Darwin port lease report seeks pricing protections

Inquiry committee take on concerns of trucking industry amongst others

Darwin port lease report seeks pricing protections
The Port of Darwin.

Lessons learnt from other port lease sales are at the centre of the Port of Darwin Select Committee’s report advice, with members seeking protection for port users and customers.

While the inquiry recommends a partnership be the model the Northern Territory Government decides on, it calls for a high level of consultation, particularly given the likelihood of developments over the 99 years of the lease.

Though accepting that regimes must differ according to the varied situations of other ports that have undergone the process, the Port of Darwin Select Committee notes that "the ‘light touch’ preferred by port operators has not always benefitted users, and the ACCC has concluded that price monitoring does not provide an effective constraint on monopoly pricing.

"Accordingly the Ports Management Bill includes a strong pricing and access regime, which will need to be adequately implemented."

This meant expert drafting and rigorous independent review was crucial for the lease’s success.

Price and access was the "main point of consternation for most people", particularly around the lease model, inquiry chairman Nathan Barrett says of its own consultation.

This was also a main concern for the NT Road Transport Association (NTRTA).

"The partnership model can be highly effective in getting the growth and development that business needs," Barrett tells ABC Rural.

"The greatest risks of that approach for the Port of Darwin are avoiding monopoly pricing and anti-competitive arrangements, and keeping the partnership on track over the term of the lease.

"The report highlights some lessons from other jurisdictions and makes recommendations to reduce these risks."

Given the port’s strategic importance, the report recommends that in the case of foreign investment, a component of the lease be kept in the control of an Australian entity and that Foreign Investment Review Board and the Department of Defence advice be sought.

The full report can be found here.

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