By directly linking the demise of coal with the viability of the Port of Newcastle, the port's chief executive Craig Carmody is implying that one of the government's main justifications for container restrictions on Newcastle no longer holds water.
When the ports were privatised in 2013 and 2014, the Coalition state government ran the line that Newcastle's future lay in coal, with container shipping to stay at Port Botany for the foreseeable future.
Even then, that rhetoric was questionable, but it's an increasingly difficult argument to maintain just half a decade later with a major global move against fossil fuels in general, and coal in particular.
Mr Carmody says the outlook for thermal coal (used to heat water in power station boilers) appears stable enough for the next 15 years. After that, demand is expected to drop off substantially. He says now is the time to get a Newcastle terminal up and running so that the port - and by implication - the wider Hunter economy - has diversified by the time that income from coal comes to an inevitable end.
In one sense, this is the argument that the port has run since its present chairman, Roy Green, took over at the end of 2017. But the outlook for coal has deteriorated substantially since then, and the port would seem to have come to terms with its coal customers, having previously wanted to promote to diversification without saying anything that would upset the coal lobby.
Last week's announcement by the Indian government, that it intended ending all coal imports in less than four years, is the sort of trade shock that the port is right to be concerned about.
As a customer, India last year accounted for only 2.3 million tonnes of coal from Newcastle, or about 1.4 per cent of the port's coal exports. But if one of the port's bigger trading partners - namely Japan, taking 42 per cent of our coal, or China, with 21 per cent - made a similar declaration, the effect could be noticeable indeed. Especially as last week's announcement may well put an end to the argument that India was set to be the next big market for Newcastle coal.
The container restrictions on Newcastle may be difficult and expensive to untangle. But the Hunter must be free to pursue its own economic prosperity, free of artificially contrived restraints on competition.
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