Newcastle container terminal a challenge to Botany

CONTAINER TRADE: The Pacific Chief in Newcastle in 2010. Under the terms of the Port Botany lease, Newcastle is limited to 30,000 containers a year before compensation is payable. Picture: Richard O'Connor.

CONTAINER TRADE: The Pacific Chief in Newcastle in 2010. Under the terms of the Port Botany lease, Newcastle is limited to 30,000 containers a year before compensation is payable. Picture: Richard O'Connor.

NEWCASTLE steelworks was still operating when the first plans for a container terminal at Mayfield emerged.

The Newcastle management of BHP – there was no Billiton at the time – promoted the project as a multi-purpose terminal, and it was not long before port operator P&O came on board.

But that plan came to nothing, as did a number of subsequent variations on the theme of the terminal that BHP had originally envisaged, along with the Steel River industrial park, as its parting gift to the city that had helped it become such a giant.

In the long years of Labor state governments, the state-owned Newcastle Port Corporation pushed its version of the plan with admirable diligence, but there was always a spanner in the works somewhere.

At one stage premier Bob Carr came to Newcastle to announce the city would have the next container terminal once Botany was full. But as the Newcastle Herald pointed out at the time, Botany was still some 20-odd years away from reaching its capacity.

Since then, planning limits on the size of the southern container port have been removed altogether, and the Coalition decided that Port Kembla – privatised together with Botany in a $5 billion lease – would be next in line if Botany ever filled.

Although the original BHP plan was for a modest container terminal aimed mainly at the market between the Central Coast and Queensland, the increasing congestion on the roads around Sydney’s southern suburbs mean there are still people pushing Newcastle’s cart as a viable alternative – if not outright replacement – for Botany.

A major supporter of the Newcastle plan is former BHP Newcastle public affairs manager Greg Cameron, based nowadays in Canberra.

“Without the handcuffs, a Newcastle terminal would be a certainty,” Mr Cameron said on Thursday.

Although the government argues against Newcastle by saying most containers are unloaded within 40 kilometres of Botany, Mr Cameron says it is better to rail the containers from Newcastle to Sydney’s outskirts where lightweight trucks would take over, rather than heavyweight container trucks clogging Sydney’s inner suburbs. 

“If Newcastle is not a goer, why does the government need to protect Botany?” Mr Cameron said.

Without the handcuffs, a Newcastle terminal would be a certainty

Terminal advocate Greg Cameron