I rise to make a contribution in respect of the Transport Legislation Amendment (Ports Integration) Bill 2010. Members of this chamber would be aware that the government has delivered an integrated transport plan to join all the transport services that operate not just in metropolitan Melbourne but also in regional Victoria. Part of that plan involves the ports of this state. What we have before us this evening is a transport integration bill, which is part of two pieces of legislation that underpin the transport plan for this state. Before I enter the substantive part of my contribution I would like to say that, following the comments that Mr Rich-Phillips made during the last parliamentary sitting week, I would also like to commend the work of the parliamentary library and in particular its research brief no. 7. Library staff have provided us with a very concise background to what we have before us this evening, and it goes back some way.
This bill was introduced to the Parliament on 4 May 2010.
It proposes to amend the Transport Integration Act 2010 and the Port Services Act 1995 in order to amalgamate the management of the ports of Hastings and Melbourne under the Port of Melbourne Corporation. The bill will also abolish the Port of Hastings Corporation. It repositions the port of Melbourne and the Victorian Regional Channels Authority within the framework of the new Transport Integration Act. Essentially its objective is to facilitate the future expansion of the port of Hastings.
It is worth going back and having some basic understanding as to why we are dealing with the port of Hastings and not the ports of Geelong and Portland on this occasion. That essentially is due to the history of what was considered to be port reform that the Kennett government introduced in 1995. It enacted what is now called the Port Services Act 1995. That so-called reform package meant the ports of Geelong, Portland and Hastings were to be privatised.
What actually happened was that the ports of Geelong and Portland were sold in 1996; however, the planned sale of the port of Hastings was prevented by pre-existing legislation holding the state to the delivery of port services to Hastings. As I understand it, the port has remained a state asset and has been leased out to private corporations since that time.
In 2000 the Bracks government also undertook to look at the ports of Victoria. It commissioned an independent review of the privatisation and corporatisation reforms that occurred in Victoria in the mid-1990s. The report The Next Wave of Port Reform in Victoria was released in 2002. In 2003 there were a series of amendments to the Port Services Act. For those amongst us who are particularly interested in this, I suggest that a close look at library research brief no. 7 is really worth their while. In terms of the rest of the history, leading up to what we have before us tonight, it suffices to say there have been substantial reviews in this area.
A lot of the reviewing has been to do with the type of work that is undertaken by the ports, increasing the efficiencies of the ports and linking our rail freight and infrastructure to service the ports as well.
As debate on this bill occurred in the other place there was appropriate recognition that ports provide economic stimulus and are of economic significance in this state. As has been stated by previous speakers, the port of Melbourne is the largest container and general cargo port in this country. It was recently ranked in the top 50 among the world’s container ports. More than $85 billion of trade each year goes through the port of Melbourne alone, and the four ports of Melbourne, Portland, Geelong and Hastings handle more than 99 per cent by volume and 90 per cent by value of our imports and exports. We can see that all our ports in this state are significant.
What this amending legislation is about can be described in seven points. Firstly, it is about improved governance of our ports, particularly with the amalgamation of the Hastings port into the port of Melbourne. The Victorian Regional Channels Authority is also reconstituted by the bill. Secondly, the bill recognises that integrating the management of the ports of Melbourne and Hastings is considered the most effective way to direct and drive future development of the port of Hastings. Central to this is the strategy to manage the projected growth we believe will occur in commercial shipping over the next two to three decades.
Thirdly, the bill improves the competitive position of the port of Hastings.
Under the current arrangements the incentives for the Port of Melbourne Corporation are to maximise throughput at Melbourne and to defer diversions to Hastings for as long as possible.
There are also impediments to effective competition between the ports of Melbourne and Hastings due to a major imbalance in size and resources. It was not until I had a closer look at this and started asking questions that I realised only four people were actually employed at the port of Hastings. That is not to say that those jobs are insignificant in any way and that the work undertaken by those four people is not important. It is incredibly important. However, to try to engender some sort of scope or balance into this discussion we need to understand the sizes that are involved at the port of Hastings. The bill also recognises that maintaining the separation of the port of Hastings essentially entrenches disadvantages for the port and what the government believes are disadvantages for the people of Hastings as well.
