a contribution
Receive news via email
Sign-Up today
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram