THE NSW National Party's annual conference has called on the NSW government to remove "all obstacles" facing the proposed Newcastle container terminal, including the cap and fee on container movements the government put in place when it privatised the state's ports.
The call to remove the Newcastle restrictions followed a conference speech by Nationals leader John Barilaro, who wants his party to exert more independence in its Coalition with the Liberal Party.
The Nationals' support has been welcomed in the Hunter with the Port of Newcastle, Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp and Hunter Business Chamber all applauding the move.
Mr Barilaro first publicly backed the Newcastle terminal in October last year.
The Coalition government has repeatedly justified its ports policy as the best for NSW, but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission says the restrictions have impeded the development of a Newcastle terminal.
The Moree branch of the National Party moved the resolution, saying a Newcastle terminal would save them rail costs over shipping from Brisbane.
Port of Newcastle chief executive Craig Carmody said the new policy demonstrated the National Party's commitment to the regional economy and regional jobs.
"The Newcastle Container Terminal - an estimated $1.8 billion development to be entirely funded by private investors - will deliver more jobs in regional NSW, a reduction in unnecessary road and rail movements in and out of Sydney, and cheaper freight costs for importers and exporters across the state," Mr Carmody said.
NSW Nationals Moree branch chairman Brendan Moylan said he was pleased the conference recognised the need for export growers across NSW to have the most efficient transport links possible.
"Growers estimate that the cost of shipping grains and pulses such as chickpeas would fall by as much as $20 per tonne if they were exported via container from Newcastle rather than Brisbane," Mr Moylan said.
"Over a decade, that translates to about $500 million of economic benefit to North West NSW alone."
Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes welcomed the Nationals' move, saying the party recognised the broad regional benefits of a Newcastle container terminal.
"Diversification of the port will be increasingly important for the Huner's economic resilience and the chamber has argued strongly for a level playing field in shipping and sea trade arrangements," Mr Hawes said.
He said the port was still an under-utilised resource, especially the former BHP steelworks site earmarked for the container terminal, which had been substantially vacant since 1999.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said it was up to Mr Barilaro and the National Party to implement the policy determined at the weekend conference.
"With Labor and the Nationals on a unity ticket on the port, I am hoping we can force the Liberals to remove the anti-competitive restrictions that are standing in the way of its development," Mr Crakanthorp said.
"It has taken years of our side of politics raising this issue, and I am glad the Nationals have come on board."
- The full wording of the conference motion: "That conference call on the NSW Nationals to ensure:
- The removal of all obstacles facing the Newcastle Container Terminal Expansion Plans, including the cap on the number of containers and the State Government fee payable on container exports and
- The Port's development of a high intensity container terminal."