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What do Victorians think about the 'next' port near Werribee instead of Hastings?

On November 6, 2012 it was reported that the Victorian government was cooling on the idea of another port for Hastings and instead its planners were casting their collective beady eye in the direction of Werribee. ("Government looks west for next port development," The Age, 6 Nov., p.6.) One imagines hope springing on the Mornington Peninsula as a dark shadow turns west to cast its pall on Werribeeans instead. But do we even need one new port?

At first gasp, if you have lived down on the Mornington Peninsula under the threatening shadow of a planned port for Hastings, you might tentatively hope that the government has actually called the dogs off. Then, if you have some conscience, you might think, "But why inflict the same on Werribee?" The people who live in Werribee are our fellow citizens.

Werribee is, it is true, heavily industrialised, however the area also has extensive wetlands that nature relies on. Worse, there are documents indicating associated plans for even more elaborate destruction for the wider coastal area which is of historic cultural significance in Victorian hearts, bearing the evocative name of Avalon:

"Transport Minister Terry Mulder had been briefed on a proposed ''master plan'' for the Avalon region, including a container port, an international airport, industrial development and a formula one track."

The Absurdity of multiple ports

But why are we even thinking of another port? When did state governments begin to think in terms of serial ports, one after another, in preparation for a huge increase in container traffic against a real backdrop of container traffic decline. It seems insane, unless you consider the desperation that affects people accustomed to a certain income who see the prospects of maintaining their corporate and private empires declining in a world where growth is going to become impossible to maintain. Over the past few years such people have convinced governments to use taxpayers' money to finance huge infrastructure projects - like desalination plants and massive tollways - of questionable value but involving enormous turnover for those involved. Ports are just another version of the tollways, tunnels and city apartment blocks template for raising cash from banks, investors and taxpayers. The key is to make the project sound inevitable and necessary. That's their game and the growth merchants don't have another one.

Jenny Warfe, of Blue Wedges, says,

How many ports do we really need? We have a massive port in Melbourne – with another $1.5 billion expansion planned for soon, a substantial port in Geelong, and smaller ones in Portland and Hastings."

She reminds us that all these ports occupy important, formerly publicly owned coastal assets. Every one imposes considerable negative impacts on its surrounding suburbs and waterways.

With regard to 'heavily industrialised Werribee', the greater part of the Western shoreline is largely untouched.

"The area that is being talked about for the ‘Bay West’ port is an internationally significant RAMSAR site, on which rely millions of migratory birds every year, just like Westernport," Jenny reminds us.

Only in September, Jenny compered a lecture in Melbourne from visiting US academic Richard Heinberg, who is a well-known author on the problem of oil-depletion, which many think is behind the wars we are involved in in the Middle East. Oil production or extraction is no longer keeping up with the demands of compound growth in human economic activity. Even though there is oil out there, it is harder and harder to get out of the earth, with high risks for investors and the environment. Although there is an industry for recovering oil from tar sands and even shale, what the public lack the education to understand is that the cost of extracting oil from such forms hardly leaves room for any profit and is deadly for the environment. Decline in abundant, cheap oil availability means that there won't be any new sustained 'growth' in production, trade and transport of cheap goods round and round the world. The price of production goes up as the availability of easily accessible oil goes down, so production must adjust downwards.

"In his recent Melbourne address, Heinberg warned that as we reach peak oil and peak everything else, we may not be exporting and importing so much, and surely not so much of the low cost high volume junk that fills up so many import containers at the moment, " comments Ms Warfe.

(Although 'peak oil' indicates a peak of production, where there is more oil than at any other time, there is a cliff on the other side, and that is where we are heading. In fact there are many indications that we have passed that peak.)

"Mr. Heinberg is right to be adamant that we should focus on getting population expansion and consumption levels under control and power DOWN not UP, " she says.

Nutty idea to increase trade infrastructure when trade is in decline

This is the most important message of candobetter.net and Jenny joins the dots well. There is no point in building new ports for declining trade.

Jenny suggests that these ideas for more ports are coming from old fossils in suits blowing $billions on the tired old ‘business as usual’ pipe-dream- which is this latest port proposal in a nutshell.

