Recent developments have put a Newcastle container terminal further away than ever. NSW Ports Minister Melinda Pavey is as blind as Newcastle politicians.
Then-premier Bob Carr in 2003 with his false promises on closing the working harbour, and Mike Baird with his secret levy on Newcastle containers, and now Newcastle’s business community, have left the Hunter community wondering what next?
The state government’s update to its freight and ports plan says that Newcastle has no impediment to servicing its own catchment, which the Port of Newcastle (PoN) put theoretically at about 600,000 twenty-foot equivalent containers (TEU) a year, almost half of NSW’s containerised exports and almost one-third of containerised imports.
The extent of the PoN claim based on its Deloittes Report included Parkes and part of Queensland.
The volumes were predicted to grow by about 90 per cent up to 2050.
The plan also allows for Port Botany to be the monopoly until 2040 or thereabouts, switching then to Port Kembla, and it promotes Parkes on the inland rail in parallel as it is “located within 12 hours by road or rail to 80 per cent of Australia’s population”.
Parkes has the support of Linfox and other haulier and rail majors.
In short, while a container precinct is being created at Mayfield, it might as well be used for a waste recycling centre or bottling plant.
While a container precinct is being created at Mayfield, it might as well be used for a waste recycling centre or bottling plant.
Newcastle’s possible catchment has shrunk dramatically.
This shows up the defects in the Port of Newcastle’s submission to Transport for NSW. PoN relied on a long-term public campaign to “… privately fund a rail freight bypass of Newcastle and Sydney by building a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle and railing containers and general freight for the Sydney market”.
PoN has refused to adopt a smarter approach. It is about to release another port masterplan that has no legitimate land infrastructure component.
The Regional Business Chamber was pursuing the Port’s own preference of that long rail by-pass of Sydney. It was chaired by an executive of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which would build it.
That was always out of scale with the environmental damage, economic logic, and inevitable opposition of a state government of either hue.
Why would they negate their own port and rail depots?
That option has gone and the Port is refusing to pay for the copyright over an alternative route that is via Parkes and would require a different commercial negotiation.
Even DP World walked away and the Port’s claim that others are interested is not substantiated.
All governments pay lip service to the importance of planning the logistics industry.
PoN cannot break through in the confused state of Sydney’s unfunded political promises.
In 2013-14 NSW’s Mike Baird had privatised the Botany and Kembla ports as an entity, and Newcastle separately. He imposed a secret super-tax on possible Newcastle container operations which ACCC is now reviewing.
The chair of Port Kembla’s Board was appointed chair of the State Port regulator; and as Kembla was managed from Sydney, opposition to Botany was suppressed from both north and south ends.
In 2015 the Botany monopoly issued a masterplan that made explicit the intent to contain commercial operations within its property portfolio.
That included intensifying operations at the Enfield container terminal, which had seen an inquiry by Milton Morris 12 years earlier. He had recommended (as was then approved) shaving about one-third off the proposed capacity because of trucking impacts in neighbouring suburbs.
That is called a “social contract”, which was a concept affirmed by Baird during the greyhounds chaos and by a recent Infrastructure Australia panel that was chaired by the CEO of the Botany/Kembla monopoly.
It was not surprising that the panel recommended strengthening monopoly rights.
Newcastle’s cruise and other terminal plans are looking as vulnerable to economic blunder-testing as had Port Kembla’s, where the resulting port development levy has seen the port owners send their coal trains to Newcastle to avoid their own levies.
The certainty that is needed for sustainable investment is as far away as ever.
“Group thinking” requires bringing in outside expertise.