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Hutchison Ports joins infrastructure surcharging feast

New stevedore on the block raises ire of transport and trade impost opponents


Hutchison Ports Sydney (HPS) has become part of the slow-motion feeding frenzy that is infrastructure surcharging on container transporters.

The move is not unexpected, having been picked up by major stevedores around the country, especially over the past two years, and with Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) taking it up in February.

“Hutchison Ports Sydney wishes to announce that effective 25th June 2018, an Infrastructure Levy of $10.45 will apply to all laden import and export containers handled at the terminal by rail or road,” HPS says on its customer portal and truck appointments system.

“The implementation of this levy has become necessary because of the high cost of additional equipment and infrastructure procured in recent years and used to provide and maintain an efficient terminal landside operation.”


Opponents of the trend are critical of what they describe as an increasingly cavalier approach from stevedores in particular.

Long-term critic Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) notes the brief announcement was posted through its online Customer Portal on Sunday “without any consultation with those who must pay – container transport operators (road and rail), and ultimately importers and exporters”.

CTAA director Neil Chambers says “it shows a particular mind-set when Hutchison Ports clearly believes that the only explanation they need to offer to the landside logistics sector is a one-liner describing the surcharge as necessary ‘because of the high cost of additional equipment and infrastructure procured in recent years and used to provide and maintain an efficient terminal landside operation’.

“Hutchison Ports Australia, and its parent company headquarters in Hong Kong, have watched while the other incumbent container stevedoring companies in Australia have hiked up their own landside Infrastructure Surcharges with impunity. They have now decided to get a piece of that unregulated action as well.

“CTAA has engaged with federal and state government ministers, departments and regulators, urging an investigation into how costs and service pricing are being allocated in the international container logistics chain.

“This seems yet another example of large scale cost shifting occurring without any regulatory balance … at what cost to Australia’s trade competitiveness?”

“CTAA maintains that this is not about the recovery of rising business costs at all. All of the recent massive infrastructure surcharge increases, including this latest one by Hutchison Ports Australia in Sydney, are about the stevedore companies trying to maintain their viability in what seems like a stevedore services “price war” playing out as shipping line contracts become due for renegotiation.

“The other major concern of CTAA’s container transport operator alliance companies is that the surcharges are being imposed through terminal carrier access agreements [TCAAs] which we believe breach the ‘unfair contract terms’ provisions of Australia’s competition laws.

“The published Hutchison Ports Australia (HPA) Terminal Carrier Access Agreement states that they may vary the terms and conditions ‘… at any time by placing a notice on the HPA Portal advising that the Terms and Conditions have changed’.

“Container transport operators are then deemed to have accepted and agreed to the revised Terms & Conditions if they continue to use any login or the Truck Appointment System (TAS) after the revised Terms & Conditions have been posted on the HPA online portal.

“No ifs or buts … use the truck appointment system to arrange to come to the terminal and automatically agree to any charge or levy they’d like to impose … no chance to negotiate.”


Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) also pointed to the need for government intervention in such cases.

“It is clear that container terminal operator pricing needs to be regulated to protect Australia’s port users in the same way that state governments regulate wharfage and other prescribed services,” FTA director Travis Brooks-Garrett of the grouping’s secretariat tells ATN.

“The Vehicle Booking System (VBS) is not an appropriate mechanism for stevedores to recover their costs or bolster their margins.

“Australia’s export trade competitiveness is the number one victim here.

“The ultimate responsibility to regulate these types of charges lies with the state governments who have privatised these essential and nationally important infrastructure assets.

“Port charges are regulated. Terminal operator pricing isn’t. That’s a huge problem.

“While the state governments do nothing, we will continue to see exploitative increases in landside charges that will damage the economy and cast a long shadow over the port privatisation experiment.”

The grouping says FTA and APSA members is due to discuss the issue with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) ports section in Melbourne today.


The Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia (CBFCA) also sees the ACCC as crucial to any resolution and is concerned about surcharging’s spread.

“Hutchison Ports Brisbane terminal have had an Infrastructure Levy of $32.60 per full import or export container in place since April of this year,” commercial manager Scott Carson tells ATN.

“The CBFCA continues to engage with the ACCC on this issue, protesting consistently and now with formal engagement at state government levels.

“This situation adds unnecessary forced costs onto Australia’s international freight trade for every full import and export container transiting through these terminals and has no realistic justification.”

Federal transport and infrastructure minister Michael McCormack has indicated he will await the release of the ACCC’s Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report, due in November, before deciding whether to act.


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