WAFarmers prepares for port sale campaign

21 Aug, 2015 02:00 AM
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WAFARMERS will use the Dowerin GWN7 Machinery Field Days next week as a launch pad for a campaign seeking greater transparency on the sale of Fremantle Port.

President Dale Park said the campaign aimed to ensure rural WA "gets a fair outcome" if Fremantle Port is privatised as the State government plans.

The proposed WAFarmers campaign was announced after Bermuda-based Brookfield Infrastructure Partners on Tuesday confirmed its renewed $9 billion bid for control of freight logistics operator Asciano Ltd.

Brookfield Infrastructure, the parent company of Brookfield Rail which has a lease of the State's freight rail network until 2049, has indicated control of Asciano would allow it to establish "two leading global platforms".

It has said one of those platforms would be container ports, increasing speculation acquisition of Asciano would make it a prime candidate to bid to operate Fremantle Port.

Privatising Fremantle Port, which includes the outer port often referred to as the Kwinana bulk port, will affect everybody in WA, including farmers, Mr Park said.

Given the government's track record on privatisation, there was "cause for concern", he said.

"Obviously, acquiring Asciano would put Brookfield on the front foot for buying Fremantle (Port) when the government puts it on the block.

"That scenario fills us with dread, because if they ran the port the same way they are running the rail network, they could kill our wheat industry," Mr Park said.

Brookfield gaining control of Asciano, which owns Pacific National, the interstate rail freight operator linking Perth and the Eastern seaboard, could create a further conflict of interest with rail users.

"With the lack of transparency in the rail network lease to Brookfield, who would know under those circumstances whether CBH or any other rail user was paying a fair price?" Mr Park said.

"It could be conceivable that Brookfield could charge Pacific National next to nothing to use the rail network and charge everybody else as much as they thought they could get away with.

"The lack of transparency is not working for our rail network.

"We don't want the same for our major port - the port where the bulk of our agricultural exports leave the country and all of our farm machinery and some of our farm inputs come into the country."

Mr Park said WAFarmers was not opposed to privatising Fremantle Port provided it was satisfied "there are clear benefits for the rural community in doing so".

"It is imperative that the government puts processes and mechanisms in place to protect exporters and importers, to ensure they can continue to operate competitively if the port is sold."

He said details of the campaign were still being finalised but people could find out more by contacting WAFarmers on 9486 2100 or visiting the WAFarmers' tent on site 36 at the Dowerin GWN7 Field Days.

Asciano has extensive interests in port infrastructure and operations in Australia and New Zealand.

In WA, it owns Patrick Terminals and Logistics, one of two major container port operators at Fremantle's North Quay, and it provides stevedoring services at Dampier, Geraldton, Fremantle, Bunbury and Esperance ports.

Another Asciano company provides stevedoring and storage services at Henderson.

Albany Bulk Handling, which loads wood chips at Albany Port, is half-owned by Asciano.

Apart from its own and Patrick operations, Asciano has partnered with Qube Holdings Ltd in Australian Amalgamated Terminals which operates in all major Australian ports, except Fremantle.

Brookfield Infrastructure chief executive officer Sam Pollock said on Tuesday: "This transaction (taking control of Asciano) enables us to acquire premier transport infrastructure assets in a geography we know well and establish two leading global platforms with solid long-term prospects.

"Combining Asciano's Australian container terminals with our existing assets in North America and Europe provides the foundation for a global container platform.

"In addition, Asciano's leading above-rail operations, together with our Australian and Brazilian logistics businesses, create a powerful, international rail logistics business."

Asciano plans to hold an investor meeting in November to approve the Brookfield take-over, conditional on an independent expert reviewing the deal.

The deal will also require approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Foreign Investment Review Board.

Asciano reportedly will have to pay Brookfield an $88 million "break" fee if it does not proceed with the deal.

Brookfield Infrastructure Partners has world-wide interests in utilities, transport, energy and communications.

It operates 30 ports in North America, the United Kingdom and Europe and boasts it is one of the UK's largest port services providers.

Apart from the WA freight rail network, it also owns the Dalrymple Bay coal terminal in north Queensland and an electricity distribution network in Tasmania.

It has units listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges and, should the Asciano deal go through, plans to list units on the Australian Stock Exchange.

That move would allow Australian investors to buy shares in the units.

Financial advisers Rothschild and Deloitte are scheduled to provide Treasurer Mike Nahan with a detailed recommendations report in December on the Fremantle Port sale.

p Asciano to recommend $A9b Brookfield takeover: see page 33.

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Mal Gill

Mal Gill

is wool and dairy writer for Farm Weekly
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READER COMMENTS

Simon
21/08/2015 7:21:55 PM, on Farm Weekly

I can't believe there are no other comments on this. The checks and balances on WA Government procurement processes were wound back by the current government. You can guarantee there will be little transparency on this deal. Questions will be met with the "commercial in confidence" whitewash. WA Inc. is happening all over again and certain politicians will retire very comfortably.
BFT
24/08/2015 3:05:29 PM, on Farm Weekly

Being in the unique position of having worked for nearly all the players, Brookfields, CBH, State government, I can see it all rolling on in the usual fashion. Make the asset attractive, sell the asset to sharks with other people's superannuation money, use the asset sale money on overblown projects, blow budget, borrow more money to make other assets more attractive to the sharks, tell every one they need to tighten their belts and work harder, sell more assets, mean while taking large commissions on each sale and telling farmers to stand on their own feet, no hand outs from this government,

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