Editorial – It’s time to revisit port plan – Newcastle Herald

ON one hand, the NSW government is embarrassed at excessive heavy truck movements on Sydney’s roads, caused by its inability to get a reasonable fraction of containers imported through Port Botany onto rail.

On the other hand, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has alleged that a well-advanced plan for a container terminal on former BHP steelworks land in Newcastle was derailed by Labor Party treachery.

It might have been supposed that any rational government would join the dots and revisit the development so appallingly stolen from Newcastle, especially when there’s a seeming benefit for the state capital.

But for some reason the government seems steadfastly opposed to the idea of a container terminal in Newcastle, preferring instead to keep all the business in Sydney with the proviso that, when Sydney is full, Port Kembla will be next in line.

Why is the government so anxious to preserve a vicious status quo that stems from a piece of Labor treachery?

The only person with a theory that sounds even slightly plausible is former BHP public affairs spokesman Greg Cameron, whose advocacy for a container terminal in Newcastle surely eclipses that of all the Hunter Region’s political and business representatives combined. According to Mr Cameron, the government sold Sydney’s Port Botany with a guaranteed monopoly to ensure the highest possible sale price. His theory holds that the sale agreement includes a cap on container movements, designed to avoid the risk of the government having to pay compensation to Port Botany’s new private operator if the monopoly is broken.

Mr Cameron argues that this agreement, assuming it exists, could be rewritten in a way that wouldn’t disadvantage either party to the sale, but still transfer container imports to Newcastle – as was intended to occur before Labor wrecked the deal.

Interestingly, the container terminal debacle was the second known piece of sabotage directed by the state ALP against a private port plan for Newcastle. The previous instance involved a car import terminal that Labor forcibly redirected to Port Kembla, apparently as part of a vote-buying exercise.

Labor, it seems, has been determined to prevent Newcastle’s efforts to diversify its economy away from excessive reliance on the notoriously cyclical coal export trade.

One might have supposed that premier Mike Baird’s Coalition government, anxious to demonstrate its constructive interest in helping and improving Newcastle, could seize the container terminal concept as a golden opportunity.

Done properly, the idea could win votes in two cities