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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Shipping container terminal still in Port’s sights

Port of Newcastle’s intention to develop a shipping container terminal in the Hunter hasn’t changed, despite the Federal Court’s recent ruling.

CEO Craig Carmody’s “disappointment” on Tuesday 20 July echoed the previous sentiments of Newcastle state MP Tim Crakanthorp and his Swansea counterpart Yasmin Catley, who both claimed the dismissal of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) case was a major let down.

Studies revealed a Port of Newcastle depot would boost Hunter and northern NSW exports by $800 million, save local businesses $2.8 billion in freight costs and create 4,600 jobs.

“This decision is a blow, not just for Port of Newcastle and its commitment to diversification, but to the wider Hunter and NSW regions,” he said.

“It’s also a setback for our hardworking suppliers and small businesses who are being stopped from benefiting financially and competitively from a container terminal in Newcastle.”

Mr Carmody admitted the Federal Court’s verdict would not diminish Port of Newcastle’s overall objective.

“It doesn’t alter our desire to build a container terminal, nor our confidence that a container terminal at the Port is a diversification opportunity the Port, Newcastle and the Hunter region needs,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“Having had time to absorb the judgment, we see the Federal Court accepts that Port of Newcastle has the ability to compete in the same market as Port Botany and that NSW Government policy is the major constraint to this.

“We await with interest the decision by the ACCC whether to appeal the court outcome, expected later this month.”

The federal proceedings concerned agreements, known as Port Commitment Deeds, which were entered into as part of the privatisation of Port Botany and Port Kembla by the NSW Government in May 2013, for a term of 50 years.

They also oblige the State of NSW to compensate the operators of Port Botany and Port Kembla if container traffic at the Port of Newcastle is above a minimal specified cap.

Another 50-year deed, signed in May 2014 when the Port of Newcastle was privatised, requires it to reimburse the State of NSW for any compensation paid to operators of Port Botany and Port Kembla under the Botany and Kembla Port Commitment Deeds.

This settlement would then effectively double the cost of moving a container at the Port of Newcastle.

The ACCC argued that the Port Commitment Deeds had an anti-competitive purpose and effect.

“This judgment provides an enormous hurdle for the Port of Newcastle to develop a container terminal to compete with Port Botany and Port Kembla, because of financial consequences arising from the deeds,” chair Rod Sims said.

The deal effectively removed the Port’s ability to diversify, too, according to Mr Crakanthorp.

“The 50-year straight-jacket on developing a container terminal in Newcastle is anti-competitive and anti-Hunter jobs,” he said.

“The people of the Hunter and NSW Labor want this fight to continue.

“This secret deal was designed to hobble the Hunter’s economic growth – one signed off by Gladys Berejiklian as transport minister.”

Newcastle federal MP Sharon Claydon also weighed in on the subject, expressing her displeasure.

“The decision by the Federal Court is a very disappointing outcome for our region – and for anyone who expects there to be a level playing field for the Port of Newcastle to reach its full potential,” she said.

“While lawyers will no doubt argue the toss about this decision for many months and, perhaps, years to come, the real question for Novocastrians is: why doesn’t the NSW Liberal Government just fix this mess, which is entirely of its own making?

“Instead of choking our regional economy and effectively blocking any hope of having our own container terminal, the NSW Government should be doing everything it can to help grow, develop and diversify the Port of Newcastle.

“It’s time for the state and federal Liberal governments to show real leadership now, and release the Port of Newcastle from these artificial constraints.

“Let’s tear up the dodgy deal, so we can at least compete on a level playing field.

“Surely that’s not too much to ask or expect?”

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