Mixed views on proposed Freo sale

28 Apr, 2016 01:00 AM
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THE live export berth should not be "the carrot to get the sale of Fremantle port over the line".

That's the view of deputy Nationals WA leader Mia Davies, who believes the sale of the port should stand on its own two feet.

While the State Government spruiked plans for a new live export berth, Ms Davies said it needed more details and guarantees.

"The live export berth is something industry would really welcome," she said.

"If it is something industry thinks is really important to do, then we should look at ways in which to do it regardless.

"But what are the guarantees and what are the challenges?"

Treasurer Mike Nahan said the State Government was committed to expanding and supporting live export.

"The longer it is in Fremantle the longer it will be exposed," he said.

"The live export issue is in the Premier's electorate, he knows it and I have been involved in agriculture for decades.

"We knew as long as live export is in Fremantle it was sub-optimal and it was going to be under threat by anti-live export groups."

While the government's commitment was to support live export, past WAFarmers president and Badgingarra producer Dale Park said he remained sceptical.

"I very suspicious," Mr Park said.

Mr Park said the industry needed firm commitments and needed to build the outer harbour sooner rather than later.

"I can't give it a big tick of approval yet, not until I see, with a bit more detail about how they are going to do these things," he said.

"I have been 'done' by this sort of thing before, so I remain suspicious."

WA Livestock Exporters Association (WALEA) chairman Harold Sealy said while others seem to be concerned, the live export industry was happy for the State Government to progress with the sale.

"We have met with Dr Nahan and are meeting again with him in a few weeks," Mr Sealy said.

"We are comfortable with where things are at."

Dr Nahan said there was a lot of work and planning to do, which included gaining environmental approvals to build the outer harbour.

"I believe the sale and outer harbour will be an extremely good deal for regional WA," he said.

The Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook has shown his support over the port debate, but is waiting to see the final details.

"You wouldn't sign a contract without reading it," Mr Seabrook said.

"We've had one public briefing in Northam with a very limited opportunity to ask questions.

"On the faith of it, it looks as though it's a very workable deal, but we've got some questions we would like to ask first before we're willing to step up and endorse it."

After hearing the first 'real indications' of the State Governments proposals last week, the PGA will be meeting with the Treasurer in the next few weeks discuss the proposal further.

"The treasurer has asked for a meeting with us, which we're more than happy to have, we've got some questions we would like to ask but we do not stand in opposition to it," he said.

"But we need a clear indication here, they're not going to skip out after we've given them the nod."

Mr Seabrook said the big pay off for WA was live export out of Fremantle.

"We're not going to sign off on the sale while that's left hanging and could disappear like a mirage," he said.

"Generally speaking competition and private enterprise works a whole lot better than Government does, but we've been desperately short on information and it's pretty hard to make a call when you don't fully understand the deal."

Mr Seabrook said the Nationals WA had missed the key issue.

He said if the live export trade continued out of Fremantle, the whole trade would be at risk because of the effect of loading in such a public arena.

"The Nationals, I'm lost, I can't understand why they're jeopardising live export trade," he said.

"I believe it's the only container port in Australia still run by a Government, come on guys.

"I think the Government have learnt some very serious lessons about what happened there with Brookfield Rail and I believe there will be much more governance."

While WAFarmers president Tony York said careful consideration was needed.

"The Farmers federation policy position is that it is opposed to the port sale, unless there are clear benefits to agriculture and to the State," Mr York said.

"His proposal does have benefits to agriculture and the State and we need to take that on board and consider it."

WAFarmers had the benefit of a briefing two weeks ago by the State Treasurers office, on the details that where discussed in Northam last week.

Mr York said he had recognised the Treasurer had addressed a lot of the issues concerning WAFarmers.

He said the proposal was of interest to WAFarmers, however it had to carefully consider it and decide if it was in support of the decision or not.

Mr York said WAFarmers is currently in the process of organising a General Council Meeting to discuss the issue further.

"The Farmers federation has put some issues already in front of Treasurer Mike Nahan, he's addressed a lot of that already and it's worthy of us to fully considering this proposal," he said.

"We want the organisation to re-examine the concept and see whether it can support it or not."

Mr York said one very significant and attractive benefit to agriculture would be moving livestock out of Fremantle.

"It's no secret that WAFarmers have for a long time been advocating the benefits of a livestock loading facility to be shifted out of the inner harbour and down to Kwinana," he said.

"We've had that position for around 20 years and the Treasurer is offering an explanation that it wasn't financially justifiable for the port authority to do but this is an opportunity for this to happen with some of the proceeds of the port sale.

"It would be a benefit to city of Fremantle residents, as well and the city at large would perceive shifting the livestock loading facility out of the inner harbour as beneficial."

While this was good news for industry, Mr York said they were trying to get guarantees.

"He's not saying it could be the State Government could build it, but somebody will build it and they will use proceeds to build it," he said.

"We want guarantees this is going to happen and we know from what the Treasurer has said is that there's been many analyses made about shifting the livestock loading facility to Kwinana in the past, but I don't think he can give us any guarantees.

"We have to make a judgement if we're going to accept the proposal and worth taking that risk."

As for grain, Mr York said they believe the government would honour all the existing contract for the port users, which includes CBH.

"CBH has got a pretty well protected charging regime for the port costs right through until 2040," he said.

"The strong contractual arrangements in place will not be altered and that he's also imposing some very much more stringent checks and balances and oversight arrangements in term of managing any pricing changes that will happen in the port in the future."

FarmWeekly

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