By IAN KIRKWOOD
May 2, 2014, 10 p.m.
THE new owners of the Port of Newcastle say it is too early to talk about the future of the former BHP steelworks site that was raised in this week’s Independent Commission Against Corruption hearings.
Canberra-based public affairs analyst Greg Cameron was heavily involved in the original plan to redevelop the steelworks site as a container terminal.
He continues to promote the idea more than a decade later, saying the more container ships that could be shifted from Botany to Newcastle, the better it would be for both cities.
‘‘Newcastle would get the business and Botany could be used to expand Sydney airport,’’ Mr Cameron said yesterday.
The steelworks site is widely regarded as the most important vacant deep-water port frontage on the east coast and its ownership is passing to the consortium of superannuation funds and the Chinese government that was announced this week as the new owner of the Port of Newcastle.
Mr Cameron said he believed the former Labor government took over the site from BHP in 2000 not to develop it, but to stop a Newcastle container terminal going ahead.
‘‘It was not apparent at the time but with the benefit of hindsight and the evidence that has come out this week in the ICAC – with people on both sides of politics favouring a coal terminal on the site – it’s clear that the people of Newcastle have been betrayed by their governments,’’ he said.
He said businessman Nathan Tinkler may not have succeeded in putting a coal-loader on the site but the conditions of the Newcastle, Port Botany and Port Kembla leases meant a Mayfield coal-loader remained a real and unwanted possibility.
He said conditions in the Newcastle and Botany-Kembla leases meant that as things stood, a container terminal at Newcastle could only go ahead by compensating the Botany-Kembla owners.
This would stop the new owners of the steelworks site from building a container terminal and revive the spectre of a loader at Mayfield against public will.
The Port of Newcastle has been leased for 98 years to a 50/50 joint venture between the Westpac-backed Hastings Infrastructure Fund and a Chinese government-backed company China Merchants.
A Hastings spokesman said yesterday that it was too early to look at particular development options for the port, beyond saying the consortium’s focus was on the long-term management of the port as the maritime equivalent of a toll road.
‘‘We’re a long-term investor with a 98-year lease and we’re not looking at this as property developers,’’ the spokesman said.