EXCLUSIVE: PORT STATUS UPGRADE PAVES WAY FOR GROWTH
Cairns in a unique defence position
THE Cairns seaport’s crucial role in Australia’s military advance into the South West Pacific has been recognised with designation as a critical infrastructure asset.
It paves the way for major wharf-side upgrades and new infrastructure necessary for Cairns to play a chief role in maintaining the growing fleet when Australia opens a joint naval base with Papua New Guinea on Manus Island.
Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch said the Department of Home Affairs classification meant Cairns was the only east coast naval base and maritime precinct capable of sustaining and maintaining maritime operations north of Sydney.
“This designation includes areas of water, between the land of the port and the open waters outside the port, intended for use by ships to gain access to loading, unloading or other land-based facilities,” Mr Entsch said.
“The Cairns Port supports some of our biggest industries, including tourism, defence and commercial transport, so to make it a critical infrastructure asset was a no-brainer really.”
The classification is a result of campaigning by marine precinct operators and former army chief Lieutenant-General (Ret) John Grey, who pressed the issue during the Convoy to Canberra lobbying mission at Parliament House.
They were pushing for the city to achieve “strategic port” status, but after investigation Mr Entsch said it already had that designation all along.
In April 2016 the Queens- land Government quietly classified Cairns as a strategic port – a term the Federal Government does not use – because it was an essential component of the national and state transport network, supply chain and defence system.
“There is a stark difference under Queensland legislation between a ‘strategic port’ and ‘priority port’,” Mr Entsch said.
“Put simply, under Queensland legislation (Sustainable Ports Development Act 2015) a ‘priority’ port cannot be developed.
“The legislation clearly states the four state-declared ‘priority ports’ (Gladstone, Abbot Point, Townsville and Hay Point/Mackay) must optimise the use of existing infrastructure.”
Without the strategic port status, the State Government would have been unable to pursue new waterside infrastructure projects like the global tourism hub casino development.
It is unclear whether the new designation will affect the proposed casino, and the foreign ownership it will entail.
“Given the current ‘strategic’ designation of the Cairns Port, there is absolutely noth- ing from a federal or state perspective standing in the way of the Cairns Port being developed and we need to take full advantage of that,” Mr Entsch said.
The classification could mean little in itself, but it must be taken into serious consideration in the ongoing masterplanning of the precinct, with an emphasis on increasing the city’s naval fleet maintenance capabilities.
The port has also been designated a security regulated port under the Maritime Transport and Offshore Facilities Security Act.
“A security regulated port is defined as one that is intended for use either wholly or partly in connection with the movement, loading, unloading, maintenance or provisioning of security regulated ships under s13 of the act,” Mr Entsch said.
“A security regulated ship is defined as being a passenger ship that is used for overseas voyages or a cargo ship of 500 gross tonnage or more.”
SUPPORT: Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch on a visit to the HMAS Cairns naval base in 2016 with the then Captain of HMAS Cairns, Commander Carl Capper. Picture: BRENDAN RADKE