09/04/2008 - 22:00

Port chief offers olive branch

09/04/2008 - 22:00

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After years of deadlock with the state government, the proponent of a private port in Cockburn Sound is hoping a management change will restore life to the project.

After years of deadlock with the state government, the proponent of a private port in Cockburn Sound is hoping a management change will restore life to the project.

James Point Pty Ltd’s newly installed leadership, chairman Chris Whitaker and recently appointed CEO Ian Hutton, have both worked in the government sector, notably in senior port posts.

Mr Whitaker said while a review of the past performance of James Point underscored the strength of the project, he believed that having people who understood government and the bureaucracy could help get the port project restarted.

James Point has been dogged by controversy due to its links to building magnate Len Buckeridge. Having won the rights to develop the port under the then Liberal government of Richard Court, the project lost momentum when a less-than-sympathetic Labor government took office in 2001.

But more than seven years on, the development of a new port is becoming more urgent as the economy grows at a speed that has eclipsed infrastructure planning and forecasting across the state.

Mr Whitaker, who conducted the review of the project before assuming the chairmanship, said James Point had a lot of serious players behind it who could make the project work.

Apart from Mr Buckeridge’s construction group BGC, which dominates the James Point register at more than 45 per cent of the equity, North Fremantle group Marine & Civil Construction Co Pty Ltd and a subsidiary of listed engineering firm WorleyParsons Ltd each hold 8.6 per cent.

“The sheer grunt there in terms of technical expertise and experience has been ignored by everybody,” said Mr Whitaker, a former Melbourne Port Corporation managing director and former WA Department of Transport director-general.

He said that, despite the ability for the group to fund and build the $100 million first stage bulk terminal and $200 million second stage, which included container facilities, it was also willing to look at other options, such as a public-private partnership.

Fremantle Ports’ Kwinana Bulk Jetty and Kwinana Bulk Terminal bulk cargo tonnages represent around 17.7 per cent of total port bulk cargo volumes. They are forecast to handle 4.5 million tonnes in 2007-08.

Mr Whitaker said the current Outer Harbour operations at Cockburn Sound were technically at their limit and already having an impact on shipping.

“The current availability of berths in the Outer Harbour is a significant constraint and cost to a number of existing industries, and a significant barrier to some of them growing and new ones [developing],” he said.

James Point’s other shareholders include Sunseeker Holdings Ltd, a public company linked to former chairman Hans Moonen which has 13 per cent. Mr Moonen, who remains on the James Point board, is also represented via another company through which the partners of Fremantle accounting firm Francis A Jones hold 8.6 per cent.

The Fazio family, which is behind Bibra Lake-based Italia Stone Group Pty Ltd and Roadstone Quarries Pty Ltd, holds almost 7 per cent, the estate of James Point founder, former Fremantle Ports executive and stevedoring company director, John Peraldini, holds almost 6 per cent, and the Spearwood-based Catalano family has the balance.

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