Port growth fires debate – Newcastle Herald

By IAN KIRKWOOD

THE potential for a Newcastle container terminal led to a rowdy exchange during state Parliament on Thursday as the Baird government batted away the opposition’s questions.

The need for a terminal was raised again on Thursday evening when Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp made a private member’s speech. Mr Crakanthorp had earlier called on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to investigate any restrictions on container trade in Newcastle.

Debate on the terminal revived this week when the Newcastle Herald reported a speech by an executive of the new private operator of the port, who said there was ‘‘no limit’’ on a Newcastle terminal ‘‘despite what we hear sometimes’’.

At question time on Thursday, Luke Foley asked: ‘‘Why has the government imposed constraints on the growth of container movements through the Port of Newcastle?’’

Mr Crakanthorp asked: ‘‘Why, when there is double digit unemployment in the Hunter, has the government imposed restrictions on growing the Port of Newcastle, just to increase the sale price of Port Botany?’’

Gladys Berejiklian said Mr Foley had ‘‘no credibility to raise this issue’’ and concentrated on the money the government had raised from the port lease to invest in Newcastle.

She asked Mr Crakanthorp why he was questioning policies that ‘‘will support growth and investment in the Hunter’’.

‘‘There is no doubt that in all seriousness there is a serious issue with regards to growth of employment in the Hunter region. And that’s why [the government] is investing millions and millions in terms of revitalising Newcastle.’’

Labor raised a point of order about the relevance of Ms Berejiklian’s answers, and Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison was thrown out for interjecting.

In his speech, Mr Crakanthorp said he shared the Newcastle Herald’s interest in a Newcastle container terminal, saying it would be ‘‘a massive economic boost’’.

‘‘But the Baird government has stopped all this before it even starts with an incredibly anti-competitive decision to impose a cap on the number of containers that can go across Newcastle’s wharves,’’ he said. ‘‘Worse still are intimations that should Newcastle ever presume to exceed its meagre cap, the owners of Port Botany would be financially compensated.’’