Queensland coal assets up for sale

HAVING lost its AAA credit rating, the Queensland government aims to reduce state debt by up to $A15 billion through asset sales, including Queensland Rail’s coal haulage business and the Abbot Point Coal Terminal.
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Steelwork for the Abbot Point Coal Terminal

Blair Price

Premier Anna Bligh blamed the global financial crisis for ripping “a $14 billion hole in government revenue” when announcing the government’s plans to sell five assets over the next three to five years.

The coal chain assets include train lines and associated infrastructure as well as Queensland Rail trains, Bligh said.

She also mentioned a possible package deal of offering the Goonyella to Abbot Point rail system with the sale of ABCT, which she expects to net $1.9 billion alone.

"Under this ‘package deal’ the private sector would build the northern missing link infrastructure needed to take this system to the next level, saving the tax payer $3.5 billion in future capital expenditure," Bligh said.

She said the trains on systems such as the Goonyella Newlands Blackwater and Moura rail networks would be sold separately to the sale of infrastructure, such as train lines and ports.

“This will enhance competition in this important sector, which will get the best result for coal companies and the Queensland tax payer.”

The Port of Brisbane Corporation, including its shipping terminal, will also be up for sale.

The Port of Bundaberg is owned by PBC, but the state government will transfer it to Gladstone Ports Corporation to continue its operation as a government-owned asset.

Bligh’s government is expecting the Port of Brisbane, property around the port and its Northshore Hamilton and Eagle Farm acreage to bring in $3.5 billion.

Queensland Motorways and Forest Plantations Queensland are also up for sale.

Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the three to five-year timeframe for the asset sales not only recognised the complexity of the process but also how the state of markets was critical to timing decisions.

“The staged program will deliver estimated proceeds of $15 billion and avoid a further $12 billion in required capital investment over the next five years – representing a benefit to tax payers of almost $30 billion,” he said.

“The government will forgo annual estimated returns of approximately $280 million as a result of the sale program, but the $12 billion in avoided capital expenditure will save Queensland around $750 million every year in interest.”

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche warned the government to keep close consultation with the resources sector.

“The government must avoid the failed experiment of excluding industry from participating in the sale of government-owned export infrastructure, as occurred with the sale of the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal,” he said.

Roche reaffirmed previous QRC arguments that the state government could reduce the financial pressure from debt funding of infrastructure by reducing “its traditional role in areas underwritten by industry commitments such as 'take or pay' contracts – a common tool in financing the construction of export infrastructure such as rail and port facilities”

“By further questioning government-owned corporations’ investments in large-scale infrastructure projects and the provision of services that the private sector could deliver equally well or more efficiently, the government could move to lead in areas of genuine market failure in the provision of key infrastructure that continue to restrain the growth of Queensland,” he said.

Roche added the QRC had sought a full briefing on the government’s proposals to “better understand its thinking on the initiative”

Credit rating agencies Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s both dropped Queensland from AAA credit status this year.

The Queensland government has debt in the realm of $74 billion.