Government accused of port deal “cover up” – Newcastle Herald

By MICHELLE HARRIS
Dec. 16, 2014, 9:30 p.m.

THE state government has been accused of a ‘‘blatant attempt at a cover up’’ after two ministers claimed the other was responsible for answering questions about whether a secret cap exists on the number of containers that can be moved though the Port of Newcastle.

Roads and Freight Minister Duncan Gay and Treasurer Andrew Constance referred to each other identical questions lodged in State Parliament by two Greens MPs about whether compensation is payable to the lease holder of Port Botany if container movements through the Port of Newcastle exceed a threshold.

Mr Gay initially referred the string of questions put by Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi to the Treasurer. Last week, Mr Constance said the questions, lodged separately by Greens MLC John Kaye, were a matter for Mr Gay.

Container terminal advocate Greg Cameron separately contacted the Treasurer’s office on Friday and was given yet another response – ‘‘the matters you have raised are the responsibility of the Minister for Environment [Rob Stokes]’’.

The government has refused to disclose the cap, or the compensation payable, despite Mr Gay telling Parliament last year ‘‘the government has been clear on this all the way through the process…that part of the lease and the rationalisation was a cap on numbers there [Newcastle]’’.

‘‘I am not saying that there will be no containers into Newcastle. Certainly, a number of containers will come in under general cargo, but there will not be an extension,’’ Mr Gay said in 2013.

Dr Kaye accused the government of seeking to keep secret whatever restriction had been put in place as part of the leasing of the state’s ports, including Newcastle, and said it should come clean on such significant arrangements for the state.

‘‘This is a blatant attempt at a cover up. The people of Newcastle are being treated with complete contempt,’’ Dr Kaye said.

Contacted by the Newcastle Herald, a spokesman for the Treasurer said ‘‘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,’’ the spokesman said.

In a report released in October, the ACCC said: ‘‘any sale conditions designed to boost asset sale prices by reducing potential competitive pressures on the asset operator would be of concern to the ACCC’’.