VTA calls for Melbourne port lease to pass now despite concerns


Opposition makes plain changes are needed to garner its support as committee report raises issues

VTA calls for Melbourne port lease to pass now despite concerns
Melbourne intermodal issues were to the fore in the committee report.

 

Victorian Transport Association (VTA) hopes that Port of Melbourne lease legislation is passed before Christmas come in the face of Coalition insistence on changes following shortcomings highlighted in a Legislative Council report.

The VTA’s support is couched in concerns about cost hikes and hopes that the state government addresses Port of Melbourne Select Committee Inquiry report recommendations, especially those that would strengthen and enhance the economic regulatory framework governing the transaction.

But it is underpinned by the pressing need to tackle transport infrastructure underinvestment.

"The VTA has held a very consistent position of supporting the lease of the Port of Melbourne to access the funding required to improve Victoria’s neglected transport infrastructure," VTA CEO Peter Anderson says.

"Our written submissions and testimony before the Inquiry was that while we supported the lease of the port, it was essential that the legislation be amended to include explicit and better protections for port operators against future excessive price hikes by the new monopoly owner.

"The additional economic protections and safeguards announced by the Victorian government in late September went a long way to addressing our primary concerns, and the Inquiry’s recommendations build on those improvements to give port operators better certainty over pricing arrangements."

Anderson says that, given the comprehensive nature of submissions and evidence from 90 individuals, companies and industry groups, it was time for all sides of politics to pass legislation to allow the lease to proceed.

"We have always said that the once-in-a generation decisions around leasing the Port of Melbourne were too important to get wrong and that it was right and proper for the legislation to be subject to rigorous scrutiny," he adds.

"With that process complete and some sensible recommendations made, we urge the Government, the Opposition and the minor parties to act on the recommendations and pass a Bill, so the port can be leased, and the Government can get on with delivering its infrastructure program."

But the state opposition signals adoption of recommendations will be the basis of any bi-partisan support for the measure.

"The evidence made it clear that Labor’s proposed sale of the Port needs substantial change for it to be in the interest of Victorians," it says. 

"The report’s recommendations reflect serious industry and stakeholder concerns with what Labor has proposed. 

"These recommendations are a road map to making this deal a good one for Victorians and thereby securing the passage of the legislation.

"The ball is now in the government’s court to respond to the inquiry’s recommendations in order to secure bipartisan support for this proposal."

RAIL SHUTTLE

Amongst the major gripes the inquiry exposes surrounds the continuing lack of progress on the Metropolitan Intermodal System, also known as Port Rail Shuttle project.

It features in VTA and Austrak submissions and has been the focus of stinging criticism from Qube, which cited the issue as its reason for abandoning its alliance with intermodal proponent Salta Properties.

The report quotes evidence from the state Department of Treasury and Finance that confirms the freeze is due to a government decision that "the matter should be postponed for discussion in due course with the successful bidder" for the port.

It also critiques the government’s Webb Dock Rail approach and calls for this project to be part of a "comprehensive transport plan" for the expansion.

"The Committee is concerned that these general statements suggest that the Government does not have a clear port related transport strategy. The Committee would be more willing to accept the proposition that the State can manage transport issues as and when they arise, if it had been provided with a comprehensive plan for handling port related traffic.   

The full report can be found here.

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