New freight and ports strategy unveiled by NSW government

AT WORK: The dredge David Allan, responsible for stopping the Port of Newcastle from silting up, allowing it to maintain its role as one of the world's biggest coal ports.
AT WORK: The dredge David Allan, responsible for stopping the Port of Newcastle from silting up, allowing it to maintain its role as one of the world's biggest coal ports.

ESTIMATES of coal export growth have been slashed in a draft freight and ports strategy on display for comment until March.

NSW Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey said on Wednesday that Newcastle, Port Botany and Port Kembla were all handling increased volumes of cargo.

“We need a strong plan to ensure that our farmers, miners and industries can respond to all opportunities, delivering successful outcomes for the NSW economy and local communities,” Ms Pavey said.

Unveiling the draft plan, Transport for NSW says the new document will be “guided by” the 2013 freight and ports “strategy” it replaces.

The new plan has NSW coal production growing at 0.5 per cent a year, or just a quarter of the 2 per cent used in the 2013 strategy. Previously, coal production was predicted to rise from 167 million tonnes in 2011 to 367 million tonnes in 2031. Now, 2016 production of 189 million tonnes is predicted to rise to just 230 million tonnes by 2056.

Elsewhere in the draft plan, Transport for NSW indicates that the long-awaited Hexham to Fassifern rail bypass is still on the books, but only in the long term. It says it plans to “investigate” protecting a corridor for the rail line in the next 10 years, and to investigate building it in the next 20 years.

The rail bypass is seen as crucial by those still clinging to hopes that Newcastle could host a major container terminal, but the draft plan reinforces the government’s intention to maintain Port Botany as its primary container port, with Port Kembla to take over once Botany reached capacity “after 2040”.

The reliance on Botany comes despite the plan warning of increased road and rail congestion out of the container terminal, some of it caused by “encroachment of urban development” around the port. Transport for NSW was looking at “strategies to address urban encroachment” around Port Botany.

Canberra analyst Greg Cameron, who is still proposing a Newcastle container terminal 20 years after it was first explored during his time at BHP Newcastle, said the 2013 strategy was “fatally flawed from the outset”.

“There is nothing more certain than a container terminal will be developed at the Port of Newcastle as soon as the government’s unlawful fine for container shipping is removed,” Mr Cameron said.

Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp concurred,saying: “This government appears to be talking a big game about developing and growing the Port of Newcastle.

“But everyone knows that while a cap on containers remains in place at the port, this is just pie in the sky.

We don’t need another extensive glossy brochure from the Government to cover up the dodgy deal that has been struck.”

Since entering parliament in October 2014, Mr Crakanthorp has asked more than 150 questions on notice about freight policy and the container terminal.

The draft plan reinforces the government view that Botany is the logical home for container movements, saying that 80 per cent of import containers are delivered within 40 kilometres of the port, and that this will remain the case over the next 30 years. It predicts a doubling of freight volumes in greater Sydney over the next 40 years, but a rise in regional NSW of just 25 per cent.

A spokesperson for the private operator, Port of Newcastle, said: “We recognise the significant capacity that exists within the Port of Newcastle and its road and rail supply chains and the competitive advantages that this offers to NSW.

“Port of Newcastle will continue to engage with Transport for NSW during the next stage of development of the freight and ports strategy.”