Author: ANALYSIS By IAN KIRKWOOD
PORT Kembla’s gain is Newcastle’s loss.
That is the only realistic way to rationalise Treasurer Mike Baird’s plan to offer a long-term lease on Port Kembla, reaping an estimated $500 million of which $100 million will be spent in the Illawara.
But the $100 million is only part of the snub. The Hunter, after all, will supposedly receive $350 million from the Hunter Infrastructure Fund.
No. The real importance of the announcement is the selection of Port Kembla as the state’s backup port to Port Botany, all but ruling out the chances of a major container terminal ever being built in the Port of Newcastle.
Treasury officials told the Newcastle Herald yesterday that Port Kembla had been added to a scoping study into the future of Port Botany.
The idea was to shape Port Kembla as a backup and overflow destination for Port Botany, which would always remain the state’s major container terminal.
Its proximity to Port Botany and to the intermodal container depots being planned for Moorebank in Sydney’s south-western suburbs made it the ideal candidate for a major redevelopment driven by the private sector.
While the official refused to concede that Newcastle would “never” have the container terminal that has been part of the city’s infrastructure wish list since it was proposed by a departing BHP in 1997, he conceded it was extremely unlikely.
On paper at least, Newcastle is still designated as the state’s next container port after Port Botany reached capacity.
But as the Treasury official pointed out, the “three ports” strategy that gave birth to that announcement by then premier Carr in 2003 was now a decade old.
A policy that was extremely long-term even back then has been quietly shelved, it would seem, effectively consigning Newcastle to more of the product that has made it famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – the black gold of coal.
The lack of agitation from the Hunter’s business lobby over a Newcastle container port may be showing the smart money knew the game was up already.
Former BHP publicist Greg Cameron, nowadays based in Melbourne but still pushing the Newcastle terminal plan, says Port Botany will choke with trucks if the government expands it as proposed.
The Treasury official said 85 per cent of Port Botany’s freight was moved away from the wharves in trucks but the government hoped to expand the share by rail.
He said Botany was moving about 1.9 million “20-foot equivalent units or TEUs” – as containers are known – every year.
Its present cap is 3.2 million TEUs but he said the government was working on lifting that to about 7 million TEUs.
On those figures even the Kembla development could be something of a distant mirage, although the official said any company signing the hoped-for 99-year lease on the port would be buying long-term secure tenure on an asset with growth prospects in future decades.