Watchdog imposes open access on ATT ports

ACCC lets Asciano joint-venture operate port terminals, but must offer open access arrangements

October 20, 2009

The competition watchdog has given go-ahead to a joint venture headed by Asciano to operate motor vehicle and general cargo handling terminals at five ports across the country.

Under the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) decision, the Australian Amalgamated Terminals (AAT) will have to provide a mechanism for stevedores other than its own shareholders to seek access to its terminals as well as provide end-users with a dispute resolution process.

AAT applied for authorisation in July as part of a Federal Court settlement that found stevedores P&O and Patrick entered into anti-competitive agreements in connection with the establishment of AAT in contravention of the Trade Practices Act.

ACCC Chairman Graeme Samuel says the conditional authorisation exposes any anti-competitive conduct to a transparent process.

"Given AAT's vertical integration in stevedoring, the ACCC is concerned there is an incentive to deny access to its terminals to new entrants in competition with its shareholders," Samuel says.

"Since the establishment of AAT, no new entrant stevedore has sought to operate at any of AAT's terminals."

"The first condition is required to ensure there is a transparent and independent process so that stevedoring businesses have a better opportunity to use AAT's terminals and provide competition to AAT's stevedoring shareholders at ports in Brisbane, Port Kembla, Melbourne, Launceston and Adelaide.

"It provides that a stevedore and AAT first try to reach a commercial agreement, with the potential for the ACCC to act as an arbitrator if the parties cannot agree."

Samuel also says public consultation on AAT’s application for authorisation highlighted concerns abut the inability for terminal users to negotiate directly with the joint venture due to the nature of contractual relationships in the industry.

The ACCC is inviting further comment on the draft determination from port corporations, stevedores and terminal end-users on whether the proposed conditions will address previous concerns.

The competition watchdog also says it wants to know how these organisations think the draft will support existing mechanisms provided by some port corporations in their oversight role of AAT.

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