Government called on to ‘come clean’ on cap – Newcastle Herald by Michael McGowan

JODI McKay has demanded the state government come clean on whether there is a cap on containers at the Port of Newcastle.

Debate surrounding the terminal revived last week when the Newcastle Herald reported that Peter Francis, an executive with the private port operator, Port of Newcastle, told a business lunch the company was ‘‘looking at’’ a container terminal.

Mr Francis also said there was ‘‘no limit on us doing that despite what we hear sometimes’’.

That prompted Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp to call on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate any restrictions on container trade.

He accused the government of denying the city ‘‘a massive economic boost’’ by making an ‘‘incredibly anti-competitive decision to impose a cap on the number of containers that can go across Newcastle’s wharves’’.

Now Ms McKay, the former state member for Newcastle who long advocated for a container terminal at the port, has also weighed in, saying the government had ‘‘failed to answer time and time again’’ whether or not a cap existed.

‘‘If there is a cap, then the government needs to explain why,’’ she said.

‘‘I have always advocated for diversity of the Port of Newcastle – it requires that, it has missed out time and time again, and I do think containers are good option for the Port of Newcastle,’’ she said.

In June the Herald revealed that ‘‘commitment deeds’’ signed along with leases set out container arrangements for the state’s privatised ports, but the government refused to say whether a charge or cap on containers moved through the Port of Newcastle is also included.

Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian told Parliament then that the ports are ‘‘not prevented from competing for handling of containers’’, despite Roads and Freight Minister Duncan Gay saying in 2013 that ‘‘the government has been clear on this . . . that part of the lease and the rationalisation was a cap on numbers there [Newcastle]’’.

While she was the member for Newcastle, Ms McKay was a vocal advocate for a $600 million container terminal proposal for Mayfield.

Last year the ICAC heard allegations that one of Ms McKay’s colleagues, the former minister for ports Eric Roozendaal, helped undermine those ambitions in the lead up to the 2011 election, instead backing Nathan Tinkler’s proposal for a coal-loader.

 

Containers at Patrick Container Terminal, Sydney. Debate about containers at the Port of Newcastle has revived this week.