The only way for the Port of Newcastle to thrive is for the Hunter region to thrive. No one has placed a bigger bet on the prospects for the Hunter’s economy than the Port of Newcastle. We have a 98 year lease on the port, the value of which is inextricably linked to the Hunter’s current and future competitive advantages. The more high value exports, including tourism, flowing through the port the better it is for the Hunter. It’s that simple.
However, we need to recognise that while the Port of Newcastle remains the world’s largest exporter of coal, the world market for coal has been flat for three years. It’s true that some new coal fired power stations are still being built in parts of Asia, but the falling costs of renewable energy, technological change and innovation in industry and rising concerns with air pollution in developing countries are restructuring the world energy market. And of course domestic and international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change are reinforcing this trajectory.
No one expects the world demand for coal to collapse overnight, but it would be taking a risk against all the evidence to expect that demand will remain strong for the rest of the century. What this means is that it will be in the interests of the Port of Newcastle and the Hunter more widely to step up diversification and repositioning of the regional economy as quickly as possible. The best time to confront long-term threats is today.
I am honoured to be appointed chair of the Port of Newcastle with a brief to help future-proof the port’s business by driving its diversification. To be clear, the port will continue to be a major exporter of the Hunter’s high quality coal for as long as the world wants to buy it, but for the port to grow and diversify it needs the Hunter economy to grow and diversify. Few have more at stake than we do in the future shape of global markets and supply chains.
While a trend resurgence of coal demand is unlikely, there is enormous potential for the Hunter to expand its vibrant advanced manufacturing, tourism and agricultural sectors. Developing the long-promised container terminal, a project which was central to the Newcastle steel transition program, will be a major driver of growth and diversification.
So, what can be done in the short to medium term? While the world’s demand for coal is beyond our control, our ability to transform and grow other sectors of the economy is not. As Sydney’s population blows out past five million, the opportunity for the Hunter to act as a lower cost, less congested industrial and logistics base is self-evident. Sydney Harbour is already near capacity for cruise ships as the global cruise market breaks all records.
Similarly, containers destined for Newcastle, the Central Coast and Upper Hunter are currently being landed in Sydney and trucked through the largest and most congested city in Australia on a series of expensive toll roads. Not only would a major container terminal in Newcastle bring jobs and diversity to the Hunter region, it would significantly reduce the transport costs of delivering goods to businesses north of Sydney.
While the Port of Newcastle cannot alone drive the transformation of the Hunter economy, we will build on our capabilities and experience to contribute to the shared vision of long-term growth and jobs. This vision is realistic and achievable provided we work together to make it a reality.