Newcastle container terminal plan prompts interstate debate

DIVERSIFY: The Port of Newcastle wants to add containers to its main business of coal, and is ruffling feathers in Sydney. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
DIVERSIFY: The Port of Newcastle wants to add containers to its main business of coal, and is ruffling feathers in Sydney. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

THE Labor opposition might be backing a Newcastle container terminal but the state government still insists that a second terminal after Botany should be at Port Kembla.

The long-mooted plans have become headline news again with the Port of Newcastle’s Australian and Chinese owners, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the ALP all asking questions about the secret fee imposed on Newcastle by the Coalition government as a way of maximising its privatisation returns for Botany and Kembla.

But the government is standing firm, with Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey following the previous long-term minister, Duncan Gay, in saying that “port transaction arrangements” did not stop a Newcastle terminal.

“Currently, 85 per cent of shipping containers in NSW travel no more than 40 kilometres from Port Botany,” Ms Pavey said. “It is for this reason that Botany is this state’s primary container facility.”

 Kembla and Botany are owned by a consortium called NSW Ports (81 per cent Australian, 19 per cent United Arab Emirates).

At a major shipping conference in Melbourne last week, NSW Ports chief executive Marika Calfas answered a question about Newcastle by playing down its chances of success, saying its main claim seemed to be that it had plenty of available land.

“The fact that you have vacant land in and of itself isn’t a compelling reason for a government to change its priorities or its policies and neither do I think industry would support that,” Ms Calfas said at the conference.

Port of Newcastle chairman Roy Green said land was only one aspect of the business case.

Professor Green said Ms Pavey was being disingenuous in saying the secret fee did not prohibit a Newcastle container terminal, because its intended effect was to destroy its viability. He said a Newcastle container terminal required minimal government investment.

“A container terminal together with new rail infrastructure at the Port of Newcastle, would provide an optimal solution for freight transport, long term sustainable growth, employment opportunities and increased competition and trade for all NSW,” Professor Green said.

Northern NSW business could trade through Newcastle instead of Botany.