Updated March 26 2022
Treasurer made unauthorised decision to pay NSW Ports
The ACCC’s Federal Court action involving a contractual commitment made by the State of NSW to pay the lessee of Port Botany and Port Kembla for container traffic at the Port of Newcastle is awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the court’s Full Bench.
The State claims that Parliament authorised the then NSW Treasurer in 2012 to make the payment under section 6 of the “Ports Assets (Authorised Transactions) Act 2012” (PAAT Act), which says: “The Treasurer has and may exercise all such functions as are necessary or convenient for the purposes of an authorised transaction.”
The public record shows that the Treasurer’s decision to make the payment was concealed from Parliament when the “Ports Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill 2012” was introduced into Parliament on October 17 2012. There was no disclosure of an intended payment in the Explanatory Note to the bill, Second Reading Speech, and Parliamentary debate. For this reason, the payment is not specified in, and specifically authorised by, section 6 of the PAAT Act. If the payment was so specified and authorised, it would comply with the “Competition and Consumer Act 2010” (CCA) under section 51, whereby the ACCC would be unable to take its action in the Federal Court.
In his Second Reading Speech on October 17 2012, the Treasurer said: “I advise the House that the bill is designed to maximise the proceeds from the sale and exceed the retention values set for the assets. I say to the House— and I will say this every day before the transaction—that we will not necessarily proceed with this transaction. We will only proceed if we exceed the retention values for the assets.”
Speaking in support of the bill on October 17 2012, Mr Dominic Perrottet said: “The bill authorises the Treasurer to exercise all functions as may be necessary for the purposes of the transaction.” Mr Perrottet did not disclose that paying a lessee of Port Botany and Port Kembla for container traffic at the Port of Newcastle was necessary “to maximise the proceeds from the sale and exceed the retention values set for the assets”.
Payment was intentionally concealed from Parliament to prevent Parliament from considering the payment’s purpose, which was “to maximises the proceeds from the sale and exceed the retention values set for the assets”. Parliament was intentionally prevented from considering the manipulation of the market by a confidential taxpayer-funded inducement that would reduce the net proceeds from any sale relative to the “retention values set for the assets”. These retention values were concealed from Parliament.
Parliament was intentionally prevented from making a decision about authorising payment.
The Federal Court is conducting a trial involving the disproven claim made by the then Treasurer, the Hon Dominic Perrottet, on March 18 2021, that Parliament made a decision about authorising payment under section 6 of the PAAT Act. Consequently, the trial is being conducted into a decision made by the then Treasurer in 2012 and not by Parliament. The Treasurer does not make the law. Parliament makes the law. The trial involves a law that was not made. It is a mis-trial.
Funding the commitment to pay NSW Ports
Parliament authorised the leasing of Port Botany and Port Kembla, but not the Port of Newcastle, by legislating the PAAT Act in November 2012. NSW Ports Pty Ltd purchased the leases in May 2013.
The ACCC alleges in the Federal Court that it was illegal under the section 45 anti-competition provisions of the CCA for the State to recover the cost of paying NSW Ports from the lessee of the Port of Newcastle. Port of Newcastle Investments Pty Ltd (PoN) leased the port in May 2014.
The State’s contractual commitment to pay NSW Ports was intentionally concealed from Parliament in June 2013 when the PAAT Act was amended to authorise leasing the Port of Newcastle to the private sector. The PAAT Act was amended before a decision was made in November 2013 to sell a lease to the Port of Newcastle.
The State denies that the Port of Newcastle was leased to the private sector for the purpose of funding the contractual commitment to pay NSW Ports. The State declines to identify its source of funds to pay NSW Ports.
In the period June – November 2013, the then Treasurer unsuccessfully attempted to fund the State’s commitment to pay NSW Ports.
In August 2013, the State required Mayfield to meet the cost of the State paying NSW Ports as a condition of negotiating with NPC. But In August 2012 and July 2013, the State had “dictated that a container port not proceed at Newcastle”. Mayfield won a tender conducted by NPC in 2010 to become preferred proponent to develop a multi-purpose cargo handling facility at the Port of Newcastle, which included a dedicated container terminal with minimum capacity of one million TEUS a year.
Under the State’s lease agreement with NSW Ports, the State would not pay NSW Ports if NSW Ports developed a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle, or leased the Port of Newcastle, or any material part of it. This commitment to NSW Ports was disclosed to Mayfield in August 2013.
In October 2013, Mayfield informed NPC and the State (see pages 13 and 14) that it considered the requirement to pay the State to be illegal under the CCA.
Mayfield is alleging in the Federal Court that NSW Ports contravened the CCA due to the State’s requirement for payment, which prevented Mayfield from developing a container terminal.
