Pushing the container case – Newcastle Herald

By IAN KIRKWOOD

Crakanthorp welcomes new interest in terminal NEWCASTLE MP Tim Crakanthorp is scheduled to address the state Parliament on Thursday about the potential for a Newcastle container terminal.

The Labor parliamentarian is one of a number of opposition and cross-bench MPs who have been pushing the Baird government to come clean on various matters involved in the privatisations of Port Botany and Newcastle.

The government at one stage confirmed a cap on container movements through Newcastle, but parliamentary efforts to obtain more detail have been rebuffed.

Interest in the issue revived on Tuesday when Peter Francis, an executive with the private port operator, Port of Newcastle, told a business lunch the company was ‘‘looking at’’ a container terminal.

His comments, made in answer to an audience question, were reported in Wednesday’s Newcastle Herald.

Mr Francis also said there was ‘‘no limit on us doing that despite what we hear sometimes’’.

Mr Crakanthorp said that if Newcastle had a cap on containers or any other sort of restriction it was ‘‘incredibly anti-competitive’’ and he had written to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission urging it to investigate.

Mr Crakanthorp said his Thursday parliamentary speech was ‘‘good timing’’, given the new interest in the project.

‘‘It is great to see the business community again discussing this idea and if this is something that our community wants, it is something that I will fight for,’’ Mr Crakanthorp said.

A prominent advocate for the terminal, former BHP Newcastle public relations official Greg Cameron, took issue with Port of Newcastle’s statement that there was ‘‘no market’’ for the terminal at present.

Mr Francis had said the contents of most containers were consumed within the Sydney basin, but Mr Cameron said northern NSW was a big market.

‘‘The other side of the coin is that 25 per cent of the state’s population lives from the Hawkesbury north,’’ Mr Cameron said.

‘‘With the exception of Newcastle’s modest 10,000 boxes a year, almost all of the state’s two million containers go to Botany simply because it’s a monopoly container port.

‘‘Quarter of the population could mean a quarter of that cargo, which is about 500,000 containers a year.

‘‘All it takes initially is a rail link from the steelworks to Hexham and you build up your market, substituting rail traffic out of Newcastle for truck congestion out of Port Botany.’’

Mr Cameron pointed out that the former port operator, the government-owned Newcastle Port Corporation, had lodged plans for a similarsized container terminal that were recommended for approval by the planning department in March 2012.