Feds keelhauled over ports takeover bid

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Feds keelhauled over ports takeover bid Feds keelhauled over ports takeover bid Feds keelhauled over ports takeover bid Feds keelhauled over ports takeover bid Feds keelhauled over ports takeover bid

Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal. Courtesy Prime Infrastructure.

Staff Reporter

Under the government plan, announced by federal Transport Minister Mark Vaile last weekend, ports would be moved into a national corporation, modelled along the lines of the Australian Rail Track Corporation, which would manage them through leases of up to 60 years.

Vaile said the nations' export effort is too important not to be better coordinated.

Prime Minister John Howard said the Federal Government wanted to make certain that ports operate as efficiently as possible.

"We have said to the states that it's vital to our export performance that there are not any delays and blockages in ports," he said.

But AAPMA executive director David Anderson said all Australian ports have strategic plans to improve vital infrastructure, preserve transport corridors and address issues of community amenity.

"We need planning procedures to fast-track and fund those plans, we do not need to be distracted by political adventures about ownership and control," he said.

Anderson said Vaile's comments, backed by Howard, had caused considerable confusion within the industry about the intentions of the Federal Government.

Anderson said the Council of Australian Governments process and last week's parliamentary report investigating the connection of road and rail networks with ports had provided forums for sensible and reasoned discussion between governments on port infrastructure and regulation.

"Instead, the matter has now been elevated to a political level, along with a mix of other intergovernmental issues, and this has compromised the scope for progress and for positive outcomes in jointly dealing with the capacity of ports to meet future needs," he said.

"It is also unfortunate that the Federal Government has endeavoured to portray a failure on the part of ports to meet the needs of our growing bulk and container trades. This perception simply does not stand up to scrutiny."

Anderson said a surge in global demand, particularly for raw materials, had revealed some fragilities in the supply chain.

"The parliamentary report had indicated that these could be addressed by a 'cut through' approach to strategic investments and that a fund of $600 million per annum was required for this purpose," he said.

"It was a question of planning and funding, not of control or ownership which simply implied even more process and overlays of bureaucracy and constituted a diversion from the core issues identified by the parliamentary committee report."

Anderson indicated that one of the most objectionable features of the current tirade was that those facilities that had taken the brunt of the Federal Government's criticism, such as Dalrymple Bay, were in the hands of the private sector.

Meanwhile, Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said an efficient and responsive export infrastructure system would not be guaranteed by a change of ownership or administration.

"What we need is more investment, and coal producers are backing feasibility studies and early works in some key rail and port expansion projects on top of nearly $6 billion in rail and port projects completed or under way," Roche said.

"If the Federal Government would like to come to the party, I am sure Queensland coal industry participants would welcome them with open arms.

"One of the recurring themes throughout the resources surge of the last five years has been the country's shortage of skilled labour.

"Education and training is an area where additional federal investment would also make a big difference in regional Queensland, underpinning both industrial growth and employment opportunities for this and future generations."

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