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Newcastle Port tipped to be on ‘sale list’ – Newcastle Herald

By  MICHELLE HARRIS State Political Reporter

May 27, 2013, 11 p.m.

THE Port of Newcastle is bound to be on the state government’s hit list of assets to be privatised to help pay for an $8 billion Sydney train line its top infrastructure advisers don’t support, the opposition says.

And Treasurer Mike Baird yesterday refused to rule it out, saying the government would not engage in speculation ahead of the state budget next month.

It follows announcements in the last two budgets to privatise the state’s other ports – Botany, flagged in the O’Farrell government’s first budget, then Kembla, announced in last year’s budget.

Last month, the government said it had secured about $4billion in net proceeds for the 99-year lease of the two to a consortium of mostly Australian super funds and international investors.

The proceeds have gone into a fund for infrastructure, of which 30 per cent would be spent in regional areas.

In a speech to members of the shipping industry yesterday, Labor leader John Robertson said the government had its priorities wrong and was selling off revenue-generating assets to fund road and rail projects, leaving future governments without assets to borrow against.

It was only a matter of time before it looked for other assets to sell.

‘‘The day of reckoning when the Port of Newcastle is flogged off to fund the North West Rail Link cannot be far away,’’ he said.

The 23-kilometre rail link in Sydney’s north-west is expected to cost at least $8 billion, and does not have the backing of Infrastructure NSW chief executive Paul Broad or chairman Nick Greiner, who called it a ‘‘social equity project’’.

Mr Robertson also attacked the government over Mr Broad and Mr Greiner’s resignations, announced last week, as ‘‘the icing on what has been a very dysfunctional cake’’.

‘‘The Premier promised to take the politics out of transport by establishing Infrastructure NSW,’’ Mr Robertson said.

‘‘But he has put politics before policy.’’

More than halfway through the government’s term, no new projects had started, Mr Robertson said.

Mr Baird has previously said there were ‘‘no plans’’ to privatise Newcastle.

Asked yesterday to rule out its privatisation for the remainder of the government’s term, Mr Baird said; “As is customary at this time of year we are not going to engage in budget speculation’’.

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