Federal Nationals leader David Littleproud admits it was a mistake by the former Coalition government not to announce a $250million funding package for a Newcastle Container Terminal - but he insists that Labor now fund the project, which is considered essential for the Hunter's economic diversification.
Mr Littleproud blamed unnamed Liberal Party "bedwetters" in the former Prime Minister's Office for killing off an announcement 24 hours before it was due to be made on Friday May 6.
"Yes, we should have announced it. It (the container terminal) was one of the things that we (the Nationals) held out to get," he said.
"It was people in the PMO who were putting pressure on who wet the bed."
But he says the blunder should not spell the death of the project, which it is estimated would generate more than 19,000 direct and indirect jobs in the Hunter and contribute $2.5 billion to the national economy.
Like many on both sides of politics, Mr Littleproud told the Newcastle Herald the project "just makes economic sense."
The Coalition was planning to fund the project from the $7.1billion Energy Security and Regional Development Plan, which the National Party negotiated in return for supporting Australia's pledge to reach net zero 2050.
The government, which is identifying millions in savings from the Coalition's budget that it describes as 'waste and rorts', has not indicated if it will commit funds to the container terminal in its October budget.
Mr Littleproud said the Coalition would fight to see the project realised.
"This sends a pretty bad signal to the people of the Hunter. The Labor Party just told you what you wanted to hear to get your vote but as soon as the hard lifting comes they take the money away from you," he said.
"How serious are they about the Hunter and more broadly northern NSW?
It is estimated that farmers in the state's north and west who presently export through the Port of Brisbane would save more than $15 tonne by being able to access container terminal infrastructure at Newcastle. Likewise, wine exporters would save an estimated $1.50 a bottle by shipping through the Port of Newcastle.
"If a farmer saves $15 he puts it back into his business and that goes to the local merchant store, the local machinery dealer. Every dollar you put back into a farmer's pocket he spends locally," Mr Littleproud said.
"That's what governments should do, create these efficiencies and that's the return on investment for the Australian taxpayers."
Mr Littleproud dismissed concerns raised by some so-called 'bedwetters' that providing government funding to the Port of Newcastle, which is jointly owned by China Merchants Port Holdings, would be promoting Chinese interests in Australia.
"It's a bit like foreign investment in the 1980s. We were all concerned about the Japanese coming to the Gold Coast and building all of the high rises. I haven't seen any of those high rises put on a boat and taken back to Japan," he said.
"Invariably what happens with foreign investment is they come, they invest, they improve and then they leave and we keep the asset."
The NSW Farmers Federation has echoed the comments, arguing that a deep water Newcastle container terminal would significantly improve the competitiveness of the state's agriculture sector.
Mr Littleproud also took aim at the state government over the 50-year government lease agreements, known as port commitment deeds, that it entered into as part of the privatisation of Port Botany and Port Kembla in May 2013.
The deeds, which the state government maintains are valid, are a major stumbling block to the establishment of a full-scale container terminal at Newcastle.
"(NSW Premier) Perrottet should be thinking more about the 19,000 jobs that are available for the people in his state. We have to rise above this," he said.
"I have seen projects that don't give as good a return as this to the Australian taxpayer - $250million and you are getting 19,000 direct and indirect jobs - You are putting money back into regional communities."
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