Anger over refusal to release Botany report

By Tim Dick and Darren Goodsir
September 26, 2005

The NSW Government will not release an independent report on the proposed expansion of the Port Botany freight terminal until after it has decided whether to approve it, a move that has infuriated local community groups.

Last year, the Government referred the plan – pushed by the Sydney Ports Corporation – to an independent commission of inquiry, which held public hearings and received hundreds of submissions on the intended 63-hectare reclamation of Botany Bay.

The commissioner, Kevin Cleland, submitted the completed report four months ago and had to wait six weeks until the former minister for infrastructure and planning, Craig Knowles, could find time to discuss the findings with him.

Mr Knowles and his successor, Frank Sartor, have steadfastly refused to make the report public.

By law, Mr Cleland can release the report at a time of his choosing, but convention has seen previous commission of inquiry reports made public only with ministerial consent.

Mr Sartor told a NSW parliamentary estimates committee last week that he would not release the report until he had made a decision on the port’s future.

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Asked by the Greens MP Sylvia Hale if it was important that the public has access to the report, Mr Sartor said it was, but it was also important not to produce “just part of the information and create a slanted view”.

Joan Staples, who is leading an anti-expansion campaign called Save Botany Beach, said the report should be released to allow informed public discussion of the proposal.

“Transparent development of public policy on such a major issue requires further public debate, especially as there have been further significant developments in recent months,” she said.

In evidence before the inquiry, the Department of Planning backtracked on its earlier support for Sydney Ports’ 63-hectare expansion, saying it could back only a 47-hectare boost to the container facilities, that it should be done in stages, and that thorough environmental assessments should be done at regular intervals during construction.

The inquiry also heard wildly fluctuating estimates on the capacity of the port, which at present sees 1.2 million container movements a year.

One of the stevedores, Patrick Corporation, said present facilities could see 8 million movements.

Last year, the Herald published the contents of a leaked state cabinet report which said there would be a tripling of truck movements by 2021, even if incentives were given to firms to move freight by train.

The Government, which has appointed the former Labor politician Laurie Brereton to devise a comprehensive freight strategy, has floated the idea of a $30-per-container levy to pay for upgrades to local roads and rail tracks.

At a separate estimates hearing, the Minister for Ports and Waterways, Eric Roozendaal, fended off questions on the terminal’s future, despite Ms Hale arguing it was vital for him to take an interest in truck congestion if the terminal’s efficient operations were to be maintained.

When Ms Hale asked Mr Roozendaal to comment on a report by the Sea Freight Council of NSW that forecasts a rise in truck traffic at the port of between 3400 and 4600 vehicles a day, he dismissed her concerns as “obsessive”.