Constance warns stevedores on terminal access charges

By: Rob McKay

Stevedores told to think twice on hikes as Victoria awaits draft report

Constance warns stevedores on terminal access charges
Andrew Constance


New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance has put a shot across the bows of stevedores at Port Botany over their unrestrained terminal access charges.

Constance is the first state or federal minister to indicate publically a significant disquiet at the impact they are having on port users and the container logistics supply chain, including container trucking and rail haulage.

He says stevedores at Port Botany have been warned against slapping higher port surcharges on transport operators and exporters who are battling crippling drought in NSW.

Stiffening the position, he adds that it would be "completely unacceptable for stevedores to increase their infrastructure levies anytime soon".

"This is a critical time for our agricultural exporters as they face unprecedented drought conditions," Constance says.

"Our farmers and their communities are doing it tough, and they deserve as much help as we can give them now and into the future.

"Key stakeholders have raised concerns about the impact of increasing port charges in NSW that have potential to drive up the cost of everyday goods, as well as impacting the state’s economy and competitiveness of our exports.

"They have also raised concerns around the frequency and lack of justification for these increased charges passed on by stevedores."

Read about the NSW Productivity Commission's probe, here

Constance has referred the matter of rapid price increases to the NSW Productivity Commissioner (PC) to investigate the impact on the supply chain.

"The NSW government welcomes the investment stevedores make in improving the efficiency of our ports, however, greater transparency is required to restore confidence in the industry," Constance says.

"Stevedores must act responsibly and immediately put a stop to any price hikes."

It is understood the PC will investigate following the minister’s request to look into the matter and is likely to will meet with industry representatives next year.

It will then provide advice on the matter to the state government.

Stevedores in NSW risk intervention if they ignore this political concern.

If stevedores do not halt the fee increases, the NSW government can intervene to stop them under the Ports and Maritime Administration Act 1995, a point effectively made before by Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chair Rod Sims and federal transport minister Michael McCormack.

The newest of the anti-access charges alliances – that of Road Freight NSW (RFNSW), the Australian Trucking Association (ATA), Western Roads Federation and the Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia Limited (CBFCA) – was quick to back Constance’s intervention.

"This is great news for our Alliance and all of our members, particularly in the lead-up to the New Year, when we were all worried about yet another price rise at Port Botany," spokesperson and RFNSW chief executive Simon O’Hara.

"The Minister has acknowledged our concerns that these ongoing, unjustified charges are being passed through the supply chain, with the State’s consumers ultimately, to be paying more for their everyday goods.

"This will give transport operators and exporters a reprieve in the short-term and we look forward to the NSW Productivity Commission finally investigating the frequency of price increases in this uncontrolled and unregulated manner – and why there’s a lack of justification for stevedores continuing to prop-up their revenue base through these crippling charges.

"We commend Minister Constance for listening and acting on our concerns."

Meanwhile, in Victoria, transport and ports minister Melissa Horne’s office confirms the state’s Port Pricing and Access Review draft report is due this month.

"We’re boosting landside efficiency at the Port of Melbourne – to get goods on and off ships quicker, increasing productivity and driving down costs," a spokesperson states in a written response.

"We’ve listened to the industry and extended the review into pricing and charges.

"We expect to receive the review by the end of the year, and will consider it closely before responding."


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