Asciano boss eyes port congestion action

Mullen sees Sydney intermodal options and synergies between Patrick and Pacific National as offering a solution

September 15, 2011

New Asciano CEO John Mullen has given hard pressed Sydney transport operators cause to hope for action against port congestion through intermodalism.

Explaining why the company had decided against spinning off or selling its Patrick stevedoring in a Business Spectator interview published today, Mullen says greater integration and the search for synergies in his company should lead to taking the pressure off port roads and the amenity of surrounding residential areas.

"So we need to look at the ability to start developing integrated inland container terminal solutions where you move the container straight from the ship to an inland site on an integrated rail operation," Mullen says.

"These sorts of things are very much in our hands to develop and we believe that can be done in the short to medium term."

He pointed to the company’s Chullora and St Mary sites as inland-terminal options.

Trucking and rail-freight operators in Sydney have complained publically of shortcomings in Patrick’s Port Botany operation, though the stevedore has pointed to unforeseen circumstances and those out of its control.

Mullen says Asciano had taken seriously investor calls for a demerger of Patrick, which has performed modestly recently, from its profitable Pacific National rail operation and had investigated the option.

But this had found synergies and other avenues to increasing stock-price values unexplored, due to the company being in survival mode with the impact of the global financial crisis on its debt profile.

Mullen admitted that gains in productivity at Patrick’s Sydney terminal since the late 1990s had been eroded and that some "silly areas" of work practices had never been tackle, despite reforms, and described the Maritime Union of Australia as "intransigent" in the faces of changes sought by the company.

However, at a time when former Liberal workplace relations minister Peter Reith, who had pushed waterfront reforms in the1990s,
is urging Opposition leader Tony Abbott to burnish his industrial relations credentials, Mullen says there will be no return to
the "balaclavas and dogs solution" that characterised the Patrick dispute.

Along with this, he noted the lack of capital expenditure on port equipment that could now also be tackled.

The full interview can be viewed here:

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