The bill renews the charters of the Port of Melbourne Corporation and the Victorian Regional Channels Authority to align them with the Transport Integration Act’s vision, objectives and principles for our transport system. It also defines the Port of Melbourne Corporation and the VRCA as transport corporations and includes them in part 6 of the act alongside V/Line, VicTrack and the Linking Melbourne Authority. The bill repeals the relevant provisions regarding the Port of Melbourne Corporation, the Port of Hastings Corporation and the VRCA from the Port Services Act 1995 and renames the act as the Port Management Act 1995. This is consistent with the approach taken in the Transport Integration Act regarding the renaming of the Rail Corporations Act 1996.
When I first looked at the bill I thought it was fairly straightforward. I saw this as an essentially administrative bill. I did not consider it to have any elements of controversy attached to it. I was surprised when I read the contributions from members in the other place as reported in Hansard.
A number of issues were raised. One line relied on by some speakers was that the amalgamation of the Port of Hastings Corporation and the Port of Melbourne Corporation would take away competition between Victorian ports. Another line was that the amalgamation would stymie the development of the port of Hastings.
A further line was that the fast-tracking of development would seriously impact on the environment. Serious assertions were made that local input would be restricted or non-existent. A number of issues were raised about traffic congestion around the port of Melbourne. A number of new issues, primarily environmental issues, were raised by the Greens this afternoon in this chamber.
I will now essentially tackle some of those items that have been raised in previous contributions, particularly given that, as we understand it, the opposition in this house will oppose this bill. We also now know that the Greens will be opposing this bill.
The first argument that was raised, I think, by the member for South-West Coast in the other house was that if this bill went ahead it would take away competition between Victorian ports. That is an interesting thought. I would have thought a reasonable position to put is that the competition that ports in this state face is the same as competition from ports in other states or on a global stage. It is not competition between each Victorian port. We are Victorians; we are moving towards integrated transport infrastructure. It is quite shameful that people, for their own political purposes, want to try to create divisions and promulgate a view that we are competing against each other when it comes to our own port infrastructure.
Another aspect raised was that the merger of the port of Hastings and the port of Melbourne will stifle the growth and development of the port of Hastings and that development should be fast-tracked.
The reality is that the fast-tracking of the development of the port of Hastings will compromise the sustainability of the region and efficiency of the transport system. I will touch a little bit more on that when I go through some environmental issues.
The bill positions the ports of Hastings and Melbourne as essential components of the transport system and underpins a port strategy that is the most effective way to drive the future development of the port of Hastings in a very clearly planned way that will take 20 to 30 years. It is not a fast-in grab where a number of concerns, particularly environmental concerns, are not considered whatsoever. I seriously say to the Liberal Party that if it supports the development of the port of Hastings, then it should ultimately support this bill.
I will touch on some points Ms Pennicuik raised. She said the port of Hastings should be developed taking into account the status of the Ramsar wetland and its environmental significance. This government is serious about balancing the development of the port while preserving its environmental significance. On the one hand the Liberal Party says it wants the port’s development to be fast-tracked; on the other hand it wants the fast-tracked development to preserve the environment. I do not think it can have it both ways.
There has to be a measured response and measured plan to make sure that we have an evenly balanced approach to the development of this port.
Each development phase of the port will be subject to an EES (environment effects statement) process. This will take into account the broader implications of a fully developed port and, before the process can commence, around two years of detailed scientific studies will need to be undertaken. These studies will help prepare for the EES, including providing a guide on what needs to be done and how much it will cost.
The notion that the Liberal Party bandies around about fast-tracking the development just on the onset in terms of making sure that we have the appropriate checks and balances right for the environment falls into the quagmire.
The other allegation that has been made is that the local community will not be able to be involved and the control of the local port will devolve to a large commercial port, and that will mean you will have an administration that does not understand local needs.
A number of points need to be made here. Firstly, the board of the amalgamated Port of Melbourne Corporation will include Hastings representation and will continue the important link with the local community. Secondly, all staff from the Port of Hastings Corporation will work within this new entity, so job security is absolutely paramount, and they will continue to be located at the office in Salmon Street, Hastings. Thirdly, the Hastings community reference group, the CRG as it is commonly known, is an integral part of ensuring that the port development is consistent with the needs and aspirations of the local community. As a result of that the minister has endorsed the CRG to continue for two years.