The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) said in August 2016:
“As a statutory state-owned corporation, the NPC was obliged to comply with the NSW Government’s “Working with Government Guidelines”. Mr Webb [Chief Executive Officer of NPC] explained that, in accordance with the guidelines, the NPC had conducted “direct negotiations” with the NSC. By 2010, the direct negotiations had been completed and the process had moved to the point where the NSC had been identified as the preferred proponent. From this point, the NPC could enter “commercial negotiations” with the NSC with a view to concluding a final contract. This required ministerial approval and the NPC was seeking that permission from [then State Treasurer] Mr Roozendaal.”
The State’s “Working With Government Guidelines” were updated in August 2012 and re-named “NSW Public Private Partnerships Guidelines”. The NSW Treasury web site says: “Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) are one of the options the Government uses to procure infrastructure and offers opportunities to improve services and better value for money, primarily through appropriate risk transfer, encouraging innovation, greater asset utilisation and integrated whole-of-life management.”
Under the 2012 PPP Guidelines, NPC was required to receive approval from the Treasurer for the proposed contractual arrangements with NSC, as documented in Term Sheets. These were contractual arrangements imposed on NPC and Mayfield by the Treasurer.
The ACCC gave no indication in June 2013 that it was even aware of the payment and cost recovery regime.
Under the 2012 PPP Guidelines, Treasury had authority to pay compensation to Mayfield subject to Cabinet approval:
“4.3.4 REIMBURSEMENT OF BID COSTS
While processes outlined in these Guidelines endeavour to minimise the bid costs for the private sector, Government will not normally reimburse bidding costs.
In certain circumstances, consideration may be given to the full or partial reimbursement of bidders’ reasonable bidding costs. Any reimbursement will be based on the quality and quantity of information supplied by the proponent(s). Where reimbursement is paid, the agency will retain the proprietary rights to the bidding material.
Any reimbursement will be at the sole discretion of the NSW Government with Cabinet approval, based on recommendations by NSW Treasury.”
On February 28 2020, the Federal Court ordered (see Annexure 2, item 3) the State to give discovery of: “All documents provided to Mayfield Development Corporation Pty Ltd in relation to any settlement entered into with Mayfield upon ceasing negotiations in relation to the Proposed Mayfield Development (as defined in Annexure 4 and howsoever described in the documents).”
When asked if a settlement with Mayfield was reached, the State said “these matters are commercial in confidence”. Any settlement required Cabinet approval. Mayfield said its costs were $8 million.
In a further attempt to block a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle, the State announced in February 2022 that it was selling the port’s 52 ha “Intertrade” site.
“Financial support” payable to NSW Ports
“Financial support” is payable to NSW Ports for foregone wharfage due to container traffic above a minimal specific cap at the Port of Newcastle. For example, one million containers a year above the cap will cost the government around $100 million a year.
No support is payable if NSW Ports develops a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle, or leases the Port of Newcastle, or any material part of the port. NSW Ports is exempt from the state’s policy on container facility development. Announced on July 27 2012, the policy is that a container terminal will not be developed at the Port of Newcastle before Port Botany and Port Kembla become fully developed.
The PAAT Act does not authorise the use of consolidated revenue to pay financial support to NSW Ports. The State secretly decided to penalise a lessee of the Port of Newcastle to recover the cost of paying support to a lessee of Port Botany and Port Kembla.
The State advised Parliament that the government’s financial obligation to support NSW Ports was passed to the lessee of the Port of Newcastle, PoN. However, PoN has no obligation to pay NSW Ports. PoN agreed that the cost incurred by the State in paying financial support to NSW Ports would be recoverable from PoN.
The State denies that the decision to lease the Port of Newcastle to the private sector was “for the purpose of funding the government’s contractual commitment to pay NSW Ports”. Further, the State denies having “entered into any agreements that create a disincentive or obstacle to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle”. This denial was made before the penalty was exposed by the Newcastle Herald on July 28 2016. The State now confirms that PoN incurs a penalty that is an impediment to developing a container terminal.
The State confirms that the law permits a container terminal to be developed at the Port of Newcastle. The State also confirms that PoN has a contractual right to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle. At the same time, the State confirms that PoN is not exempt from the government’s policy on container facility development, which is that a container terminal will not be developed at the Port of Newcastle. Plainly, PoN is exempt from the State’s policy on container facility development because it has a contractual right to develop a container terminal.
The State’s terms for developing a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle were announced on July 27 2012. These terms are that a container terminal will not be developed at the Port of Newcastle before Port Botany and Port Kembla become fully developed. The State has repudiated its own policy.
