By IAN KIRKWOOD
THE state government has again ruled out a largescale Newcastle container terminal despite growing anger over traffic gridlock in the Sydney suburbs around Port Botany.
A front-page report in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald quoted the government’s ‘‘embarrassment’’ over the issue, with the new operator of Port Botany, a company called NSW Ports, saying it was having problems getting its containers out of Botany to their destinations.
With most of the 150 hectare former BHP steelworks site sitting vacant, sections of the shipping industry remain convinced that Newcastle holds the key to ending the cargo congestion.
Richard Setchell, whose Anglo Ports consortium was a victim of the ‘‘Jodi’s trucks’’ controversy examined at the recent ICAC hearings, said yesterday a Newcastle container terminal was still viable. ‘‘We would need to look at the dynamics of it again and we have not been approached by the new owners of the Port of Newcastle but our interest is still there,’’ Captain Setchell said.
The Newcastle container terminal was initially proposed as part of BHP’s exit from steel making in Newcastle but the state government took control once it bought the land from BHP Billiton in 2002.
Canberra-based consultant Greg Cameron, a key player in the original BHP proposal, said yesterday that the government had deliberately shut Newcastle out of the picture.
Mr Cameron said the government had put restrictions on containers in Newcastle to help pump up the price for Botany, but he and others had warned the government of the transport chaos that would result.
As the SMH reported yesterday, only 14 per cent of the two million containers a year that arrived at Botany left by rail.
The rest were on trucks.
In a statement to the Newcastle Herald yesterday, Roads and Freight Minister Duncan Gay said the government was trying to find out why ‘‘more containers were not using rail’’.
Mr Gay said the government’s position on a large container terminal in Newcastle was ‘‘clear, and has been for some time now’’.
Botany remained the preferred port for containers going in and out of the state, with Port Kembla – twice as close to Sydney as Newcastle – the ‘‘overflow’’ port when and if one was needed ‘‘well into the future’’.
Mr Gay said 85 per cent of imported containers were distributed within 40km of Port Botany. He said major shipping lines did not want ‘‘numerous ports of call’’.
Mr Cameron said various shipping figures had contradicted Mr Gay on his ‘‘single port’’ argument. He pointed to recent comments by Shipping Australia boss Rod Nairn, who said Australian ports were effective monopolies that would benefit from competition.