Push for $250 flat rate fares

Cally DupeNorth West Telegraph
Port Hedland Airport.
Camera IconPort Hedland Airport. Credit: Mitchell Smith

It seems an impossible dream — a flat rate of $250 one-way between Perth and the Pilbara at any time of the year, be it Christmas, school holidays, or a long weekend.

But it’s a dream the Pilbara Regional Council’s most recent push might just deliver, with the aim to secure a government-funded “public transport” subsidy to create a “regular flight price” for consumers.

Pilbara Regional Council chief executive Tony Friday said the organisation was in talks with Federal and State ministers, government departments, Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, airlines, and resource industry representatives about creating a flight subsidy to access the region.

He said the council was “modelling” its proposal with the hope passengers would one day be able to buy a $250 flight one way, irrespective of the time of year, adding the would be “co-funded by the Federal Government and big industry to remove some of the current level of price distortion”.

“We are conscious that in terms of public transport subsidy, every time you jump on a train or a bus in the metropolitan area the State picks up a part of that bill,” he said.

“In the regional areas that subsidy is non-existent.

“Our version of public transport is air travel ... but that regional subsidy doesn’t exist, despite it being the Pilbara, which contributes a disproportionate amount of money to the State economy.”

It was a far-fetched idea, Mr Friday said, but one which he said would create “certainty” for residents and increase the Pilbara’s liveability.

“It makes an enormous difference both at an individual and business level, it costs governments a fortune flying staff to and from the region, and we are conscious that our residents are sometimes delaying medical treatments and the like.

“Passengers can get that price ($250), but you have to book well in advance; we are proposing this as a regular flight price.”

Mr Friday said the proposal should be market-regulated and the return journeys from Perth to the Pilbara restricted to residents only.

“The airlines will kick up a fuss because they never like to be put in that fierce competitive environment ... but we operate in a free market,” he said.

Mr Friday said although the proposal was just a “commerce in confidence document” at the moment, the council hoped to have a “clear action plan” after the March election.

“Subsidies are inherently difficult ... we don’t want this proposal turned into a political football,” he said. “We also don’t want to set community expectation about frequency or cost at this stage, but the conversations are under way.”

The idea was initially touted to an audience of more than 300 at the New Pilbara Conference in Perth last month.

Port Hedland International Airport chief executive Mitchell Cameron told the North West Telegraph he supported the proposal in principle.

“In the metro areas they get subsidised public transport, trains, buses, and a range of options but in the North West there are none of those options,” he said.

The Pilbara Regional Council is also pushing for a State Government inquiry into the high cost of flights between Perth and Pilbara towns, with Mining and Pastoral Dave Grills MLC backing the call.

Mr Grills said the subsidy was “worth considering” but a “ higher priority should be reforming current Commonwealth fringe benefits tax arrangements”.

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