Legislation and the “cap”
The term “cap” was used by the then Minister for Roads and Ports, the Hon Duncan Gay, in answer to a question on October 17 2013: “How much compensation will be paid to the private operator of Port Botany if a new container terminal is developed at Newcastle Port?”
Mr Gay: “I have indicated in the House, as I have in Newcastle—indeed, I made a special visit to Newcastle to talk to the board, the chief executive officer and the local community—that part of the lease and the rationalisation was a cap on numbers there.”
….. “Certainly, a number of containers will come in under general cargo, but there will not be an extension. The only time an extension is allowed is when a specific number is reached and is tripped in Port Botany and Port Kembla.”
….. “We do not envisage that any compensation will need to be put in place.”
But Mr Gay told Budget Estimates on August 31 2015 that there is no cap at the Port of Newcastle.
Mr Gay answered these supplementary questions. Mr Gay said on September 13 2016 and August 10 2016: “The port transaction deeds do not trigger any cross‑payments until a threshold container throughput is reached.”
In answer to QON 1201 on October 22 2019, the Hon Dominic Perrottet said: “There is no minimal specified cap and no compensation payments to NSW Ports have been incurred under the respective Port Commitment Deeds for Port Botany and Port Kembla.”
Meaning of “container”
The State confirms that the meaning of “container” for the purposes of the government’s policy on container facility development is the meaning given in the lease arrangements called “Port Commitment Deeds” for the three ports:
“Container means any moveable device, designed for continuous use in loading and unloading cargoes on and from Ships, including boxes, crates, cylinders, tanks, TEUs, other stackable units and any similar cargo-carrying device which is designated as a container by international stevedoring standards from time to time and Containerised has a corresponding meaning.
(a) overseas import containers;
(b) overseas export containers; and,
(c) local containers (coastal inwards or outwards); and
(d) empty containers and transhipped containers.”
Support is payable to NSW Ports for TEUs carried on general cargo ships at the Port of Newcastle.
The then Premier, the Hon Gladys Berejiklian, advised Parliament on September 5 2019: “You would need to triple container movements at the Port of Newcastle before any penalties came into play. So I say to those communities that want to increase their container movements at the point [sic], there is capacity to triple that under the current arrangements. …. Unless I am mistaken, there would need to be a significant increase in the number of containers moving to and from that port before any type of financial impediment was struck.”
There is no TEU container terminal at the Port of Newcastle. The existing container terminal accommodates general cargo ships. Current throughput is 3,000 TEUs a year carried on 500 general cargo ships.
In comparison, one container ship visiting an Australian container port averages 10,000 TEUs per visit, comprising 5,000 import and 5,000 export.
The States policy on container facility development originated in a 2012 scoping study for leasing Port Botany and Port Kembla to the private sector. This scoping study included an “optimal container strategy for NSW”, as disclosed by the then Treasurer on March 22 2012 and April 26 2012.
The then Treasurer gave Parliament a commitment in 2012 not to lease Port Botany and Port Kembla to the private sector if the lease price did not exceed the retention value. The decision to penalise container traffic at the Port of Newcastle was concealed from the public and Parliament because it was designed to inflate the lease value of Port Botany and Port Kembla.
ACCC examination in 2013
The ACCC commenced an examination of the State’s policy on container facility development on April 26 2013, after receiving a complaint from Greg Cameron (author of this web site) that the State’s decision not to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle was anti-competitive under the CCA.
On June 7 2013, the ACCC concluded: “From the information provided, it was unlikely that the NSW government was carrying on a business when it decided not to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle. As such, policy or planning decisions are likely to fall outside the operation of the Act, therefore the ACCC will not be taking any further action.”
The ACCC took no action to enforce the CCA in 2013 because it had no knowledge of the support obligation.
The ACCC did not know that the State amended its Term Sheets with Mayfield to include funding the government’s concealed contractual commitment to pay support to NSW Ports. The ACCC did not know that Mayfield had advised the State that it considered the requirement to pay the government to be illegal under the CCA (see page 14 here).
However, Mr Perrottet, in answer to Budget Estimates supplementary question 42 on April 1 2021, said that the ACCC was informed about the penalty before the port was leased to PoN: “In asset transactions Treasury typically consults with a range of regulators including the ACCC. This was the case in relation to the ports transactions, and the ACCC was aware of the Port Commitment Deeds prior to the Port of Newcastle transaction,” Mr Perrottet said.
The State said at page 15 of its submission to the Public Works Committee dated January 14 2019: “When Newcastle Port was leased in 2014, some of the State’s obligations to NSW Ports were contractually passed through to the Lessee of Newcastle Port. This arrangement was known to bidders and the ACCC ahead of the transaction and is documented in the Port of Newcastle PCD.”
