Exporters fret over port plans

30 May, 2015 01:00 AM
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I will be discussing this, as well as other issues, with Mr Baston next month.

FREMANTLE Port was one of the nation's largest live export ports in 2013-14, and government plans to sell it and some other public assets have left industry uncertain about the facility's future.

The Barnett Government proposed in this year's State Budget to privatise the port under a 49-year lease, which is yet to be negotiated.

The deal would help pay down WA's rising debt of $1.3 billion.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association WA president Tony Seabrook said he will discuss his concerns about the lease proposal with Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston.

"Until we see the proposal, we need to see evidence that it won't affect industry," Mr Seabrook said.

"I will be discussing this, as well as other issues, with Mr Baston next month."

Live cattle export is one of the most widely used avenues utilised by producers to turn-off stock.

Mr Seabrook said any impediments to the trade would have producers concerned.

"The reality is, if privatised they could charge higher prices," he said.

"This could happen and producers would then be charged more.

"Private enterprise could find a huge amount of cost efficiencies in the system, sort it out, make huge savings and out of the generosity of the hearts, instead of keeping it for themselves, they could pass those savings onto customers; but the reality of it is, if they can find a way to make an extra buck out of it they will keep it.

"It's ill thought out; this isn't a decision made from good economic sense, it's a decision made by a government that has no money.

"We have proposed to move live export out of Fremantle, but what do they do? Lease it out and walk away."

Treasurer Mike Nahan said the government would pursue the disposal of the Fremantle Port through a long-term lease, as announced in the Budget.

"A number of issues will be considered during the due diligence phase," he said.

"The port of Fremantle will run into congestion; this lease will look at recycling assets from the port of Fremantle to an asset investment program, but also look to solve the issue of how you fund and build the overflow replacement port (at Kwinana).

"The port will reach capacity in 10-15 years, so we will have to plan to build alternatives; but it will take years to do this."

Al Jabri export manager and former WA Livestock Exporters Association chairman John Edwards said the future arrangements at Fremantle would need to be discussed.

"If it is leased out there would have to be some tenure arrangements in place, in term of the operator arrangements, on what can and can't go out of the harbour," he said.

"Live export doesn't have an alternative, because regional ports can't manage it.

"But in reality, who wants to lease a harbour that is at capacity or could be at capacity within a few years; when comprehensive studies show that in 2015, without some major changes it would reach capacity.

"If it's not out of Fremantle, it needs to be out of Kwinana.

"We have argued that Kwinana is a live export solution, as it's close to feedlots, there is less traffic and it sits right in the middle of an industrial area; it's a ready-made solution."

Mr Edwards said industry had offered a solution to solve the issues surrounding live export at Fremantle, but it was rejected.

"There was a ready-made solution at James Point (south of Kwinana), for a number of industries that were not seen as compatible with Fremantle Port, but that fell through," he said.

"There are issues about congestion at Fremantle as well as urban infill, as people decide to live next to a working port and then complain about noise and smell; these issues are still on the front page and are not being addressed by the government.

"There was a lead time of about 30 months for James Point to be up and running – it was good opportunity that was offered, but it was sent off the rails."

Livestock Shipping Services export manager Paul Keenan said it was a concerning time for the live export industry, but could be the push industry was hoping for.

"It is worrying times with the infrastructure and the investment we have in the Fremantle trade, for vessels and feedlots," he said.

"There are vessels that need to be calling in here to pick up fodder for those long haul voyages.

"We have been trying to get another option, besides the Fremantle option, so maybe this will bring it to a head.

"Privatisation may reduce the charges and make it more competitive, but on the other hand they could give priority to whomever they want, which wouldn't be fair.

"You just don't know, they could charge whatever they wanted."

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