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Shocking Proposed Sale of Australia's Port of Melbourne

Sheila Newman will interview Jenny live 19 April between 12 midday and 1pm at 3RPP. You can listen live here. What next? Will they sell the people off as slaves? Will the remove access to our bank accounts overnight? Will they raise the cost of electricity so high that the companies take our houses to pay for them? Our Parliamentary system is beyond democratic control. Our economic system is a bad joke. Our taxes are used to pay for educational institutions which are then set up to profit private enterprise and investors and users overseas. And now, under Ted Baillieu, there is this proposal to sell Port Melbourne... (No, this is not an April fools joke.)

"It’s insulting that Spring Street might value the Port of Melbourne at only $2.4 billion (Baillieu flags state asset sales 23/3). Taxpayer shareholders recently spent around $1 billion on channel deepening and subsequent maintenance dredging to “prepare the Port for the future”. And, it’s a small fraction of the current estimate of $10 billion to develop the Port of Hastings – a project recently identified by government as urgently needed infrastructure. Taxpayers have invested in the Port of Melbourne for over a century and now we are expected to support its hand over to the private sector and then pay again to build Hastings port. It’s time to join the dots. Dumping the Port of Melbourne and developing Hastings is about catering for Baillieu’s pet projects for Gippsland: export of brown coal, woodchips and coal seam gas it he can find it. Topped up with Ports Minister Napthine’s proposed driverless trucks trundling up the Westernport Freeway from the Port of Hastings with assorted imports and we are approaching dystopia indeed."(Jenny Warfe, Blue Wedges) Sheila Newman will interview Jenny live on 19 April between 12 midday and 1pm at 3RPP. You can listen live here.

Sale Plan to pay for port

(Originally published March 27 2012 on 3RPP as "Sale plan to pay for port."and in Western Port News, 27 March 2012.)

March 27 2012

THE state government could sell the Port of Melbourne for $2.4 billion and four water authorities to fund five priority infrastructure projects including development of the Port of Hastings.

The other four projects are the east-west tunnel (linking the Western Ring Rd and the Eastern Freeway), rail links to Avalon airport, duplication of major freight highways, and a rail tunnel from Caulfield to Footscray.

Last financial year the port paid a dividend of $13.4 million to the government and earned an after-tax profit of $39 million.
Melbourne’s four water authorities are Melbourne Water, City West Water, South East Water (which services the peninsula) and Yarra Valley Water.

The revelation of the go­vernment’s plans for possible asset sales has already drawn criticism from disparate sources including award-winning economics and public policy commentator Ken Davidson and environmentalists.

Mr Davidson wrote on Monday that it was “silly to prioritise the port at Hastings while Australia’s number one port at Melbourne has serious problems that inhibit Victoria’s development”.

Industry groups, including the Australian Peak Shippers Association, have warned the Port of Melbourne would face major bottlenecks from 2015 onwards as it reached capacity.

This has seen the government, led by Ports Minister Denis Napthine, to promise fast-tracking of Port of Hastings development (‘New port start five years away’, The News, 31/1/12).

In January Mr Napthine and Port of Hastings Development Authority board chairman Yehudi Blacher told The News Hastings was well suited to become Victoria’s second container port within 10 to 13 years.

“Container movements are estimated to quadruple over the next 30 years and it is critical that we begin planning for this growth now,” Mr Napthine said.

But Mr Davidson says development of Hastings could wait until 2035 when Melbourne’s population was expected to be five million.
Until then, the Port of Melbourne could be improved by redeveloping the Swanson/Dynon precinct, he said.

Other suggestions have included developing Webb Dock.

The pressure on Port of Melbourne has further increased following claims by government sources, port figures and shipping and automotive industry groups that the government is set to abandon its plan to move all automotive shipping from Melbourne to the Port of Geelong.

Port of Hastings has been touted as an alternative port for exporting and importing vehicles, especially with the closure of BlueScope’s hot strip mill, which saw the Iron Monarch bringing slab steel from Port Kembla weekly.

The Iron Monarch’s last voyage of slab cargo arrived at Western Port on Tuesday 4 October and the BlueScope jetty is underutilised.
Selling the Port of Melbourne and developing Hastings was about cater­ing for Premier Ted Baillieu’s pet projects for Gippsland – exporting from Western Port brown coal, woodchips and coal seam gas, Blue Wedges Coalition president Jenny Warfe told The News on Monday.

