State blocked terminal plans – Newcastle Herald

By MICHELLE HARRIS

THE state government considered and knocked back plans for a $600 million container terminal at Mayfield, but is denying it was because of Nathan Tinkler’s rival coal loader plan or that it always intended to privatise its ports.

And it has emerged a government probity check of Mr Tinkler’s coal terminal pitch for the same Mayfield site found no problems with the proposal, which is now at the centre of the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s latest inquiry.

Mr Tinkler’s coal loader proposal was refused by cabinet in 2012, after he put it directly to the government via its unsolicited proposals process in late 2011.

It was submitted despite earlier advice and opposition from Treasury, the Hunter Development Corporation and the Newcastle Port Corporation, that the project had probity problems because competitive tenders to redevelop the state-ownedformer steelworks site had never allowed for the possibility of a coal loader.

A probity check was done for the Coalition government, by O’Connor Marsden and Associates, and ‘‘no probity issues were reported’’, a government spokesman said.

The earlier competitive tenders included the development of an intermodal terminal on the waterfront, from which the Anglo Ports consortium was identified as the preferred tenderer.

While the commission has heard former treasurer Eric Roozendaal allegedly blocked the proposal while Labor was in office, the Coalition never pursued it either.

The spokesman said the government ‘‘reviewed the proposal following the [2011] election and decided not to proceed’’.

He did not give reasons for the decision, but denied Mr Tinkler’s Hunter Ports proposal interfered with the container proposal or that the government had always intended to lease the state’s ports.

Plans to privatise the Botany, Kembla and Newcastle ports were announced in each of the government’s first three budgets.

As a result, Kembla will become the state’s next container terminal instead of Newcastle.

The commission is investigating alleged secret payments in 2010 and 2011 from Mr Tinkler’s Patinack Farm to a slush fund run by a former staff member of ex-resources minister Chris Hartcher.