Main players give little away on PHVBS moves

By: Rob McKay


Possibility that BHP will look to pay its share

Main players give little away on PHVBS moves
Port Hedland and its iron ore piles

 

Two main names linked to Western Australia’s burdening of shipowners to pay for action on the Port Hedland iron-ore air pollution of others are pitching their statements on the issue carefully.

Using charges on ships, the Port Hedland Voluntary Buy-back Scheme (PHVBS) aims to give owners of residences in the dust-hit suburb of West End the option to sell out,

But shipowner representative body Shipping Australia Ltd (SAL) states that the first its members knew of it was a letter from Pilbara Ports Authority (PPA) just before Christmas informing them of a levy on ship entry and exit from the Port of Port Hedland to pay for it.

The letter came some 18 months after work on the PHVBS began and six months after the WA government gave in-principle support after talks with "industry".

It has since emerged that the WA government idea is that shipowners will pass on the charge to customers, a major one of which is BHP, which produces much of the iron ore at the port and had been charged with monitoring any dust pollution there.

Now that it knows, SAL complains that passing the cost on would be very hard, though the government says other port charges have been passed on successfully before. 


Read about the letter from the PPA to shipowners on the charges, here


In a written response to ATN questions on how the decision was made, the PPA’s Hedland Maritime Initiative MD Karlene Bylund plays a very straight bat.

"Following discussions with industry, the funding mechanism has been finalised and stakeholders were advised of the introduction of a Port Charge which will be levied from 1 March 2021," Bylund states.

"The Government also announced in June 2020 that Pilbara Ports Authority, through a wholly-owned subsidiary, would be responsible for administering the PHVBS.

"Under the Port Authorities Act, Pilbara Ports Authority has the statutory authority to levy a port charge in relation to the functions of PPA.

"Port charges have previously been introduced, for example, for port improvement projects including the construction of a new marine operations control tower and a channel optimisation project.

"The port charges have then ceased when the associated projects were completed.

"The PHVBS Port Charge is being managed no differently to any other port charges under the Port Authorities Act, where the charge is levied on ships via their shipping agents.

"In the case of the PHVBS Port Charge, it will be levied on vessels exporting iron ore from the Port of Port Hedland, via their shipping agents, to fund the PHVBS property acquisition costs, any operational subsidy necessary for the activation of land outside of the proposed Maritime Precinct, the costs of administering and managing the PHVBS and the costs of planning for the redevelopment of the Maritime Precinct. 

"The PHVBS Port Charge will only be levied for the period necessary to ensure that revenue raised will be commensurate with the costs of administering the PHVBS. 

"By way of background, Hedland Maritime Initiative [HMI] is the name of PPA’s wholly-owned subsidiary established to administer the PHVBS."

ATN has sought further details from PPA on how the mechanism was chosen and what consultation was undertaken.

With ATN understanding that the state government is likely to be unmoved by ship-owner protestations, one avenue for them is for the miners involved to accept the passed-on charges as the government expects.

Here, it is understood, they may have some cause for optimism, with intimations that BHP expecting its contribution to the scheme to be commensurate to its port use.

"Long-term sensible planning is crucial to the future development of Port Hedland and for the co-existence of industry in the town," a BHP spokesperson tells ATN.

"We are supportive of the WA Government’s voluntary buyback scheme for residents in the West End.

"The delivery of the voluntary scheme will provide long-term certainty to the crucial operations of Port Hedland and the community."

 

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