In answer to QON 6677 on January 16 2015, the then Treasurer, the Hon Andrew Constance, said: “The government’s transaction team engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regarding the competition and regulatory framework, including the container arrangements.”
Parliament was told on August 11 2016: “When the Government sought to lease the ports, the arrangements were properly examined by the … Commission.”
The ACCC does not corroborate these claims.
On December 10 2018, the ACCC commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against NSW Ports, alleging that it was illegal under the CCA for the State to recover the cost of the support obligation from PoN. The trial was conducted in October – December 2020. The Court dismissed the ACCC’s action on June 29 2021. The ACCC lodged an appeal on July 27 2021. NSW Ports lodged a Cross-Appeal on August 18 2021. Mayfield applied to the court to intervene in the Appeal. Approval was given and Mayfield lodged a written submission. The Court’s Full Bench heard the appeal on February 17 – 22 2022. The Court reserved its decision.
Timeline and References
Government policy statements to January 2020 are here.
2008 March 6: Member for Newcastle, Ms Jodi McKay, informs Parliament of government decision to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle.
2009 November: Newcastle Port Corporation (NPC), a statutory state-owned corporation, receives government approval to develop a container terminal with minimum capacity of 1 million TEUs a year, calls for expressions of interest.
2010 February 11: Newcastle Stevedores Consortium Pty Ltd (NSC) submits detailed proposal to NPC. NPC negotiates with NSC. Term Sheets are prepared. NPC seeks approval from the NSW Treasurer to enter into a contract with NSC.
In its “Statement of Corporate Intent” for 2010-11, Newcastle Port Corporation says:
“6.2 Executing NPC’s Container Strategy
NPC’s strategy for establishing the next container terminal in New South Wales on the Mayfield site is:
to ensure the NSW Ports Plan confirms that the Mayfield site in the Port of Newcastle would be the site for the next major international container terminal in the State;
to ensure State and National reviews (such as the NSW Freight Strategy) are informed on the opportunities that the Mayfield site offers as a future container terminal site that is capable of being delivered at low cost to the State; and
to seek a suitable partner to establish a container facility on Mayfield ahead of the facilities at Port Botany reaching capacity.”
2010 May 5: NPC invites NSC (and no other bidder) to engage in further discussions regarding the development and operation of cargo terminals at Mayfield.
2011 March 26: NPC does not receive government approval to enter into a contract with NSC before the March 26 2011 state election for the reasons noted by the NSW “Independent Commission Against Corruption”.
2011 April 12: NPC endorses NSC as preferred proponent for the development a Container Terminal and other port infrastructure at Mayfield; commences negotiating the terms of leases and project delivery agreements, the execution of which would require approval of NPC’s board of directors and the government.
2011 October 24: NPC and NSC complete negotiation of agreements for development by NSC of a Container Terminal and other port infrastructure at Mayfield.
2011 November 3: NPC’s Board resolves to seek government approval for NPC to execute the proposed project agreements .
2011 December 9: Government decides to conduct a scoping and strategy study in respect of its proposed lease of Port Botany and will not consider approving the execution by NPC of the proposed project agreements until the scoping and strategy study are concluded.
2011 December 14: Mayfield Development Corporation Pty Ltd (MDC) is registered by NSC. MDC is owned 61 per cent by Grup Maritim TCB and 39 per cent by Anglo Ports Pty Ltd.
Morgan Stanley is appointed to conduct a scoping study, in the first-half of 2012, into leasing Port Botany and Port Kembla. Government instructs Morgan Stanley to include a container “cap” for the purpose of making it uneconomical to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle.
2012 March 2 – Written brief to Hon M Baird proposing rail freight bypass
2012 March 22: Reply from Hon M Baird
2012 April: Bidders for Port Botany advise government that a competing container terminal at the Port of Newcastle could negatively affect perceived value of Port Botany to potential bidders.
2012 April 4 – Written brief to Hon M Baird about Newcastle rail bypass
2012 April 26 – Hon M Baird advises “at this stage, a decision is yet to be made about whether to proceed with a container terminal at Newcastle”.
2012 July 16: Minister for Planning and Infrastructure approves NPC’s “Concept Plan” under the “Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979”.
2012 July 27: Government announces a decision to lease Port Botany and Port Kembla. Included in this announcement is a decision not to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle. The government’s intention to require MDC to pay the penalty is concealed from the public, parliament, NPC and MDC.
2012 August 30: Treasurer informs NSC the government will not approve a proposal that involves developing a Container Terminal at the Port of Newcastle before the developable container handling capacity at Port Botany and Port Kembla has been developed and is being fully utilised; and, the government will not execute the proposed project agreements negotiated by NSC and NPC. The government conceals its intention to apply the penalty to MDC.
