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Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Page: 99

Ms GRIERSON (9:20 PM) —I rise tonight to discuss the critical task, both for my electorate of Newcastle and for the nation as a whole, of investing in our national infrastructure. In particular, I would like to remind the House of John Anderson’s recent comments that Newcastle’s Port Waratah was ‘our premier coal exporting port’ and an example of ‘very good practice.’ I could not agree more, though I am surprised to hear praise for our region from a Howard government minister. Newcastle is more used to having its university kicked by the Minister for Education, Science and Training and having its ASIC office closed by the Treasurer, so Minister Anderson’s praise is rare but certainly warranted.

It has been a continuous effort for almost 200 years to turn Newcastle Harbour from a shallow estuary into one of Australia’s major deepwater ports. It has involved among other things the state government reclaiming and merging six islands to make Kooragang Island—a deepwater access complex that now hosts many major exporters. This continuous effort was enhanced by the $700 million spent by Port Waratah Coal Services Ltd to expand export capacity between 1992 and 2002, the $500 million announced by the state government for a third coal loader and the port authority’s plans for increasing the channel depth. This continuous effort now sees around 900 ships loaded each year with a total of 82 million tonnes of coal, making Port Waratah Australia’s largest coal export facility—an outcome achieved in spite of capacity constraints in the coal chain and the huge growth in demand. When demand outstripped capacity, a Port Waratah Coal Services’ quota proposal was approved by the ACCC so that all coal exporters could share equitably in access to the port.

The Hunter Valley Coal Chain Logistics Team achieved a 20 per cent increase in throughput by system planning the movement of coal from the mine to the port. Our local approach is successful because of the cooperative culture that has existed for many years between all regional stakeholders: Port Waratah Coal Services; the mining, maritime and transport unions; Pacific National; Queensland Railways; coalmine owners and operators; stevedores; Newcastle Port Corporation; and the port users group. Now that the federal government has finally located our port on the map, $270 million from its Australian Rail Track Corporation and additional rolling stock investment by Pacific National and Queensland Railways will hopefully increase rail capacity to 102 million tonnes per annum to meet the expanded capacity of the port terminal by 2006. However, with local opinion suggesting that it will take more than $270 million to finance the rail bottlenecks, it remains to be seen whether there will be anything left in the federal treasure chest to properly fund the job. This government’s neglect of its responsibilities is clear when you consider that its share of public infrastructure investment has dropped from 56 per cent in 1998 to 30 per cent this year or when you consider recent estimates that Australia now needs $25 billion worth of investment in infrastructure to make up for that neglect.

It is a shame that, having been woken from its nine-year slumber by criticism from every credible economic organisation in the land, this government’s only response has been to try a hostile federal take-over of the nation’s ports. But would you hand control of your best practice port to a bunch of pirates more intent on plundering than on building for the future? No way. Minister Anderson is right to think that Port Waratah works well, but he is wrong if he thinks his flattery can hide the fact that he has sailed far too late into this debate for anyone to take him seriously. If the government were serious about emulating Newcastle’s success at other ports around the nation and about tackling our nation’s other critical infrastructure needs, it would actually get involved in some real consultation and some real investment. I do not mean the kind of investment that depends—like ‘Admiral’ Nelson’s flagpoles or ‘Captain’ Costello’s GST loot, or Howard’s IR reform—on marching in step with the government’s ideological agenda.

Labor’s approach complements what has worked in Newcastle. It actually involves real consultation with the states and industry and it actually invests real money. Labor’s Infrastructure Australia, an independent statutory authority, would, in partnership with state, territory and local governments and the private sector, develop a blueprint for our future infrastructure needs. Labor would provide real investment through the establishment of Building Australia, an intergenerational fund to enhance the productivity of our economy through investment in priority infrastructure projects. This country desperately needs Labor’s national leadership on infrastructure planning—not the kind of ad-hoc infrastructure piracy attempted by Minister Anderson when he last sailed into Newcastle harbour.