Port privatisation to hit trucking's hip pocket

Trucking operators face new charges under the NSW Government's plan to privatise ports Botany and Kembla

Port privatisation to hit trucking's hip pocket
Port privatisation to hit trucking's hip pocket
By Brad Gardner | October 30, 2012

Trucking operators hauling goods to and from the New South Wales waterfront could be hit with new charges as part of government plans to privatise ports Botany and Kembla.

The Port Assets (Authorised Transactions) Bill, which is currently working its way through the NSW Parliament, will hand over the running of the ports to the private sector for 99 years and give it the power to impose infrastructure charges on trucking companies.

The move has blindsided the NSW Transport Workers Union (TWU), which says the Government did not consult industry before deciding to extend liability for paying a charge to the trucking industry.

Levies currently apply to ships, wharfage and navigational services, and the Bill will make cargo owners, vessel operators and those who pay a site occupation fee liable as well.

The port operator will only need to give industry 10 days’ notice of an impending charge and will not need to seek approval from the Government or the NSW pricing authority, the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).

"Of great concern is that these new charges will not be subject to any regulator oversight and is a blank cheque above and beyond the current charges," TWU NSW Secretary Wayne Forno says.

"This bill will have a massive impact on the industry and port supply chain, not to mention the ability of truck drivers to earn a decent income."

The Opposition, which has refused to support the Bill, believes giving a single private operator the power to set charges may lead to price gouging.

"There is an opportunity for price gouging here because this facility is a monolithic monopoly, and it always is," Maroubra MP Michael Daley says.

Forno has echoed Daley’s sentiments and has vowed to lobby crossbenchers to vote to stop the Bill from passing.

But Treasurer Mike Baird says the Bill needs to pass so the Government can use the revenue from privatising the ports to bankroll key infrastructure projects, including upgrades to the Pacific and Princes highways.

The Bill will implement a price monitoring regime, which requires the port operator to publish the reasons for introducing or increasing charges. It will need to give the Government 20 days’ notice before the charge is introduced.

Forno says the operator should be required to seek approval from the Government or IPART for charges instead of simply stating what it is doing.

"There’s no approval process other than informing the government," he says.

Daley claims the provision does not impose any constraints on what the charge will be used for and what the charges will be.

"The operator can do what it likes with that charge and pay off its return on investment. No-one can do anything about that," he says.

In written responses to a list of union concerns, Baird told it the infrastructure charge could be used to finance new projects such as truck marshalling yards to get traffic off roads. He says the charge is an alternative to government funding.

"The main beneficiaries of these charges will be the logistics operators themselves – they are essentially making a contribution for their benefit," he says.

However, the Bill does not expressly state that charges imposed on the trucking operators will be funnelled directly into trucking-specific projects. It says charges will be used to fund investment in "port infrastructure projects".

Forno has questioned if a private operator will invest revenue back into facilities to benefit truck drivers.

"It’s taken us 10 years to get a truck parking bay and toilet facilities at Port Botany and that was off a government. What hope have we got off of private enterprise?"

The Government announced last year its plan to privatise NSW ports by mid-2013 to fund infrastructure projects. Baird says other port assets, including the Cooks River and Enfield logistics terminals, will also be privatised.

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