2012 October 17 – 2nd reading of “Ports Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill 2012” committing government not to lease Ports Botany and Kembla unless lease values exceed retention values.
2012 November 22 – Parliament passes the “Ports Assets (Authorised Transactions) Act 2012”.
2013 March 15: Government provides bidders for Port Botany/Port Kembla with draft Port Commitment Deeds and a memorandum concerning the development of multi-cargo facilities at the Port of Newcastle. Did this memorandum inform bidders about the government’s intention to require payment from MDC for developing a container terminal?
2013 April 26 – Letter requesting ACCC examination of “decision” not to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle.
2013 May 31: Port Botany and Port Kembla are leased to NSW Ports Pty Ltd. The government contractually commits to pay NSW Ports for losing container business to the Port of Newcastle. NSW Ports is aware that a container terminal may be developed at the Port of Newcastle contrary to government policy.
2013 June 7: ACCC responds to the April 26 request to examine the government’s “decision” not to develop a Newcastle container terminal; decides to take no action to enforce the CCA in the belief that the CCA does not apply to the government due to government policy that a container terminal will not be developed at the Port of Newcastle. The government’s intention to apply the penalty to MDC is concealed from the ACCC because the penalty disproves the government’s policy.
2013 June 18: Treasurer Baird announces a scoping study into leasing the Port of Newcastle.
2013 June 26: Parliament passes “Ports Assets (Authorised Transactions) Amendment Act 2013” enabling the Port of Newcastle to be leased while concealing its unfunded contractual commitment to pay NSW Ports and its intention to apply the Port of Newcastle container penalty to MDC.
2013 July 23 – letter from Hon A Albanese
2013 July 26: NSW Treasurer again “dictates” to MDC that “a container port not proceed at Newcastle”. The government conceals its intention to apply the penalty to MDC.
2013 August 5: MDC is informed about the penalty (see 6 i, j). NPC is required to include the penalty in the Term Sheets with MDC. NPC Board is obliged to satisfy itself that the penalty is legal under the CCA.
2013 October 17: Minister advises Parliament that the NPC Board was informed about a “cap on numbers”, but does not disclose that NPC’s Term Sheets with MDC were amended to include the penalty. NPC Board is aware that no decision has been made to lease the Port of Newcastle. NPC Board is aware that NPC is not exempt from the CCA in respect of the penalty.
2013 October 28: Treasurer Baird announces that no decision has been made to lease the Port of Newcastle.
2013 November: NPC terminates its negotiation with MDC on an undisclosed date because the penalty is likely to contravene the CCA.
2013 November 5: A decision to lease the Port of Newcastle is announced.
2014 March 4: Hon M Baird confirms official container terminal policy.
2014 May 1: NSW Treasury advises media: “The [Port of Newcastle] lease has been drawn up in accordance with the current NSW Government freight policy of Port Botany being the first container facility priority, with Port Kembla designated to take the overflow once Port Botany is full. Newcastle will be further developed once Port Kembla is full. Newcastle container throughput is, in the meantime, fully able to grow organically.” The contractual commitment to pay NSW Ports is not disclosed. The inclusion of the penalty in the lease to PoN is not disclosed.
2014 May 7: Parliament is informed that the proposed lease of the Port of Newcastle does not contain any provision that prevents a container terminal being developed on the former steelworks site. The inclusion of the penalty in the lease arrangements with PoN is not disclosed.
2014 May 11: Newcastle Herald reports:
“The government has confirmed it leased Botany with a clause that prevented Newcastle from competing against it with a container terminal.
“And the Newcastle lease is believed to contain a similar undertaking.”
2014 May 31: Port of Newcastle Investments Pty Ltd (PoN) signs a lease agreement with the government for the Port of Newcastle. The penalty is concealed from the public, parliament and NSW Ports.
2014 June 11: The Hon Gladys Berejiklian representing the Minister for Roads and Freight answers QON 5536 asked on May 7 2014: “Does the proposed lease of the Port of Newcastle contain any provision that prevents a container terminal being developed on the former steelworks site? Answer: No.”
2014 June 25: ACCC says:
“… the ACCC remains concerned over arrangements designed to maximise proceeds received by a government by reducing the prospect of competitive provision of port services. Another example relates to Port Botany and the Port of Newcastle. An article in the Newcastle Herald on 11 May 2014 stated:
“The government has confirmed it leased Botany with a clause that prevented Newcastle from competing against it with a container terminal.
And the Newcastle lease is believed to contain a similar undertaking”.