Ms Warfe said it was insulting the government valued the Port of Melbourne at only $2.4 billion.

“Taxpayers recently spent about $1 billion on channel deepening and subsequent maintenance dredging to ‘prepare the port for the future’, as port authorities claimed,” she said.

“The current estimate to develop the Port of Hastings – a project recently identified by the government as urgently needed infrastructure – is $10 billion.

“Taxpayers have invested in the Port of Melbourne for more than a century and now we are expected to support its hand over to the private sector and then pay again to build Hastings port?

“It’s time to join the dots. Dumping the Port of Melbourne and developing Hastings is about the premier wanting to export from Gippsland brown coal, woodchips and coal seam gas, if he can find it.

“With massive trains hauling this cargo through our green wedges to Hastings – and Ports Minister Denis Napthine’s proposed driverless trucks trundling up the Western Port Freeway from the Port of Hastings with assorted imports – we are approaching dystopia indeed.”

The government last month introduced laws forcing the Port of Melbourne Corporation to pay an annual $75 million ‘’licence fee’’ that would increase each year with inflation and generated about $1 billion over the next decade.

The Port Licence Fee will add $8000 to $10,000 to the cost of bringing a ship into the Port of Melbourne.

The fee cuts both ways as the Victorian Farmers Federation says it will add $10 million to the cost of exporting Victorian farm produce. It has dubbed the fee a “tax on trade”.

Melbourne has the last publicly owned major port on the eastern seaboard following the Queensland government’s sale of the Port of Brisbane for $2.1 billion and a NSW government plan to privatise Port Botany.

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“Container movements are estimated to quadruple over the next 30 years and it is critical that we begin planning for this growth now,” Mr Napthine said. The biggest shipping container export out of Australia's east coast cities is thin air.

An analysis by The Weekly Times shows the major ports of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane ship a million empty containers a year, with food a distant second.

It's an indication of the hollowness of our economy that while we have large numbers of full containers entering our ports, they are leaving largely empty. Paul Keating weakened our sovereignty with his alliance with Asia, and grovelling to them. Privatization of public assets has caused a loss of skills, and now more migrants are needed to fill our "skills shortages". Australia needs to take pride in its population and skills, not import goods that deprive our people of jobs and skills.

Empty containers top exports

In 2009, the Port of Melbourne's container logistics study revealed 292,033 empty containers were exported with food on 289,841. Our economy has become irrevocably linked with Asia's, and with population growth - for housing, construction of assets to cater for growth in freeways, water supply, infrastructure etc. It's short-term-ism as it's fatalistic worse. The economic growth paradigm means that the solution to debt is more economic growth through population growth - adding to the drain on our economy, the crushing of our once fine and liveable cities, adding to "shortages" and to housing stress.

As for exports, they are mainly thin air!

The people of Melbourne are, I believe already agitated and *“Future Shocked” from the changes to which they are continually subjected. They no longer know what their suburb will look like in 5 years or even next year. People I know on the outer fringes of Melbourne can't bear to drive along favorite roads because the countryside is being swallowed up with development. Melbourne people are bombarded with propaganda via the main media that they must leave their homes, move into apartments and cannot continue to live surrounded by gardens in the suburbs. Melbourne people now work about twice the number of hours it seems that they used to 40 years ago- at least if taken by household. It now takes 2 salaries to pay the mortgage that one salary covered before. Melbourne people's quality of life is diminishing. Privatization of services such as electricity and gas have not brought more choice through competition but just the annoying hassle of having to deal with billing companies taking up customers’ time trying to get them to change companies on the basis of silly, obscure so called savings. This is the broad brush back drop that the clanger into which the proposed sale of the Port of Melbourne has been dropped. Who amongst us shell shocked, future shocked people has any energy left to be as shocked as we should be?

*Future Shock by Alvin Toffler

Several things need to be remembered when considering the now certain destruction of Westernport Bay.

1/ This proposal has bi-partisan support following the ALP's production of the Port of Hastings Land Use and Transport Strategy (PHLUTS) in 2004/5. The only difference being the ALP's plan to stage the development over 20+ years when they thought the Port of Melbourne would be at capacity.

