Out­come on Port of Mel­bourne lease must be fair and ben­e­fit all

North East & Goulburn Murray Farmer - - NEWS -

THE re­lease of the report into the pro­posed lease of the Port of Mel­bourne has ad­dressed some of the con­cerns high­lighted by farm­ing groups alike, how­ever, ac­cord­ing to the Vic­to­rian Farm­ers Fed­er­a­tion (VFF) and the Aus­tralian Dairy Coun­cil (ADIC) there are still a num­ber of key is­sues that need to be ad­dressed to en­cour­age fair com­pe­ti­tion and ef­fi­ciency.

Both the ADIC and VFF wel­comed the Par­lia­ment of Vic­to­ria’s report on the pro­posed lease of the Port of Mel­bourne, with ADIC chair Si­mone Jo­liffe hav­ing said that the dairy in­dus­try was pleased to see key rec­om­men­da­tions ad­dress a num­ber of con­cerns around the pro­posed lease.

“This report’s rec­om­men­da­tions re­flect the in­dus­try con­cerns re­gard­ing the im­pact of the lease on lease­hold­ers,” she said.

“In par­tic­u­lar, the rec­om­men­da­tions to amend leg­is­la­tion that will lock in a role for the Es­sen­tial Ser­vice Com­mis­sion to man­age com­plaints around port pric­ing is a pos­i­tive ac­knowl­edge­ment of in­dus­try ad­vice.

“How­ever, key is­sues in­clud­ing safe­guards for lease hold­ers are not ad­dressed.

“There needs to be greater over­sight and safe­guards on fees and charges for port uses.

“Fur­ther, the is­sue of com­pen­sa­tion for lease­hold­ers, the amount of money be­ing al­lo­cated to ru­ral and re­gional Vic­to­ria, the tim­ing and process for de­vel­op­ment of a sec­ond port, and the in­vest­ment in the freight in­fra­struc­ture ser­vic­ing the port must also be con­sid­ered,” Mrs Jo­liffe said.

The Aus­tralian dairy in­dus­try is the fifth largest user of the Port of Mel­bourne, with more than 85 per cent of Aus­tralia’s to­tal dairy ex­ports sent via the port.

It is not only the point of ex­port for Vic­to­rian dairy pro­duc­ers, but also for the dairy in­dus­try lo­cated in Tasmania and parts of South Aus­tralia and New South Wales.

The ADIC has pre­vi­ously ex­pressed con­cern at rent po­ten­tially dou­bling by 2023, which will sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact dairy’s com­pet­i­tive­ness glob­ally.

Mrs Jo­liffe added that the pric­ing, on­go­ing cost ef­fec­tive­ness and ef­fi­ciency of the Port will con­tinue to play a piv­otal role in the global com­pet­i­tive­ness of Aus­tralian dairy.

“In con­junc­tion with the VFF, the ADIC will con­tinue to en­gage with the Vic­to­rian govern­ment to en­sure the lease agree­ment en­cour­ages com­pe­ti­tion and ef­fi­ciency,” she said.

VFF pres­i­dent Peter Tuo­hey said that in the lobby group’s sub­mis­sion it called for on­go­ing in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment into re­gional and ru­ral Vic­to­ria, which he said he was pleased to see pri­ori­tised in the report.

“We have al­ways main­tained that re­gional Vic­to­ria should get its fair share of the lease of the Port given farm­ers and re­gional Vic­to­ri­ans are the main eco­nomic driv­ers of its use,” he said.

“We have also made it abun­dantly clear that the lease of the Port of Mel­bourne must in­clude safe­guards around pric­ing.

“We are call­ing on both the State Govern­ment and Op­po­si­tion to come to an agree­ment here,” Mr Tuo­hey said.

The report high­lights a lack of high-qual­ity rail links to the port and calls on the govern­ment to start work on the fully funded, $58 mil­lion port-rail shut­tle im­me­di­ately, and be­gin plan­ning a rail link to Webb Dock, due to open as a con­tainer port this year.

The VFF has called for clar­ity around the term of the lease in­clud­ing the 20year lease ex­ten­sion.

“It’s pleas­ing that the report rec­om­mends proper par­lia­men­tary process to be fol­lowed for any lease ex­ten­sion,” Mr Tuo­hey said.

The VFF has ex­pressed con­cern around the day-to­day costs of ac­cess­ing the port which could sky­rocket if a reg­u­la­tory frame­work is not in place.

“The report has echoed some of our con­cerns of ver­ti­cal in­te­gra­tion should a fu­ture port owner be­come a steve­dore, which would re­sult in a po­ten­tial an­ti­com­pet­i­tive op­er­a­tion.

“This is a $6 to $8 bil­lion state as­set and we need to en­sure the lease bal­ances the up-front value that ben­e­fits Vic­to­ria with the long-term in­ter­ests of the state and port users,” he said.

STATE AS­SET: More than 85 per cent of Aus­tralia’s to­tal dairy ex­ports are sent via the Port of Mel­bourne.

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