Instead of more of the same with the public expected to lie down and think of England, while pipe-dream addicted planners rifle through the public purse, as Ms Warfe sums up:

"We need funds and good minds with the capacity to deal with reality. We need different solutions for the very different future we and all species on Earth face."

Yes, we don't need a new port in Hastings and we don't need a new port in Werribee. They are both bad ideas. A formula one car racing track in the Avalon Region, in the light of declining oil and the need to conserve energy, is sublimely ridiculous. One can only interpret this suggestion as symbolically associated with the awful and tragic dependence of the Australian economy on the automobile industry (which also enables the suburban development industry). For anyone who had never thought of this, try ... um... driving... round some outer suburbs and you will see entire districts dedicated, not only to the sale and maintenance of new and used cars, but to marketing and retailing a range of associated paraphernalia, from deodorisers to window transfers to car brand-name wind sheeters. This is the outcome of colonial corporate thinking and the suppression of diverse local manufacturing activity. Our politicians are responsible.

Peninsula Port Plans have already cost the community dearly

Unfortunately and absurdly, even if the Mornington Peninsula is reprieved from a huge industrial port sector at Hastings, the future traffic predicted to be associated with the Port was used as an excuse to put a huge new tollway, which already scars substantial landscape and bushland. Westerfield heritage area and large parts of The Pines have been destroyed to build that road in preparation for traffic to and from Hastings (port), over years of protest by environmentalists. Even agreements to fence off predators from bandicoot areas in the Pines have since been renegged on with the special sums allocated arbitrarily diverted to other projects by Parks Victoria, according to Hans Brunner.

But do the authors of these huge projects even care, as long as someone makes a profit along the line? Costs will be borne by any investors that were counting on guaranteed tollway profits due to hugely increased volumes of traffic on the Peninsula. Such schemes are money floats for those who initiate them, but the chances of them paying down the line with oil depletion looming are minute, and the designers almost certainly knew this. They were probably taking advantage of public ignorance of resource supplies. See SEITA tollway using old data on oil prices.

At no stage either is it ever made clear to the public how closely political parties of all hues are associated with such massive land-development projects, via their business and investment arms. For an idea of how this works, look at Labor Resources, bearing in mind that this kind of activity, although on a grand scale in the Labor Party, also goes on in the other established parties with big budgets and major landed and investment assets.

There is more to these port projects than meets the eye of the casual observer.

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The Weekly Times in March this year reported that 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.

Huge numbers of imports have overwhelmed exports, with masses of containers unloaded and then shipped back overseas empty. They were going back to Asia empty because of all their imports here, and little reciprocal trade.

The Port of Melbourne exported 383,852 empty containers in 2010-11, ahead of food (256,000) and manufactured goods (168,000). It's not only the high cost of the Australian dollar, but evidence of a shallow, soft economy lacking in manufacturing and innovation.

A spokesman for Minister for Ports, Denis Napthine, said the Victorian Government had committed to numerous port and transport projects which "far outweighs any revenue generated through the Port Licence Fee". So, the costs will come from the pockets of tax-payers.

The government expects a surge in container trade during the next 40 years, with the Port of Melbourne expected to reach capacity by 2027. They assume a "business as usual" scenario of further globalization with Asia.

Global trade depends on cheap, long-distance freight transportation, on land and sea.

Empty containers top export Weekly Times

Former Chief Economist with CIBC World Market, Jeff Rubin, believes high oil prices due to Peak oil may actually reverse globalization. It will mean that each country needs to develop a plan to balance population, resources, energy and jobs in line with the end of the age of cheap energy.

Jeff Rubin: Oil and the End of Globalization

Governments and businesses are locked into the model of perpetual economic growth instead of forward-looking towards a "green" economy based on renewable energy, and locally-grown and made goods and services.

19th century clipper ships transported spices, teas and chocolates from across the globe, using wind power. Elegant and graceful wind-powered cargo ships could soon be the norm as the world's fossil fuel supplies continue to diminish.

Instead of new ports we need to adapt what we have to a new era of slower global trade, the end of growth-addictive policies, the elegance of sailing ships, a post-carbon economy, and the use of alternative energy.