2/ Mr Rob Gell regarded by many as an "environmentalist", was chair of the Mornington Peninsula and Westernport Biosphere (MPWB) during the release of PHLUTS and indeed advised on the proposal's "sustainability". Westernport Bay is the centre of a Biospher Reserve centred on Westernport. His complete silence on this proposal runs contrary to UNESCO's Biosphere primary goal of educating society on the environmental assets of it's reserves, rather than allowing the perception of Westernport as "mud, mangroves and mosquitoes" to continue. The general public have no idea of the value of this Biosphere Reserve. Gell's stewardship over the reserve was a complete failure and highlights the danger of the "cosy" relationship between NGO's and government/private sector.

3/ Gell's silence hid the fact that Westernport will lose 4 kilometers of mangrove ecosystem along it's shore. Westernport is the most southerly appearance of this type of mangroves in the world. Mangrove have a higher biodiversity value than tropical rain forest, would anyone consider bulldozing a similar size area of rainforest nowadays ?

4/ Q/ - What happens when mangroves, (which absorb sea level rise), are replaced with a 4 kilometer concrete wharf in an area already earmarked for climate change tidal inundation? A/ - The flooding gets worse in the rest of the Bay.

5/ There must now be questions raised about the ability of the Westernport of the future to remain a site listed under the RAMSAR convention for wetlands. Sulphur dioxide particles from shipping emissions (already responsible for 60,000 human deaths annually along global shipping lanes) mixed in with the rich biodiversity of Westernport provide fatal succour to birds that fly from Korea, Russia and other places around the world, It may well become their last journey.

6/ This follows the Federal ALP's decision to ignore the UNESCO World Heritage listing of the Great Barrier Reef and continue development of gas and coal facilities the entire length of the Queensland coast.

7/ The Port of Hastings development was enabled by the ALP's decision to construct the Frankston Bypass. The Westernport Highway is no longer necessary as it is in need of massive upgrades (flyovers, - Lyndsey Fox's trucks have to slow down at roundabouts) at every intersection before it can provide free access to Dandenong. Even though the Westernport Highway was earmarked for a rail connection to Dandenong from Hastings there is already a perfectly good rail line in Hastings that runs through Frankston which will be used in the short term at least. Ironically, the Westernport highway's use was also severely restricted by Dandenong Council allowing development along the corridor.

Ted Bailleau is merely completing Henry Bolte's "grand vision" of Westernport being "The Ruhr Valley" of the south east, and takes Victoria back to that time environmentally, but the sale of the Port of Melbourne has massive support in the inner west. If we accept the basic premise that "imports will rise 30% by 2035", and accept the "unacceptable" rise in ecological and carbon footprint that result then we are fully complicit in this destruction. The fate of Westernport can be directly aligned with the fate of the planet. The Arctic is being plundered, the vast wilderness of Canada is being polluted, the oceans off Nigeria and Brasil contaminated with oil spill. Since the Copenhagen Climate Summit the corporate world has responded ruthlessly. The financial crisis in Spain is to be fixed with an $20 billion "Euro Vegas" casino development based on it's Mafia creation in America.

"There is no clean land now, no safe place", Laurie Anderson,
Bien suerte, (Good luck)

It's a shame that apparently no-one thought to stand in any recent state election campaign explicitly opposed to the zombie economists' policy of privatisation. It seems as if Queenslanders' emphatic repudiation of privatisation at the 2012 state elections and the repudiation of privatisation in the 2011 NSW elections has at least helped to cause the Victorian Government to re-think some of its plans to sell-off the few public assets that Kennett hasn't flogged off. In March the Baillieu Government announced that it intended to flog off the Port of Melbourne, but changed its mind anticipating the drubbing that the Queensland Labor Government of Anna Bligh was about to face on 28 March as a result of its privatisation policies. Whilst the sell-off of public assets seems to have slowed down, the sale of other Australia assets to foreign interests has gathered steam, including the sale of farmland to Qatar.

The comment above has been adapted from comment I unsuccessfully attempted to post in response to article Zombies reach Australia on to johnquiggin.com. Point 7 of that site's discussion policy (which I hadn't read) states: "Comments with large numbers of links will trigger spam filters and be rejected automatically". So It was deleted. Whilst this is understandable I still think this is unfortunate. The strength of the Internet is for material, particularly material arguing opposed viewpoints to be directly linked or else linked to from a single document, thereby allowing readers to more easily consider the comparative merits of contrary arguments. Solon and JFK would have surely agreed. That is why my articles and comments often contain a number of links. (At least I have been able to post a shorter comment from that page containing a link back to here.)