De­lay to Utah Point sale will hit WA deficit

Pilbara News - - News - Ben Har­vey

The Bar­nett Govern­ment will go to the State elec­tion with a key plank of its debt-re­pay­ment plan miss­ing after WA Trea­surer Mike Na­han last week con­ceded the sale of Port Hed­land’s Utah Point fa­cil­ity would not hap­pen be­fore the March poll.

The Govern­ment was last week prepar­ing to re-in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion to al­low the pri­vati­sa­tion of the port, which is used by ju­nior Pil­bara min­ers At­las Iron, Min­eral Re­sources and Con­sol­i­dated Min­er­als, into the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil.

The laws passed the Lower House but Up­per House Na­tion­als WA and La­bor MPs joined forces to send the Bill to a com­mit­tee for re­view.

The par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee recommended changes to pro­tect the ju­nior min­ers amid fears a pri­vate op­er­a­tor would “pri­ori­tise profit over the fa­cil­i­ta­tion of trade”.

“The com­mit­tee’s view is that the pri­mary role of Utah Point has his­tor­i­cally been to en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of ju­nior min­ers in Western Australia and that this role is on­go­ing and should be main­tained,” the re­port said.

Dr Na­han pledged to amend the leg­is­la­tion to “fur­ther strengthen the ac­cess and pric­ing regime” for the sale.

“While the ex­ist­ing ac­cess and pric­ing regime ref­er­enced in the Bill of­fers strong pro­tec­tions for ju­nior min­ers, the Govern­ment will be propos­ing changes to the ac­cess and pric­ing regime to pro­vide a fur­ther layer of pro­tec­tion,” he said.

“The Govern­ment will be propos­ing an amend­ment to pro­vide a fur­ther layer of pro­tec­tion to ju­nior min­ers, par­tic­u­larly tar­get­ing the hy­po­thet­i­cal sit­u­a­tion where a ju­nior miner is un­able to use ca­pac­ity at Utah Point due to pre­vail­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions but sub­se­quently seeks to recom­mence ex­ports.”

Dr Na­han said the ac­cess regime would be changed to en­sure at least half of the fa­cil­ity’s ca­pac­ity was al­ways avail­able to the ju­nior min­ers.

That flex­i­bil­ity would not mean a pri­vate op­er­a­tor would lose the right to op­er­ate at 100 per cent ca­pac­ity be­cause the op­er­a­tor would be able to sign new con­tracts with other ex­porters — but only on terms that en­sured at least 50 per cent of ca­pac­ity could be quickly freed for ju­nior min­ers.

“I am con­fi­dent this main­tains a bal­ance be­tween the ef­fi­cient use of the fa­cil­ity while ... en­sur­ing that ju­nior min­ers have an abil­ity to ac­cess the fa­cil­ity ...,” Dr Na­han said.

“The pro­posed sale of Utah Point will be com­pleted after the March elec­tion.”

The sale was ex­pected to net $500 mil­lion.

The Govern­ment hopes a dif­fer­ent pric­ing model will al­le­vi­ate con­cerns raised by the com­pe­ti­tion watch­dog about price-goug­ing.

“Prices would be in­cluded as a mat­ter which may be sub­ject to bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion in the same way that other terms of ac­cess are — prices will be ne­go­ti­ated be­tween the par­ties with bind­ing in­de­pen­dent ar­bi­tra­tion in the case par­ties can­not agree,” Dr Na­han said.

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