MacTiernan promises an ocean of transport funds

Western Australians are promised “revolutionary” change in the way goods, people and services are moved around and out of our vast State.

This cultural shift includes the development of a super depart-ment to handle transport issues, a moratorium on all exclusive licen-ces for port services, developing Bunbury as the State’s second container port and starting the rail link to Rockingham and Man-durah.

Department of Planning and Infrastructure Minister Alannah MacTiernan told Business News the merger of the departments of Main Roads, Transport and Planning under the Department of Infrastructure would ensure a more holistic approach to transport.

“This way we don’t have these agencies running off with their separate agendas,” Ms Mac-Tiernan said.

“There will be no separate road funds. Instead there will be an ocean of transport funds.”

Ms MacTiernan said a moratorium would be placed on all exclusive licences granted by port authorities.

On Friday she said she would meet with Fremantle Port Auth-ority management to discuss proposals to follow Bunbury in offering an exclusive licence for its $20 million annual towage busi-ness.

International practices to create a more seamless and efficient transfer of goods between road, rail and sea transport would be investigated.

The Government would strive to fulfil its pre-election promise of making Bunbury the State’s second container port.

The 20,000 containers sourced from the south west annually could be moved through Bunbury with minor upgrading of its port facilities.

When Business News asked if this was practical given that a general cargo port was just two hours away and container-carrying shipowners had shown little interest in Bunbury, Ms MacTiernan said the plan was more long term than immediate.

Technological innovations such as self-loading ships would make the port a more attractive prospect to international shipowners.

“It could be over a decade away, but it will happen,” Ms Mac-Tiernan said.

“The south west is an area with a lot of population growth.

“We will do whatever it takes to put this cargo into Bunbury.”

WA chairman of the Australian Chamber of Shipping Simon Luff said the south west lacked the population to support a container service.

Proponents of this service were also ignoring the region’s inability to support a two-way, import-export container trade – a fundamental requirement for a viable shipping service.

“These proposals are fraught with all sorts of difficulties,” Mr Luff said.

“Investing in infrastructure alone won’t bring the trade. Sure, it’s possible way into the future, but at this stage I really think it is hot air.”

Ms MacTiernan argued that Bunbury presented a more practical option for container-isation than the proposed private port at James Point, some 20km south of Fremantle.

She favoured the development of James Point for bulk cargoes and livestock to take pressure off Fremantle, but claimed the previous government’s enthusiasm for developing it as a general cargo port was directed at savaging the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) rather than sound planning.

Her position is disappointing for the James Point consortium which has pledged to invest $100 million in the facility.

Business is also keen for competition in the container trade with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry supporting proposals for both Bunbury and James Point.

James Point chairman John Peraldini, who has spoken of long-term plans for James Point to be the premier port of the west in the way that Botany Bay is to New South Wales, said he hoped to build on productive meetings held with Ms MacTiernan in December.

The consortium consisted of Francis A Jones, Italia Limestone, Worley Limited and the Marine & Civil Constructions with the Len Buckeridge financially-backed Western Stevedores being the controlling shareholder.

Mr Peraldini, a director of Western Stevedores, which has stevedored bulk, livestock and small amounts of general cargo at Fremantle and Dampier since 1996, said a contract had been signed with government for conditional rights to build and operate James Point.

The consortium was awaiting planning and environmental approval before an October construction start up of stage one to cater for the bulk, livestock and general cargo trades.

This would see the construction of two land-backed berths catering for vessels up to 35,000 tonnes and further expansion, requiring an additional $50 million for larger ships.

“We have sufficient work for this now,” Mr Peraldini said. “So stage one is self-sufficient and viable in its own right.”

A conciliatory Peraldini said he couldn’t understand suggestions about using the port to sabotage the MUA.

His work force of 13 full-time and 40 casuals were all MUA members and there were no plans to hire non-union workers at the new port.

MUA State secretary Terry Buck said the union had an amiable relationship with Western Stevedores, however he claimed the James Point concept would “never have seen the light of day, had it not been for the animosity between former Transport Minister Eric Charlton and the MUA.”

This stemmed from the bitter industrial dispute that followed the awarding of a $2 million contract in 1995 to Buckeridge company, BAAC Pty Ltd to provide non-union stevedoring services to the State-owned shipping line.

A prolonged dispute resulted in the closure of the loss-making Stateships with the Court Government being forced to pay $1 million in compensation to BAAC Pty Ltd.

Mr Buck said the development of another container cargo facility should not be at the expense of the public facility at Fremantle.

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