(“Reinvigorating Australia’s Competition Policy”, ACCC, Submission to the Competition Policy Review, 25 June 2014, p.38)
2014 October 30: ACCC says:
“The ACCC encourages early engagement from State governments on any competition issues that may arise in relation to the proposed sale structures or sale conditions for any monopoly or near monopoly assets, including any restrictions on competition proposed in the arrangements. Such restrictions may be unlawful and could be unenforceable.”
(“Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report No.16”, ACCC, October 2014, p.21)
2014 November 26: ACCC says:
“… since the 1990s, Australian governments have increasingly been participating in markets in ways that may not amount to “carrying on a business” for the purpose of competition law. Market-based mechanisms are used by governments to finance, manage and provide government goods and services (described as “contractualised governance” for the delivery of public services). Such mechanisms have the potential to significantly improve efficiency but also have the potential to harm competition – for example, by incorporating, in the contract, provisions that are likely to have the purpose or effect of restricting competition. The ACCC’s Initial Submission (section 3.3.1) includes the examples of:
Sydney airport – where the Commonwealth government leased Sydney Airport with the right of first refusal to operate a second Sydney airport at Badgery’s Creek.
Ports Botany and Kembla and the Port of Newcastle – where the NSW government leased the ports with clauses that may restrict Newcastle from competing against Botany and Kembla for container trade.”
(“Submission to the Competition Policy Review – Response to the Draft Report 26 November 2014”, ACCC, p.32)
2015 January 16: Treasurer, The Hon Andrew Constance MP, answers Question On Notice 6677
LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY 12 December 2014
*6677 PORT OF NEWCASTLE AND PORT BOTANY LEASES—Mr Tim Crakanthorp asked the Treasurer, and Minister for Industrial Relations
(1) Did the Government advise the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) of a cap on container numbers at the Port of Newcastle prior to leasing the Port of Newcastle and Port Botany?
(2) Did the Government agree to compensate NSW Ports for container numbers in excess of the cap at the Port of Newcastle?
(3) Did the Government advise bidders for the ports leases to obtain regulatory approval from the ACCC in relation to the cap on container numbers at the Port of Newcastle?
(4) Will the cap on container numbers at the Port of Newcastle reduce competition between ports in New South Wales for the container trade?
(5) Has the ACCC advised the Government that the cap on container numbers at the Port of Newcastle may be unlawful and could be unenforceable?
Answer (16 January 2015):
The transaction arrangements that the State entered into with the successful bidders for Port Botany and Kembla and the Port of Newcastle reflect its Freight and Ports Strategy, that Port Kembla should be the State’s next container terminal once Port Botany reaches capacity.
This strategy recognises that Port Botany has significant capacity for container growth; most containers travel within a relatively short distance of Port Botany; future demand for containers is expected to occur in the South West of Sydney and thereby closer to Port Kembla than Newcastle; and the landside infrastructure costs to support a major container facility at Newcastle are higher than for Port Kembla.
The arrangements do not prohibit the development of a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle and enable the growth of container volumes through Newcastle servicing that region.
The Government’s transaction team engaged extensively with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regarding the competition and regulatory framework, including the container arrangements.
2015: PoN enters into an exclusive agreement with DP World to develop a container terminal.
2015 February 10: Anglo Ports statement published on NSW Parliament web site.
2015 August 31: The (former) Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, The Hon Duncan Gay MLC, denies there is a container “cap” at the Port of Newcastle.
2015 September 3: Hon Gladys Berejiklian denies there is a container “cap” at the Port of Newcastle.
2015 September 29: Hon Gladys Berejiklian continues to deny there is a container “cap”. Ms Berejiklian confirms: “I am advised that the lessee could develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle if it wished to do so.” (See question 29)
2016 July 28: “The Newcastle Herald” exposes the Port of Newcastle container “cap”.
2016 July 29 – Hon A Albanese media release
2016 August 10: Following media exposure of the container “cap” at the Port of Newcastle, the (former) Minister for Roads, Maritime and Freight, The Hon Duncan Gay MLC, provides some details.
2016 August 30 – ICAC releases “Operation Spicer” report detailing negotiations in 2010 between Newcastle Port Corporation and Newcastle Stevedores Consortium.
2016 September 1/2015 September 3: Budget Estimates testimony Hon G Berejiklian MP
2016 September 1: Hon Gladys Berejiklian defends her denial in 2015 that there is a container “cap” at the Port of Newcastle, on grounds that the “cap” is confidential.
2016 September 27: Hon Gladys Berejiklian advises that the “Government’s transaction team engaged extensively with the ACCC from the early stages of all the port transactions regarding the competition and regulatory framework supporting the transactions”.
