Port sell off a dud deal for Newcastle

The State Government has a poor record in regulating industrial activities in the Port of Newcastle.

And now the State Government wants to sell-off our Port and they are telling Newcastle people that everything will be OK because “the new lessee would be subject to the same environmental regulation as is now the case under state ownership”.

This is just not good enough.

Residents living near the Newcastle Port have had to put up with toxic plumes blanketing their suburb, dust and vibration from uncovered coal trains and suspect emissions in the middle of the night.

The State Government entity responsible for regulating industry, the Environment Protection Authority, is under-funded, under-resourced and too slow to act.

The Government cannot cry poor; our Port has been a cash cow for the State. In the last ten years more than $100 million has been sent to Sydney from the Newcastle Port Corporation, while more than 1 billion tonnes of coal was exported.

This is just not good enough.

It is the responsibility of government to understand the health impact of Port operations and ensure that those companies operating in the Port are implementing world’s best practice measures.

How can uncovered coal wagons and stockpiles be considered world’s best practice?

If the State Government can’t put in place proper regulation now when the Port is still owned by the people, what chance have we got when they’ve signed a contract with a private corporation?

State Government planning for the development of our Port has been disastrous.

The State Government entity responsible for planning for our Port, the Department of Planning and Infrastructure, has failed to develop a strategic plan for the diversification of our export capability as the world moves towards a clean energy future, failed to understand the risks associated with the co-location of ammonium nitrate production, liquid fuel storage and coal stockpiles and failed to address contamination and toxic residue as a result of past industrial practices.

The State Government does not seem to understand the strategic importance of our Port for the long-term sustainability of our economy.

Instead, the Government sees our Port has a piece of real estate to be flogged off.

Newcastle deserves better.

And now, after the decision has been made to sell-off our Port, the State Government has decided they will consult with community through a carefully constructed and orchestrated “community liaison group”.

How about talking to all residents who have been affected by the poor regulation of the polluting industries operating in our Port? Or those concerned about the failure to properly plan for a diversified Port?

This consultation is merely window dressing.

At a public forum organised by the Correct Planning & Consultation for Mayfield Group two years ago, more than 200 residents voted unanimously for no more coal loaders in Newcastle Port.

Will the State Government listen to local residents and exclude any more coal loaders from operating in our Port? Or make the existing coal loader operators implement world’s best practice measures?

Or is the State Government ignoring the public interest and favouring the interests of the multinational coal corporations?

It is understandable that Newcastle residents don’t trust the State Government.

Early this year, after Port Botany and Port Kembla had been sold off, the Government said there were “no plans” to sell off our Port.

And despite years of lobbying by the community, the Government still has not transferred Nobbys Headland to the National Parks and Wildlife Service so the area can be managed for the public while protecting and promoting its natural and cultural heritage values.

And many remember the Liberal Party State election “Contract with NSW” promise to “give people a real say on issues affecting their local community”.

There is a better way.

Don’t sell off our revenue-generating Port to replace a heavy rail line with a light rail line.

Implement world’s best practice measures at the Port that includes covering the coal wagons and fully enclosing the coal stockpiles, conveyors and transfer points and incorporates dust suppression water spray systems.

Invest in our region so that Newcastle and the region can diversify and capitalise on non-polluting technology, our natural assets, and sustainable land management and industries.

Private corporations won’t act in the interests of local residents.

The State Government needs to invest in good planning, better regulation and appropriate infrastructure to reduce the impact of Port operations on local residents.

Newcastle deserves no less.

Councillor Michael Osborne

 

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