Politics of the port – Newcastle Herald

Author: Greg Ray
Date: 26/02/2011
Words: 839
Source: NCH

IF this week’s amazing scenes with the Newcastle Knights proved anything, it was that coal baron Nathan Tinkler is not a bloke who gives up easily.

In his long-running bid to take over the National Rugby League licence of the Knights Tinks has displayed great persistence and determination.

That’s what makes it so interesting to watch the progress of the big feller’s main game in Newcastle: his proposal for a new coal-loader on the former BHP industrial site at Mayfield.

Maybe you follow coal news as keenly as you follow the league.

But if not, maybe you missed reading how Tinkler’s Aston Resources owns most of a coal prospect called Maules Creek. And that Maules Creek needs access to coal-loading facilities at the Port of Newcastle to be a goer.

Unfortunately Port Waratah Coal Services is running well behind schedule with plans to build its promised T4 coal loader and without that capacity available it might be hard for Tinkler to realise the value in Maules Creek’s coal.

But Tinkler reportedly owns a big stake in Buildev, which controls about 60 hectares of the former BHP site, thanks to its success in winning a NSW government tender.

Buildev is a very active development company, a major player in Hunter building and investment affairs and often in the news.

Tinkler has made no secret of his desire to put a coal-oader at Mayfield and it’s easy to see why he’d want that. Coal-loading is the bottleneck in the export game and it can’t be much fun having to beg the big loader operators for access to their facilities.

But rest of the BHP site (which Buildev does not own) was supposed to have been slated for a container terminal, with investors apparently keen to set up, with the Port Corporation apparently onside and with the NSW Labor government apparently committed to the concept.

One argument in favour of the container terminal is that it represents an opportunity for the port to acquire a new string to its presently coal-heavy bow.

One argument against the Tinkler coal-loader is that such facilities can be dirty and dusty and may not be suited to a place like Mayfield.

Bearing all that I’ve just written in mind, now think about last week’s furious explosion by Newcastle MP and Minister for the Hunter Jodi McKay, who accused “forces” within her Labor Party of trying to destroy the containerterminal plan.

Apparently the same “forces” that drove car importers kicking and screaming from their preferred site at Newcastle to Port Kembla, where there were ALP votes to be shored up, are at work again.

That would be the famous Sussex Street puppeteers, we presume.

So, if Uncle Joe and the Labor Right don’t want Newcastle to have a container terminal at the Mayfield site, what do they want us to have?

Mayfield resident John Hayes, chairman of a community group that calls itself “Correct Planning and Consultation for Mayfield”, followed up McKay’s extraordinary outburst against the string-pullers in her own government with a press release that tried to put two and two together.

Killing the container terminal, Hayes wrote, “would leave the whole site free for Tinkler’s coal loader”.

According to Hayes, “this development of a new coal-loader on the edge of the residential suburbs of Mayfield, Mayfield East, Tighes Hill, Maryville, Islington and Carrington would be totally unacceptable”. “Our group, which numbers more than 400 members and supporters, has consistently supported the sensible and orderly development of Newcastle Port, especially the seven new wharves on the old BHP Mayfield site, always provided that proper land transport plans are put in place to carry the extra cargoes in and out.

“From what we understand, there has been a substantial tender process undertaken to secure an operator for the proposed new container terminal; and that certain forces are now at work to stop the results of that tender being announced.”

Judging by the track record of NSW Labor, this business sounds to me like a case of the unstoppable force preparing to collide with some fairly moveable objects.

Voting with a mate

I KEEP getting phone calls and emails from people wondering what to do in the March election.

“Vote!” is what I tell them.

I sometimes think we all ought to take a leaf from the book of the pollies themselves. When one of our fearless leaders wants a day off from the hectic business of asking Dorothy Dix questions in Parliament, he or she simply seeks out a colleague from the opposing party who also wants a day off.

They shake hands, form a “pair” and nick off for the day, safe in the knowledge that their absence can’t affect voting results in the house.

So, what if we did that? What if we each found a “pair” and each agreed to vote for the polar opposite party from one another?

Maybe if we all did that we’d have cliffhanger results, become marginal seats and be drowned in the manna that would fall from Macquarie Street heaven.