2017 January 27 – letter on behalf of Federal Treasurer, Hon S Morrison
2017 February 23: ACCC confirms advice provided on June 7 2013 that the CCA does not apply to the government in respect of a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle due to the government’s decision on July 27 2012 not to develop a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle.
2017 October 10: Government confirms that “the use of consolidated revenue to pay NSW Ports for container shipments above the Government’s cap at the Port of Newcastle” is not authorised by the PA Act.
2018 August 16: PoN’s exclusive contract with DP World to develop a container terminal lapses. PoN to proceed with developing a container terminal itself.
2018 December 10: ACCC commences court action in the Federal Court against NSW Ports for making agreements with the NSW government that the ACCC alleges “had an anti-competitive purpose and effect” (see pages 7 and 30).
Government states: “When Newcastle Port was leased in 2014, some of the State’s obligations to NSW Ports were contractually passed through to the Lessee of Newcastle Port. This arrangement was known to bidders and the ACCC ahead of the transaction and is documented in the Port of Newcastle PCD.”
2019 January 21: NSW Ports was aware of the government’s actual container terminal policy but not the penalty.
2019 February 12: PoN answers supplementary questions from the Public Works Committee.
2019 May 15 – Federal Court order revealing MDC “transaction parameters”.
2019 May 31: MDC commences legal proceedings against NSW Ports in the Federal Court.
2019 August 19: MDC and NSW Ports Pty Ltd agree in the Federal Court to stay proceedings.
2019 September 5: Hon Gladys Berejiklian tells parliament:
“You would need to triple container movements at the Port of Newcastle before any penalties came into play. So I say to those communities that want to increase their container movements at the point, there is capacity to triple that under the current arrangements…. Unless I am mistaken, there would need to be a significant increase in the number of containers moving to and from that port before any type of financial impediment was struck.”
There is no container terminal at the Port of Newcastle. In 2020, 451 general cargo ships carried 2,957 containers through the port. An average container ship carries 10,000 containers per visit.
2019 October 11: Federal Court orders include this:
… at all relevant times prior to 31 May 2013 …
(E) …. any prospect that the operator of Port Kembla and/or the operator of the Port of Newcastle could materially increase supply of Container Services including by development and use of a Container Terminal at Port Kembla and/or the Port of Newcastle was so slight or hypothetical as not to be a relevant competitive constraint on the operator of Port Botany.
(F) the policy position of the State of New South Wales was that any new Container Terminal at Port Kembla or the Port of Newcastle would not be built until Port Botany reached full capacity.”
At all relevant times prior to May 31 2013, and until November 2013, the government’s preferred proponent for developing a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle was NSC. A container terminal could be developed under the government’s planning approval dated July 16 2012.
2019 November 6 – ACCC releases “Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report 2018-2019”.
2019 November 27: The government’s meaning of container is confidential and sub judice (see question 16 here).
There is a dispute between the government and the ACCC (see question 8 here) about the date the ACCC was told the developer of a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle is required to pay the government for container volumes exceeding a threshold level.
The Treasurer, The Hon Dominic Perrottet MP, claims (see question 18 here) that the current Minister for Transport, The Hon Andrew Constance MP, was not the Treasurer when the Treasurer answered supplementary question 53 on August 22 2014. Treasurer Constance said: “Attempts by Government to dictate uneconomic enterprises contrary to market demand are examples of the kind of rent seeking activity likely to encourage influence peddling or corruption. As the container port did not proceed, there is no decision to review.”
2019 December 4 : Government policy features prominently in Federal Court orders.
2019 December 12: The Federal Court orders the parties to the ACCC’s action to agree a mediator by no later than January 31 2020. The parties are to attend a conference with the mediator by no later than April 3 2020.
2020 February 3: MDC files affidavit and interlocutory application with Federal Court. A Court hearing date is set for February 11 2020.
2020 February 10: Federal Court order ACCC V NSW Ports
2020 February 11: Federal Court order MDC V NSW Ports
2020 February 26: Judgement reserved in Federal Court hearing.
2020 March 5: Federal Court dismisses MDC’s application to lift the stay in proceedings. The Court said: “24 If, as MDC foreshadowed, the ACCC proceeding settles or is otherwise to be resolved on the basis of limited agreed facts, then MDC could apply at that time to lift the stay and the delay it may suffer will not be as great as might otherwise be the case. Similarly, if the hearing of the ACCC proceeding is itself delayed by unforeseen circumstances, it may be possible to achieve the concurrent hearing of the two proceedings. MDC will be able to re-agitate its claim to lift the stay in any of these circumstances.”
2020 March 9 – Treasurer is asked eight supplementary questions at Budget Estimates about the terms for developing a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle.
