Farmers concerned at plan to privatise the Port of Melbourne

The Weekly Times: Farmers concerned at plan to privatise the Port of Melbourne. James Wagstaff. 12 March 2014

The Victorian Government last week said it would sell a 30-40-year lease on the port to fund billions of dollars of infrastructure projects, including Melbourne’s controversial East West Link tunnel.

It follows last year’s announcement by Labor it would sell a 99-year lease on the port and use the money to fix rail level-crossings across Melbourne, should it win the November state election.

The Port of Melbourne accounts for about $82 billion of imports and exports a year, or more than a third of the nation’s containerised exports.

It processes about 6800 containers a day.

Its main exports include cereal grains, dairy products, fruit and vegetables, stockfeed and meat.

The port’s biggest imports are electrical equipment, furniture, fruit and vegetables, clothing and machinery.

Victorian Treasurer Michael O’Brien last week said the sale would enable funds for the second stage of the East West Link, as well as a major rail project that included a long-awaited link to Melbourne Airport.

Under the Coalition plan, the Port of Hastings would be developed as Victoria’s second container port.

Victorian Farmers Federation vice-president David Jochinke said it didn’t “take a rocket scientist to see that agriculture and regional Victoria” were behind the port’s economic growth and “handing that gateway to a private corporation that’s driven by shareholder returns raises serious alarm bells for farmers”.

“It’s not like we can cart dairy, grain or other produce to alternative container ports in Brisbane or Sydney if the port fees get too high in Melbourne — it’s just not viable,” Mr Jochinke said.

He said the port should not be “simply a quick sell-off to bankroll” the Coalition and Labor’s election promises.

“If the port is to be sold off, then farmers want to see the lion’s share of the funds injected into regional Victoria,” he said.

Municipal Association of Victoria president Bill McArthur said infrastructure money was “certainly needed in the country”.

“The Victorian roads network is falling apart,” Cr McArthur said.

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