Author: By MICHELLE HARRIS
THE state government had given Sydney Ports a “holiday” from making dividend payments to Treasury while it expanded Port Botany, yet Newcastle struggled to secure a container terminal, lord mayor John Tate said.
Cr Tate, who is standing as an independent at the state election, said he found out about the move late last year when he attended a conference at which a Sydney Ports representative spoke.
The latest Sydney Ports annual report confirms the arrangement.
Dividends to the government “continue to be suspended during the period of Sydney Ports’ major capital investment program, which includes the Port Botany expansion, and until relevant financial ratios return to levels that are acceptable to the board,” the report says.
State-owned corporations make annual shareholder dividend payments to government. For example, Hunter Water paid a dividend of $30.4 million in the past financial year at the same time as water bills increased.
Cr Tate said the government talked up the value of the Port of Newcastle’s activities to the region and state, but was “dudding” Newcastle of investment in diversifying the port.
“This is the same government which has favoured Port Botany as the main container terminal and Port Kembla as the car import centre over Newcastle,” he said.
He said Newcastle lacked a refuelling site for ships, which hindered its growth.
Minister for the Hunter Jodi McKay has spoken out about “forces” within the government that were seeking to prevent the state’s next container terminal from being built at the former steelworks site at Mayfield, in favour of building it at Port Kembla.
The Port Botany expansion is a $725 million project to enable it to handle more containers.
The latest ports report from the NSW Auditor General showed Newcastle Port Corporation paid a $3.1 million dividend in 2009-10. Sydney Ports had not paid a dividend since 2008, when it paid $20 million.
According to the Newcastle Port Corporation’s statement of corporate intent for 2010-11, it expects its dividend payments to rise in the next few years as its profits increase.
The payment would lift to $11.4 million in 2012-13.