RFNSW sees lessons for stevedores in ACCC port win

By: Rob McKay

Sims has doubts but O’Hara argues court ruling shows why watchdog should act on Port Botany ‘taxes’

RFNSW sees lessons for stevedores in ACCC port win
Simon O’Hara says the ACCC should move on the issue


The Federal Court’s ruling on regulatory oversight of the Port of Newcastle is being studied intently in the trucking industry.

Road Freight NSW (RFNSW) is calling again on the Australian Competition and Consumer Competition (ACCC) to act on "crippling new stevedore taxes imposed on truck operators" following a Federal Court decision relating to hefty price increases at the Port of Newcastle.

However, it seems the ACCC needs more convincing.

The Federal Court unanimously upheld a decision that the port is "declared" which means that the ACCC now has the power to monitor and regulate pricing there.

RFNSW general manager Simon O’Hara said RFNSW was analysing the ruling carefully but described it as a "precedent case of intervention for the regulator".

"It certainly sends a very strong message to industry about price gouging and that price increases need to be on the basis of an actual increase in costs," O’Hara says.

"We believe there’s a lesson to be learnt here for stevedores, given that they have burdened our members with unreasonable increases in charges for accessing their terminals at Port Botany.

"They’re on notice.

"In light of the Federal Court’s ruling, RFNSW is again calling on the ACCC to act, for the sake of our members and other users of port infrastructure."

However, ACCC chairman Rod Sims has reservations about whether the issue is one his organisation is in a position to act on.

Asked if the Port of Newcastle situation was transferrable to the situation where stevedores impose container infrastructure charges on trucking companies and others in the container chain, Sims held out little hope.

"I’m not somebody who can have the last word on this but my instinct would be ‘no’," he says.

"This is a decision all about monopoly infrastructure," he adds, indicating that the concept would struggle to stretch to the container chain situation for ACCC purposes.

"So really it’s about ports and railways.

"There is no law against exercising any market power that you’ve got.

"If [the stevedores] had misled people in any way, then we could have a look at that.

"If they are simply using their market power that’s just not against the law, so I don’t think there’s much in this for us."

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