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Wednesday, 18 August 1993
Page: 215

Senator PARER (3.37 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I would like to speak to the Industry Commission report because it refers to the port authority services and activities throughout Australia. Everyone is aware that, with the problems we currently have in respect of the current account deficit and the large foreign debt, ports can be Australia's Achilles heel in respect of exports. The Industry Commission has addressed this in some great detail and made a series of recommendations.

  Even though I agree with the Industry Commission's recommendations—and I think most people would agree with them—let me say just as a note of caution that one should be a little careful about generalisations when it comes to ports around Australia because there are probably no two ports that are similar. One of the recommendations—this is the area where I have some concern because I think it shows a mistrust of what government can do—is that they should be `placed in a corporate environment'. They are the words of the Industry Commission. This gives me an opportunity to talk about the port of Gladstone. I would like to concentrate on the port of Gladstone because there is very limited time available. I might say that for a report of this magnitude it is of some concern that one gets only about five minutes on something so vital to the country.

  I have been involved indirectly, I suppose, in the port of Gladstone for over 20 years, and I saw that port develop from a tiny little operation at a place called Auckland Point to the stage today where it now deals with over $22 million worth of exports. In recent times, because it is the in thing to do, a lot of people are saying, `Let's corporatise'. The Gladstone Port Authority has been requested to revalue all its assets to today's values. This is the note of caution: one should remember that that whole development at Gladstone, which in today's dollars probably comes to $300 million, $400 million or $500 million, was totally and utterly paid for by the users of that port, so not one cent of taxpayers' money went into it.

  I might also say that the port of Gladstone is one of the most efficient ports throughout the world. It has been entrepreneurial from the word go. It recognises that it is competing not only with other ports on the coast of Queensland in regard to bulk export trade but with ports around the world, and that has been its philosophy.

  The Goss government of Queensland has demanded that the port revalue its assets which, as I indicated, were totally paid for by all the participating companies—not just the port development itself, but also the deepening of the harbour to allow 200,000-tonne vessels to come through the port. The concern that everybody has is: what is the real motive? No-one objects to improvements in efficiency; we all support that. I, and some members of the board of the Gladstone Port Authority, suspect that there might be an ulterior motive.

  The Queensland state government is now saying, `We want a rate of return on the revalued assets which we did not pay for'. Maybe I am not correct, but I think it is proper of me, particularly in this climate, to draw attention to the probability that I am correct. If a reasonable rate of return—whatever that means—is required on assets that were totally paid for by the user companies, then this is another hidden tax on an export industry. The last thing in the world Queensland needs—the last thing in the world Gladstone needs—is another tax on the people who use that port.

  The port of Gladstone has been one of the most efficient ports this country has seen. It has had foresight. It has always been a little ahead of the demand for use, which means that it has been able to take on small users. This has been a major reason why that port is the envy of all ports in Australia. It is a port that overseas users of coal—coking, steaming, and semi-anthracitic coals—like to use because of its efficiencies.