2020 March 26 – Federal Court orders
2020 April 23 – Treasurer Perrottet answers supplementary question 78
2020 May 26 – Revised MDC Statement of Claim
A better way
Moorebank Intermodal Terminal Company Ltd (see Table 3-7 here) estimates that by 2040, there will be six million container trucks movements a year through Port Botany, which will reduce to five million if the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal operates at full capacity. Current container truck movements through Port Botany are one million a year. However, the government is unable to identify the capacity of the rail freight network serving the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal.
Industry super funds own 80 percent of NSW Ports and 50 percent of Port of Newcastle Investments. These funds represent more than six million Australian workers and retired workers. Their responsibility to their members obliges then to act in the best interests of the Australian economy. It is in the best interests of the economy to transfer container terminal operations from Port Botany to the Port of Newcastle and Port Kembla, enabled by building a rail freight line between the Port of Newcastle, Badgery’s Creek and Port Kembla.
A rail freight bypass of Sydney – between Newcastle, Badgery’s Creek and Port Kembla – could be paid for by developing a container terminal at the Port of Newcastle and railing all containers for the entire NSW market.
A bi-partisan approach between the government and the opposition in the Parliament is required. Collaboration between NSW Ports and Port of Newcastle Investments is required. Development of a commercial arrangement to enhance all investors’ commercial returns by properly engaging the ACCC, is required. The objective is to develop an economic development strategy that is demonstrably better for the NSW economy than current arrangements.
This is what an investigation will involve:
Railing containers, rather than trucking them, will pay for privately funding, building and operating a rail freight bypass of Sydney, between the Port of Newcastle, Badgery’s Creek and Port Kembla. The compelling benefits of a rail-based freight transport strategy were provided in the “Deloitte Access Economics” report “The True Value of Rail, in June 2011
Intermodal terminals would be established along the rail freight line to maximise logistics efficiency. Intermodal terminals established in regional areas would enable long term planning of the state’s future development based on rail transportation of containerised goods.
Regional economic development
Rail-based access to a container port is a prerequisite for regional economic development because 95% of world trade in goods is conducted using containers. Linked container terminals at the Port of Newcastle and Port Kembla would enable Sydney firms to profitably relocate to regional areas to take advantage of under-utilised regional infrastructure.
Around 85% of Port Botany’s containers are trucked. Currently, there are one million container truck movements a year through Port Botany. By 2040, there will be six million container truck movements a year. Even if the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal operates at full capacity, it will reduce the total by a mere one million a year.
A container truck carrying a full container in the M5 East west-bound tunnel is the equivalent of six passenger cars. A container truck in the east-bound M5 East tunnel is the equivalent of three passenger cars. Without WestConnex, there is no road capacity to handle the predicted increase in container truck movements through Port Botany.
However, it is necessary to connect WestConnex to Port Botany. This significant cost can be avoided if all containers are railed from the Port of Newcastle, with back-up from Port Kembla.
Port Botany would be closed as a container port after capacity was developed at Newcastle and Port Kembla, and the rail freight bypass was completed. While this work was underway, Botany freight would be railed via Glenfield to intermodal terminals at Badgery’s Creek or Eastern Creek, once built.
Increased rail passenger capacity
Removing freight from Sydney’s existing rail network would enable the capacity to be used for passenger services. Likewise removing freight from the existing rail lines between Newcastle and Sydney, and Port Kembla and Sydney, would allow the capacity to be used for passenger services. The economic value of converting rail freight capacity to passenger capacity is examined in “The True Value of Rail”.
Moorebank Intermodal Terminal
There would be no intermodal terminal at Moorebank because the existing rail freight capacity would be used for passenger services.
Northern Sydney Freight Corridor
The $1 billion “Northern Sydney Freight Corridor Stage One” will reach capacity by 2026. Stages 2 and 3 – to create the equivalent of a dedicated freight line between Newcastle and Strathfield – will cost at least $5 billion. This cost would be saved by building a rail freight bypass that would also have capacity to carry freight that would otherwise be trucked into Sydney, not only from the north but also from the south and west.
Maldon-Dombarton freight line
The $800 million cost of the Maldon-Dombarton freight line – connecting Port Kembla to the main southern line, extending to Badgery’s Creek and the Port of Newcastle – would be met by railing containers after Port Botany was closed.
Western Sydney Freight Line
There would be no need to build the $1 billion Western Sydney Freight Line, between Chullora and Eastern Creek.
Port Botany Rail Freight Line
There would be no need to spend $400 million upgrading the Port Botany rail freight line.
Hawkesbury River bridge
A vital second rail bridge would be built over the Hawkesbury River as part of the rail freight bypass.
Removing container ships from Port Botany would enable the short parallel runway at Sydney airport to be extended from 2600 metres to 4000 metres.
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