Greens seek truth on port – Newcastle Herald

By IAN KIRKWOOD

THE Greens will push whoever is in power in NSW after next month’s election to come clean on port leasing arrangements that are believed to stop Newcastle competing with Port Botany on large-scale container trade.

Greens MLC John Kaye said on Sunday that the Baird government’s refusal to come clean on the lease of both ports had gone far enough.

‘‘The Liberals describe themselves as the party of free enterprise but there is growing evidence to show they have intervened to fatten up the sale price for Port Botany and Port Kembla at the expense of the economic future of the Hunter,’’ Dr Kaye said.

Earlier this month, a Newcastle Herald editorial asked readers to consider ‘‘the government’s secretive imposition of a contractual penalty clause on the Port of Newcastle, designed to prevent it competing with Sydney in container handling’’.

The government has repeatedly declined to challenge this and similar statements.

It has also declined to comment on a letter from would-be Newcastle terminal operator Anglo Ports, which accuses the NSW Treasury of ‘‘erroneous’’ and ‘‘misleading’’ statements about the subject.

The letter has been published by an upper house standing committee on the parliamentary website.

It follows questions last August by Dr Kaye, who asked whether Treasury was reviewing the Newcastle decision, given ‘‘significant allegations of at least influence peddling and political interference under Labor surrounding’’ the proposal.

Treasury responded by saying: ‘‘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.’’

In a letter dated February 10, Anglo ‘‘categorically denies’’ its proposal ‘‘had any of these characteristics’’.

Anglo says Mike Baird, as treasurer, twice ‘‘dictated that a container port not proceed at Newcastle’’.

It says these interventions, along with others about the port, were ‘‘decisions . . . capable of being reviewed’’.

On Friday, a spokesman for Treasurer Andrew Constance said the Treasurer had answered the parliamentary question and had nothing further to add.