There have also been assertions that in the merger the Port of Melbourne Corporation will not operate in the best interests of the port of Hastings. People can say that. When you have an amalgamation of different entities and one is sizeably larger than the other, often people believe that that means innately that it is going to be a flawed amalgamation, not a true merger, that the interests of the smaller party are not going to be recognised and, indeed, the interests will be worked against somewhat.
In recognition of those potential criticisms, the government has ensured that there is a clear obligation in the bill that the Port of Melbourne Corporation must benefit the port of Hastings. The object and the functions of the Port of Melbourne Corporation’s charter will include the requirement to commercially develop the port of Hastings. In terms of being attuned to the environmental needs of the port, I have already covered that when referring to the required EES documentation.
We also have had assertions that the port of Hastings should be developed as an alternative port to Melbourne, with road and rail linkages to ease traffic congestion in and around the port of Melbourne. I think there has been some media coverage about that. No-one can say that the government has been sitting idle in relation to trying to provide greater efficiencies in any transport connections to the port of Melbourne. A number of studies have been committed to.
Under the Port Services Act the development plans for both ports are required to be reviewed every four years. It is expected that the Port of Melbourne Corporation would prepare a combined development plan at this time to address the entire port facilities under its responsibility, meaning Melbourne as well as Hastings. Of course the Port of Hastings Land Use and Transport Strategy that was released in August 2009, following thorough and extensive community input, is still valid after the merger, so all that good work will continue.
A number of other comments have been made that the government has not delivered on its commitments on getting freight onto the port rail shuttle to Altona, intermodal hubs, a new container operator at Port Melbourne and getting trucks off the West Gate.
I can make comment on all those, but I understand that time is not on our side. However, I cannot help but make a comment about getting freight onto rail. The government has made a significant investment of around $1 billion in improvements in the rail freight network, including better connections to the ports. Port rail freight mode share fluctuates significantly with fluctuations in agricultural production, particularly in grain. I suggest that the member for South-West Coast in the other house recognise that as a fact in regional Victoria, and that the drought has significantly depressed port rail mode share.
The government has recently released a discussion paper entitled Shaping Melbourne’s Freight Futures, which sets out detailed proposals for a metropolitan intermodal system to tap into the market that I have outlined. Leaving that to one side, with all the posturing that we have had, particularly from the Liberal Party on this integrated transport bill, we are not getting anything back in relation to how it sees an integrated transport plan operating. In particular there has been no positive contribution in the development of our Victorian ports.
Some 741 days have now elapsed since Ted Baillieu promised to deliver the coalition’s transport plan, and I just do not know where it is. If someone lets me know where it might be, I would be more than happy to read that because I want to look at what the Liberal Party has in store, particularly for the ports of Portland and Geelong — those two ports that they quite outrageously privatised in the 1990s.
Whilst I have attempted to address a number of the issues that have been raised by the opposition parties, there are still a number of issues that I know my colleague Johan Scheffer will be addressing fairly shortly. When it comes to ideas — whether it be in the transport field, whether it is the ports of Victoria or those in regional Victoria — while this government is doing all the things it possibly can in planning for a better future, the other side is either mute or it says it wants everything yesterday.
That is with the backdrop of them essentially being the fat controllers, doing their bit to shut down regional Victoria. I would like to know from the member for South-West Coast what he actually did when he sat around the cabinet table with his colleagues, when there were all those decisions to be made to shut down infrastructure, whether it was rail or ports or any other such thing in regional Victoria. As to his saying this bill represents the demise of competition between Hastings and Melbourne, let us get into the real zone.
Technology and a whole range of other things have caught up. You can no longer run the line that people living in regional areas of Victoria are poor country cousins. The reality is that we have a lot to be proud about in regional Victoria. To continue to run this view that regional Victoria is somehow cowed by this big thing called Melbourne is absolutely ridiculous.
I believe this government is correct in saying that the people of Hastings have everything to look forward to in terms of making sure that there is proper governance and there are proper environmental controls and proper planning for the port of Hastings into the future.
I commend this bill to the house and ask the people of Hastings to look at the great things that were announced as recently as last Friday in Geelong in relation to the port of Geelong. All of that is waiting for them; they just need to get on board and make sure that the political parties on the other side also get on board.