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Tas Premier Clams Up On Basslink Talks In Singapore

Mystery continues to surround the future of the Basslink undersea cable system that supplies energy and telecoms systems to Tasmania, following the yet-to-be-fixed cable breakage which occurred in December. Many billions of dollars are now at stake, and it’s unclear who is going to pay – but you can bet Australian legal firms are sharpening their e-pencils.

Lee Boon Yang, chair of Singapore-based – and financially stressed – Keppel Corporation met with Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman in Singapore on Saturday to “discuss” the broken cable, which has left Tasmania facing an energy crisis, some of it due to record low rainfalls which have affected Tasmania’s traditional hydro-electric power systems.

The associated cutting of a problem-free cable supplying telecommunications has also badly affected thousands of Tasmanian Internet users – business and otherwise – who have found their connection speed drastically reduced.

Telecoms companies including TPG have been forced to pay huge extra sums to Telstra which has its own undersea cables – to keep their Tasmanian subscribers alive. They will doubtless want recompense.

Basslink executives have assured Premier Hodgman that its cables connecting Tasmania to Victoria will be repaired by mid-June, according to an official release on the weekend talks in Singapore.

But there was little news at the weekend on how the already financially stressed Basslink – which is facing multi-million bills from the operators of undersea repair vessel Ile de Ré – sees its future in the Apple Isle.

(The company is believed to be paying around $100,000 a day for Isle de Ré: even if reconnection is established by mid-June, that bill alone could conceivably run into many billions).

Was a future pullout by Keppel discussed in Singapore? We don’t know. But it seems significant that, as well as Lee Boon Yang, Hodgman met in Singapore with Khor Un-Hun, CEO of Keppel Infrastructure Fund Management, suggesting that financial matters, as well as the physical re-connection project, might well have been discussed.

On the power issue alone, Tasmania is facing more than $400 million in direct costs for arranging the supply of alternative sources. It also faces possible lawsuits from companies lured to set up in Tasmania because of supposedly cheaper and more reliable energy sources:  that alone could run into billions.

Then there’s the undoubted future claims of companies denied workable Internet access. Another billion or more?

Keppel meanwhile faces problems of its own, including problems in South America and the billions it will have to pay to the operators of Ile de Ré. Remember: only the energy cable developed a fault, but Keppel also deliberately cut the fault-free telecoms cable. The legal eagles for TPG and others should enjoy looking at that. – DF and cables

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