Port of Melbourne Lease Transaction Bill 2015
24 June 2015
24 June 2015
MS RYAN (Euroa) — I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute on the Delivering Victorian Infrastructure (Port of Melbourne Lease Transaction) Bill 2015 and to place on record The Nationals' strong opposition to the bill. It is a dud deal for regional Victoria. We are not opposed to the principle of privatisation — sensible privatisation — but we are opposed to the conditions under which the Labor government proposes to sell the port. We have serious concerns about the length of the lease the government proposes and about the creation of a monopoly port structure. We have serious concerns about Labor's lie to the people of Geelong when it promised to build a second port. We are concerned that the government is exposing the Victorian taxpayer to compensation claims. We have no idea how much this will cost the Victorian taxpayer in years to come.
The bill delivers nothing for regional Victoria. The government is selling regional Victoria down the gurgler in a greedy grab for cash. As we have heard, before the election Labor supported a medium-term lease — a 40-year-lease. I am pleased to see the Minister for Local Government, who was the former shadow ports minister, at the table, because on 13 November last year, just days before the state election, she said, 'we will consider a lease that's around the 40-to-50-year mark'.
Now we are in a post-election world, and the story has changed. Now Labor is proposing a lease of 50 to 70 years. It is black and white in clause 11 of the bill: a lease term of 50 years, with a possible extension of 20 years at the decision of the Premier of the day via regulation. It does not even need to come back to Parliament. This is a complete and utter broken promise by those on the other side, and it is one that we reject.
The creation of a monopoly structure is even more concerning to the people of rural and regional Victoria. Those opposite have dumped their commitment to build a second port at Bay West, a commitment made time and again prior to the election. I have a series of quotes from now senior government ministers made in succession prior to the election last year. The now Premier said on 5 March last year, 'We think Bay West is a much better option'.
The former shadow ports minister said on 10 April last year, 'We're standing by the policy to develop Bay West'. On the same day the now Treasurer said:
Bay West is about jobs for Geelong, it's about jobs for Melbourne and jobs for Victoria.
You don't build a port for ships …
That was the Treasurer — heaven help us!
Clause 69 of the bill authorises the payment of compensation if another container port is built with government support. It rules out any prospect of the development of a second container port for Victoria for 50 to 70 years. Labor knows full well that a second port will be needed before the end of that time.
In May, just one month ago, the Minister for Ports said:
Our assessment in relation to the need for a second port is that we probably would not need a second port until about 2045, maybe beyond.
In case he cannot do his maths, that is 30 years; it is not 50 to 70 years. As the shadow Treasurer, the member for Malvern, pointed out in his contribution, Infrastructure Australia said demand for container facilities at the port of Melbourne is projected to exceed capacity before 2031.
If the bill is passed, compensation will be payable — there are no two ways about it — yet we have not even had the opportunity to see the conditions of that compensation. Taxpayers are being asked to trust those opposite without having any opportunity to see the details. I do not trust them, and regional Victorians do not trust them. We do not trust them because not far from here we have a desalination plant that sits there, costing Melbourne water customers $1.8 million every day for 27 years.
Mr Katos interjected.
Ms RYAN — As the member for South Barwon pointed out, that would have paid for the government's level crossings.
This is kneejerk, short-term policy, just like the desalination plant. Labor failed to do the sensible, long-term planning, and regional Victorians will pay for it for many years to come. The Labor Party does not have a mandate to create a long-term private monopoly on the port of Melbourne. It has no mandate to kill off the development of a second container port for 50 to 70 years. This will cost jobs, damage trade and lead to higher costs for exporters and importers — and all that will be passed back to consumers. It delivers nothing for regional Victoria.
It is a fine policy to remove 50 level crossings in Melbourne, but there is not one level crossing in regional Victoria that this policy will fix. There is no funding for regional Victoria from the lease of an asset that is crucial to regional Victoria; not one dollar will be delivered back to regional Victoria. Last financial year the port of Melbourne handled $92 billion worth of trade. In my electorate there are many companies — exporters and importers — that rely heavily on the port of Melbourne.
I was amazed to listen to the contribution of the member for Bendigo East, who is doing her very best to sell this as a great deal for regional Victoria. She is selling out her constituents.
I have with me some feedback from regional Victorians. I asked a number of people in rural and regional Victoria what they think. Allister Boyce, the general manager of the Wimmera Container Line, wrote:
Bottom line is any extra costs incurred through port increases will only be passed onto the customer, in turn will make them uncompetitive to ship through Melbourne or unviable to export agriculture product at all out of the Wimmera. That considered will inevitably lead to job losses in the Wimmera and surrounding regions but the flow-on effect will also be job losses in the greater supply chain.
We do not understand the benefit of the proposed compensation payment to be made in the event that a second container port is developed, particularly as the Andrews opposition did not question the building of a second port in Victoria, only its location. This appears to be done, to incentivise a higher up-front payment, but at the cost of competition in the longer term, which will also lead to a continuing higher cost of doing business.
Members of the government cannot fool regional Victoria with this deal.
Mark Johnson from Johnson Asahi Pty Ltd in Horsham wrote:
There is no doubt that the government is making a decision now to rake in a lot of cash so they can fund their rail crossovers project to ease congestion within the Melbourne metro area. This is great but in the end it feels that the rural exporters will pay the price for the city folks' gain.
Tony Purdy, the plant manager of Schneider Electrics, a major employer in Benalla, wrote:
While we do not export our Benalla manufactured products we do import both raw material and components from around the world, via Melbourne port. Hence any increase in port charges will directly impact our product costs and with that potentially affect the viability of our market offering and regional employment.
The coalition supports a medium-term lease over the port of Melbourne. We support the development of a second container port. This bill does not deliver that. It is a terrible deal for regional Victoria, and it is worrying to me and to my constituents if this signifies the way Labor plans to do business in this state.